1946-2011, sixty-five years of Vespa: the models that have made history
From the first Vespa in 1946, with its 98 cc, to the Grand Tourer of 2003, to the Vespa GTS 300 Super of 2008, to the recent GTV and LXV special series, all the way to the Vespa Quarantasei which made its debut on 8 November 2011 at EICMA, the 69th Motorcycle Show in Milan: there are more than 150 different models, versions and variations of the Vespa – identifiable by different “chassis codes” – manufactured by Piaggio. These vehicles trace the technical evolution of the world’s most famous scooter: By the time the Vespa ET4 was launched in 1996, over 20,000 modifications had been made to the original product and over 1,500 parts replaced.
It is difficult to pick out the most representative Vespas in an evolution that has lasted over 60 years. Some Vespas are sought after by collectors because they belong to a special series, or because they were rapidly replaced by subsequent versions, and are highly priced in the period scooter market, which is extremely active all over the world. Others, which were produced in greater numbers or stayed on the market longer, are classic models that have left their mark in the history of two-wheeled mobility.
There is no lack of authentic technical records in the Vespa’s history, each of which renews the tradition of innovation that has marked the evolution of the world’s best selling scooter. To cite only a few examples: with the Vespa ET2 Injection in 1997, Piaggio launched the first direct injection two stroke engine in history, a technical first it doubled in 2000 with the launch of the first European 50cc four stroke engine on the Vespa ET4 50. In 2005, with the Vespa GTS, Piaggio launched the first scooter in the world to have a 250cc Euro 3 compatible engine with electronic injection. Vespa has also been in the avant-garde as regards developing future solutions for zero-impact two wheelers: with the Vespa LX 50 HyS (Hybrid Scooter), shown on 11 April 2006, the Piaggio Group has developed the first prototype “parallel” hybrid scooter with the two engines, the electric motor and the gas catalysed four-stroke engine, linked mechanically and electronically to simultaneously supply power to the wheel for a winning technical combination.
Vespa 98, 1946 – The first Vespa. It was powered by a 98 cc engine that delivered 3.2 bhp at 4,500 rpm with a top speed of 60 km/h. It was in production for two years: in 1946 vehicles no. 1 to no. 2,464 were produced, in ‘47 those from no. 2,465 to 18,079. Vespa 125, 1948 – This was the first Vespa 125 cc. In addition to the different engine size, it differs from the 98 with the introduction of the rear suspension; the front suspension was also modified. Vespa 125, 1953 – This marked the first important change to the engine: bore, stroke and timing gear were modified. Power output increased to 5 bhp at 5,000 rpm, and top speed to 75 km/h. The design of the fairing at the rear was also new. Vespa 125 U, 1953 – The “Utility” version with spartan styling, which sold at 20,000 lire less than the more modern 125. The headlamp appeared high up on the handlebar for the first time in Italy (it had already been introduced on a number of exported models). Vespa 150 GS, 1955 – Experts called it “the most popular, imitated and remembered model”. There were numerous innovations: the 150 cc engine, 4-speed gearbox, standard long saddle, “faired” handlebar-headlamp unit, wheels with 10” tyres. This Vespa could reach 100 km/h. The design also changed, with a much more aerodynamic body. Vespa 160 GS, 1962 – This was born to continue the market success of the first GS, with a completely new design. The exhaust silencer, carburettor and suspension were also new.
The power output was 8.2 bhp at 6,500 rpm. Vespa 150 GL, 1963 – Another new design for what has been called “one of the best-looking Vespas produced by Piaggio designers”. The handlebar, trapezoid headlamp, front mudguard and trimmed-down rear lids were all new. Vespa 50, 1964 – The first Vespa 50 cc, created to exploit the new Italian Highway Code which made a number plate obligatory on larger engines. Extremely versatile and reliable, the engine featured a new layout, with the cylinder inclined 45° instead of horizontal. It was the last design to leave Corradino D’Ascanio’s drawing board. Vespa 180 SS, 1965 – It marked a new milestone in the growth of the engine (181.14 cc), with 10 bhp for a top speed of 105 km/h. The 180 SS (Super Sport) replaced the glorious GS 150/160 cc. Piaggio modified the front cowling, making it more aerodynamic and significantly improving comfort, handling and road holding. Vespa 125, 1966 – Unofficially known as the “new 125”, it featured radical innovations in the design, frame, engine (inclined 45°) and suspension. Vespa Super Sprint 90, 1966 – A special series derived from the Vespa 50/90 cc and the “new” 125, the hold-all was positioned between the saddle and the handlebar for a more “laid-back” riding style. The handlebar was narrow and low, and the mudguard and cowling were streamlined. With an engine capacity of only 90 cc, it could do 93 km/h. Vespa 125 Primavera, 1968 – Together with the subsequent PX version, it was the most durable version of the Vespa. It derived from the “new” 125, but with considerable differences in the engine, which raised the top speed by 10 km/h. Great attention was paid to details, which included the classic, practical bag hook. Vespa 180 Rally, 1968 – With this new vehicle, Piaggio extended the rotary timing fuel feed system to its entire production. The engine was new, the front headlamp new and more powerful, the frame, derived from the Vespa 150 Sprint, narrower and more aerodynamic than that of the Super Sport. Vespa 50 Elestart, 1970 – It featured the great novelty of electric ignition, but the design was also completely revised and embellished compared to the 50 Special. Vespa 200 Rally, 1972 – The Vespa with the largest engine. This model, with 12.35 bhp at 5,700 rpm, could reach 116 km/h. Vespa 125 Primavera ET3, 1976 – The name stood for “Electronic 3 intake ports”, and included important changes to the engine, which had more power and sparkle. Even the styling was changed from the standard Primavera (which remained in the range). Vespa P 125 X, 1978 – The “PX” marked a new step forward in styling (the bodywork was completely redesigned) and performance. The hold-all was positioned behind the cowling. The same year the P 200 E also appeared, which, instead of the 125 version, could be equipped with separate lubrication and direction indicators incorporated in the body. Three years later the PX 150 E was launched, with performance halfway between the two models. Vespa PK 125, 1983 – This replaced the Vespa Primavera (standard and ET3). The styling was new, and the PK body was completely different from that of previous scooters, because the welds of the body no longer overlapped but were integral. Vespa PK 50, 1983 – Substantially identical to the PK 125, it appeared in two models, PK 50 and PK 50 S, both with 4-speed gearbox and electronic ignition. Vespa PK 125 Automatica, 1984 – An automatic transmission was introduced on the Vespa, perhaps the most radical change (at least for the user’s point of view) since 1946.
The presence of the automatic transmission was emphasised by the absence of the foot brake, replaced by the lever on the left handlebar (which does not need to control the clutch, as it is automatic). It was also available with automatic oil-petrol mixer and electric ignition. The following year the Vespa PK 50 Automatic was launched. Vespa T 5 Pole Position, 1985 – The T 5 was the “extra-sporty” version of the PX series. With a new engine, aluminium cylinder and 5 intake ports, but the design was also new, particularly at the rear and around the front headlamp which incorporated an aggressive dome with a small Plexiglas windscreen. A spoiler was added on the cowling. Vespa 50 N, 1989 – The changes to the Italian Highway Code meant that 50 cc vehicles were no longer bound by the 1.5 bhp limit, and Piaggio presented a new small Vespa with improved performance (over 2 bhp at 5,000 rpm), and new, smoother styling. Vespa ET4 125cc, 1996 – The “new generation Vespa” with a four-stroke engine, launched on the 50th anniversary. In 1997 and 1998 it was the best selling two wheeled vehicle (including motorcycles) all around the Europe and it was followed by the ET2 50 cc version and then in 1999 also by the classic ET4 150 cc. Vespa ET4 50, 2000 – The last model of the “new generation” of Vespas in chronological order was the ET4 50 cc, launched in Autumn of 2000. It was the first Vespa 50 equipped with a 4-stroke engine and, thanks to the characteristics of its power plant, it established a true and proper range record: of over 500 km with a full tank. Vespa PX, 2001 – Front disc brake, careful aesthetic operations, new colours and the return to the “historic” Vespa logo for the timeless PX, which exceeded the extraordinary figure of three million units manufactured and sold in its more than 30 year long career. Revamped again in 2011, today it is available in the 125 and 150 versions. Vespa PX is an “evergreen”, thanks in part to the 4 speed handlebar shift transmission and the possibility of installing a side spare tyre. Vespa Granturismo 200L and 125L, 2003 – In 2003, the Granturismo made its appearance as the most powerful Vespa ever produced. In 200L and 125L versions, it combines the Vespa’s emotional appeal with state-of-the-art technology: this was the first-ever Vespa to have sparkling four-stroke, four-valve, liquid-cooled engines that meet the new Euro 2 emissions standards, as well as 12-inch wheels and a two-disk brake system. The steel body is a uniquely Vespa touch. Vespa LX, 2005 – This was the return of the “vespino”, the small body model which was offered alongside the larger “vespone” for more than 40 years, in an extremely modern stylistic and technical key. Vespa LX replaced the glorious Vespa ET (more than 460,000 units sold from 1996) and, from 10 March, is available in four modern and ecological engine sizes: 50cc two and four stroke, 125 and 150cc four stroke. Vespa GTS 250 i.e.2005 – Fifty years after the launch of the Vespa GS (Gran Sport), the first sport scooter in history and still a sought after treasure for collectors and fans, Vespa GTS 250 i.e. – launched on 25 May 2005 in Portofino – renews the GS blend of speed and style to become the fastest, most powerful and most high-tech Vespa in history. From November 2011, Vespa GTS “grew” to the 300 class with an avant-grade, extremely powerful four-valve, liquid cooled engine with electronic injection.
Vespa GTS is stopped with a superb double disc braking system. Vespa GTV and LXV, 2006 – Conceived to celebrate an absolute legend in the world of two wheelers, the Vespa LXV and Vespa GTV repeat and reinterpret the most distinctive elements of ‘50s and ‘60s styling in form and function. The Vespa GTV, available with 125 and 250 cc engines, stands out for its headlight mounted on the mudguard just as the original 1946 prototype. The Vespa LXV, offered with a choice of 50, 125 and 150 cc engines, is inspired by the smooth, essential lines of the Vespas of the 1960s, and features a sleek, minimalist look characterised by open handlebars and a two part seat. Vespa GT 60°, 250cc, 2006 – This is the gift that Vespa was determined to give its fans to celebrate the company’s sixtieth anniversary. With its prestigious materials and exclusive finish, this unique limited edition is made in a series of only 999 units, and is destined to become one of the milestones in Vespa’s long history. Vespa S 50 and 125, 2007 – All the character of the sporty “Vespino” of yesteryear is revived by the brand new Vespa S. This fascinating blend of styles and memories keeps the soul of the youngest and most sporting of all Vespas alive in the present day. The Vespa S inherits its rigourously minimalist looks from legendary models of the 1970s like the 50 Special and Vespa Primavera. Vespa GTS 300 Super, 2008 – GTS 300 Super brings the exclusive elegance of Vespa to the over 250 class. The classic, unique Vespa style is combined with a distinctly sporty and modern personality, giving the clean Vespa lines a decidedly rugged look. With its sporty design, the Vespa GTS 300 Super embodies the style, convenience, safety and sturdiness of the Vespa brand.
With new 4 valve timing, this brand new and feisty little powerplant has nothing to envy of its two-stroke counterparts (at 4.35 hp, it is the most powerful 50 cc four stroke on the market), yet its consumption and emission figures remain those of a four-stroke. Vespa S 50 and Vespa LX 50 4 Valve, 2009 – The new 50cc, four stroke, four valve engine leads to the rediscovery of an engine size which is “legendary” in Vespa history. With new 4 valve timing, this brand new and feisty powerplant has nothing to envy of its two-stroke counterparts (at 4.35 hp it is the most powerful 50 cc four-stroke on the market), yet its consumption and emission figures remain those of a typical four stroke. With this new engine, Vespa reconfirms a technological supremacy that has stood for over six decades. Vespa GTS 125 Super, 2009 – All the sports character of the Vespa GTS Super with an ‘eighth of a litre’ engine: Vespa GTS 125 Super inherits the same elegant and dynamic style of the Vespa 300 Super and represents a triumphant new expression of sports character. The new electronic fuel injected engine significantly cuts operating costs – thanks to lower fuel consumption – and servicing costs. The right hand flank of the pressed steel body – a unique Vespa feature since its first appearance – is slashed with a horizontally slatted grille: a clear homage to some of the most stunning Vespas of the past that lends the scooter an unequivocal sporty touch when viewed from the side. The new two-tone alloy wheels and the spring finished in racing red also contribute to the same visual effect.
Vespa Touring – The special Touring series introduced at EICMA 2011 dresses the mighty Vespa GTS and the sleek Vespa LX, echoing the thousands of outfitted Vespas which have ridden on roads the world over, carrying entire generations across countries. This is a series dedicated to a love for travel, with an appropriate mix of unmistakable Vespa style and the practicality of a vehicle which is capable of leaving the city behind to embark on medium range touring. Vespa “Vie della Moda” is a special series which is the emblem of style, fashion and distinction. Two models (introduced in November 2011) dedicated to the most famous glamour runways of shopping, an exclusive collection of unique pieces: Vespa GTV (300 cc) and Vespa LXV (125 cc) which, for 2012, wear the elegant “Marrone Etna” colour, which enhances their timeless lines.
Vespa Quarantasei, introduced at EICMA 2011 in Milan, opens a window to the future of style and technology. Vespa Quarantasei unveils a possible future with a homage to its patriarch, the MP6 prototype, which gave origin to the most famous scooter in the world, an insuperable example of Italian style and creativity. Distilling that most pure essence of the traits which indelibly marked the aesthetics of individual mobility and enhancing the lines which made it famous, the Pontedera Style Centre projects Vespa into a possible future where citations and projections, tradition and innovation, blend without solutions of continuity. The beating heart of the Vespa Quarantasei is an extremely modern engine which unveils the development lines of the new powerplants of the near future, characterised by low fuel consumption and decreased gas and sound emissions.
The Vespa legend was born at practically the same time as the vehicle, so much so that many were inspired, from 1946 onwards, to share their passion for the Vespa. Thus the first Vespa Clubs were born, in Italy to begin with and then abroad, leading eventually, in 2006, to the creation of the Vespa World Club to coincide with the Vespa’s 60th anniversary.
The grouping of Vespa fans was closely linked to Vespa sales on international markets: by 1953 there were over 10,000 Piaggio service stations worldwide, including in Asia and America, and over 50,000 fans were members of Vespa Clubs worldwide.
From the 1940s onwards, Enrico Piaggio, backed by Italian sports journalist Renato Tassinari, organised meets and rallies to create growing interest in the new product, with all kinds of initiatives including the setting up and spread of Vespa Clubs. These organisations of Vespa fans would strengthen the image of the scooter and testify to the efficacy of Piaggio’s sales and service network.
At the Fiera Campionaria in Milan in 1948, Italian Vespa Clubs organised a rally called the “Silver Swarm” after the first Vespa model’s trademark silvery-green colour. This was the first large rally which would have an extraordinary echo.
In 1951, 20,000 Vespa fans took part in the Italian Vespa Day. Throughout the 1950s, races of every kind were held, from regional and national rallies in Italy and abroad (the Swiss Tour, the 2,000 km Three Seas tour, the all-female Audax tour and the 1,000 km tour were among the best known rallies).
Riding a Vespa increasingly became synonymous with freedom, the use of space and easier social relations: in short, the Vespa became a social phenomenon that would mark an entire epoch and be pictured incessantly in films, literature and advertising campaigns for many products as well as in the behaviour of a changing society that was keen to leave the destruction of World War II behind.
The Vespa Club Europe was set up in Milan on 8 February 1953 on the initiative of Renato Tassinari, with unanimous support from delegates representing the Vespa Clubs of Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland, to co-ordinate and develop relations, events and links among Vespa fans in individual countries.
Two months after the creation of the Vespa Club Europe, Austria, Denmark, the U.K., Portugal, Spain and Sweden joined the founding members. Subsequently, the Vespa Club Mondial was set up and, together with the Vespa Club Europe, came to be named Fédération Internationale des Vespa Clubs (disbanded on 30 November 2005).
Finally, on 14 March 2006, the Vespa World Club was set up to co-ordinate and promote all the Vespa clubs in the world. Piaggio promoted the setting up of this new association, whose objective is to draw on the finest experiences and initiatives created by Vespa fans in various countries, enhance the role of national associations and support all Vespa Clubs. Today the Vespa World Club can count 35 national Vespa Clubs associated, 685 local Vespa Clubs and more than 31,000 members all over the world. It is impossible to calculate the number of Vespa enthusiasts, or the Internet web pages dedicated to the most popular and famous scooter in the world.