Way of the Wasp: Celebrating 70 Years of Vespa 


Words by: JPS for duncan quinn

It’s 1945, the war is over, and needless to say Italy didn’t win.

The Piaggio factory in Tuscany, which had been churning out Pondaterra fighter planes, was gutted by a bomb blast, and in any case no one needed fighter planes anymore. Italy’s entire economy was crippled, its roads a veritable disaster and most regular Guiseppes without the price of a car in their pockets anyway, nor even a motorcycle. Luckily Enrico Piaggio, son of the company’s founder Rinaldo Piaggio, was a pretty sharpish sort. He decided to address the problem with a whole new mode of transport: a cheap, reasonably zippy contraption much more suitable to everyday civilian life that furthermore could navigate crap roads with relative ease.

Officially known as the MP5 (“Moto Piaggio no. 5”), it was essentially a motorbike of a sort with bodywork fully enclosing the drivetrain and forming a tall splash guard at the front. It also featured handlebar-mounted controls, forced air cooling, small diameter wheels and a tall central section. The name Vespa, meaning “wasp,” came later; this prototype was nicknamed “Paperino”, or “duckling.”  Aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio stepped in to design its successor, the MP6, which had its engine mounted beside the rear wheel, in turn driven directly from the transmission, eliminating the drive chain and allowing the wasp-like shape to emerge. The rest, as we know, was storia, i.e. history, up to the Dolce Vita days and beyond. On the Vespa’s 70th birthday, we raise a glass of Barolo to Enrico, and all he hath wrought….

Words by JPS for duncan quinn