Design Moment: Vespa, 1946

The Vespa was unveiled at the Turin motor show in 1946. Photograph: Frank Miller

The Vespa was unveiled at the Turin motor show in 1946. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Enrico Piaggio’s design wasn’t the first scooter but when he unveiled the Vespa, his new two-wheeled vehicle at the Turin motor show in 1946, he presented a stylish version that appealed to everyone. During the second World War Italians had seen US-made scooters such as the Cushman Autoglide and after the war Fiat and many others had worked on prototypes. Piaggio, who had manufactured wartime aircraft, first turned his attention to two-wheel transport in 1944 with the Paperino, based on existing scooter shapes but two years later his designer Corradino D’Ascanio had refined the look, with a curved metal covering for the engine and a curved floorboard. All of this excess metal in a period of post-war austerity made the Vespa, and it does indeed sound like a wasp priced to be accessible to all, seem decadent.

Design legend has it that D’Ascanio found old wheels and forks in the aircraft factory and made the first Vespa. In 1955 Newsweek reported that “factory hands and white collar workers plunked wife on the rear seat, baby in a basket on the handlebars, junior on the floor boards and set off on Sunday outings”. For Vespa fans, there’s a gorgeous new book packed with evocative archive photographs, The Life: Vespa by Eric Dregni.

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