Symbol of the Made in Italy, Vespa is the most beloved and well-known scooter in the world. This week we have the oldest Vespa in the world up for auction at Catawiki! Have you ever wondered how it started? To know more about the creators of this legendary vehicle, our expert Davide Marelli leads us right to the origins of the myth.
Written by Davide Marelli - expert classic motorcycles
The Piaggio icon was born in the Second World War context. The dynamic Enrico Piaggio, head of a company producing planes and trains, was always updated on US market and technology. Overseas, he noticed the “motorscooter”. This was a motorised two-wheeled vehicle, with small displacement, and wheels of small diameter, used for small urban trips, a very light object, and easily stored on a trailer or boat. Actually, the scooter phenomenon in the US does not reach a national hit, but in 1920s and 1930s, you could see tens of thousands of them in USA. In wartime, with Pontedera factories destroyed by Allied bombing, and equipment evacuated in several Piedmont locations, the captain of Piaggio gave order to his engineers to produce a new motorcycle, a motorcycle for everyone, to give a fresh start after the war. In the original documents, it is never referred to as a scooter, but as a motorcycle indeed.
The first project: Paperino
From 1944 to 1945 various projects took place. The first, called MP5, is carried out by Engineer Renzo Spolti. The motorcycle by Spolti, called Peperino, already shows main features that will be typical of Vespa: 1-Sheet metal supporting structure, without using a tubular frame; 2-Total protection for the driver, both against road dirt, and heat and oily substances from the engine, which is entirely hidden under the sheet metal shell
Approximately 100 examples are made of MP5 model, regularly offered for sale later and simultaneously to Vespa. Enrico Piaggio is not 100% sure about the product though, so he entrusts another designer to review the motorcycle.
Corradino D'Ascanio takes over the new project
Corradino d’Ascanio is an aeronautical engineer, already engaged in the company. He calls himself an “inventor”, he has an unconventional nature, and he even claims he hates motorcycles. D’Ascanio is the father of Vespa, Piaggio chooses him precisely because of his “critical purity” on the vehicle type, in this case a real motorcycle.
The MP6 project (Piaggio Motorcycle no.6) to all effects, is the first true Vespa. D’Ascanio doesn’t reject completely the work made by his colleague Spolti, in fact the front part of the motorcycle is entirely almost identical, but he shapes the structure moving the engine, a key element, from centre to rear, near the wheel on the right side, this way freeing the central area, which becomes the only connection between the rear and front, through the footboard. This way he solves the issue of “climbing over” the motorcycle to get on it. The engine is covered by a rounded bonnet, also designed on the left side for symmetry purposes, serving as a tool bag. The engine is a two-stroke single cylinder engine with forced air cooling system. This solution is necessary to ensure proper cooling of the cylinder outside the wind of the bike running, as it’s covered and protected by the aluminium bonnet. This solution will never be changed during all 71 years of life of Vespa from Pontedera.
The "Serie 0" is born
In 1946, about a year after the official ending of the war, the first Vespa was put up for sale. It’s the 98cc model (also produced with 125cc displacement, only for foreign market). This model has special, unique features making it different from the next “elastic” 125 model from 1948. The Vespa 98 does not have rear suspension, for about two years on the market, 1946 to 1948, approximately 15000 are produced. The first 60 are known as the “Serie 0”. The series 0 Vespa scooters are to all effects a handmade product, from bending the cut and welding of metal sheets. The chassis number, starting from 1001, is imprinted on various areas of the vehicle, because the assembler had to adapt by hand every single piece on its own chassis. The number can be found on the chassis itself, on the front part underseat, on the bonnets, on the aluminium footboards profile, and even on the silencer. After these first 60 pieces, manufacturing was improved with industrialisation, assigning production of steel parts of the chassis to external suppliers, including Alfa Romeo. Today we only know about 3 Vespa scooters of the Series 0 remaining. The oldest one, with Chassis number 1003 (the third Vespa produced) is on auction at Catawiki.
If you’d like to know more about this very unique item, please visit our scooter auction. From March 17th you will be able to place bids on, and actually win the oldest Vespa in the world and many other classic Vespa scooters in our biweekly auction, dedicated to scooters.