The Vespa (Italian)


Visually Italy is a very easy country to picture, thanks to its many icons that have created a varied but very rich identity. In many ways one can talk about Italy in terms of a visual superpower. In many fields like visual art, design, fashion, architecture, very few other countries can compete with Italy’s richness, variety, and most importantly, highly identifiable style. It is not by chance that most of the Italian success stories not only in design are also objects that contribute to the enjoyment of life: cars, coffee machines, clothes and accessories, not to mention fabulous food and wine. Buying an Italian design object is like buying a license to live with style and flair.

If we take the Vespa scooter, it is quite easy to recognize in it many of the features that are generally identified with the Italian style: innovation, beauty, attention to detail, use of quality material, craftsmanship, in other words, a pleasure to look at and to use. When Vespa was first created, it was meant as a practical, easy to use and sensibly priced vehicle that would enable the Italian population, just out of the horrific experience of WWII, to travel freely and to move about for work and leisure.

The History of the Vespa

The first model of Vespa was presented by its designer, Ingegner Corradino d’Ascanio, in 1945 to the owner of the Piaggio manufacturing company, who had commissioned the project of an affordable vehicle accessible to the masses.

"Vespa" by metesmiedo is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In asking d’Ascanio to design the new means of transportation, the owner of Piaggio said: “Voglio un mezzo economico e pratico che metta l’Italia su due ruote, ma non la solita motocicletta. Solo Lei può affrontare il problema con mentalità del tutto nuova. Ha perciò carta bianca, ma la cosa va fatta subito.”

1. Can you make a list of the key words in the text above?

2. Can you define the term “carta bianca”?

3. What is the main spirit of Piaggio’s request to d’Ascanio? Can you express it in Italian?

The entertaining anecdote about the birth of the name “Vespa” is recounted as follows:

“Enrico Piaggio guardò e riguardò la strana motocicletta e disse senza muovere i muscoli della faccia: «Con quella vita sottile e quel ronzio sembra una vespa!» Tutti conoscono come è andata la leggenda, e gli storici del costume scriveranno poi che fu così che venne battezzato lo scooter ideato e realizzato da Corradino d’Ascanio […]. Quasi nessuno ricorda la risposta di d’Ascanio: «Peccato che non vola!».”

“It looks like a wasp!” were the first words Engineer Piaggio uttered when he first saw the model. And the name stuck to it, perfect for its ability to describe the shape of the object, the buzzing sound of the engine, and perfect to remember and pronounce not only in Italian.

Read the following passage summing up the birth of Vespa:

“La società Piaggio venne fondata a Genova nel 1884 da Rinaldo Piaggio per costruire carrozze e vagoni ferroviari. Dopo la Seconda Guerra Mondiale Enrico Piaggio, figlio di Rinaldo, decise di cambiare completamente genere di produzione della sua azienda e puntò alla creazione di un veicolo a due ruote, a basso costo e di largo consumo. Si affidò così alla genialità di Corradino d’Ascanio, ingegnere aereonautico, che trovò la soluzione perfetta. Il nuovo veicolo aveva le ruote più piccole, e una carrozzeria più comoda di quella di una moto. Di Vespa sono stati prodotti 138 modelli, per un totale di oltre 16 milioni di esemplari. A Pontedera si trova il museo dedicato alla Vespa e alla sua storia unica.”

Summary of key facts about Vespa:

1884: nasce a Genova la società Piaggio

1946: nasce in Italia, negli stabilimenti della Piaggio, la Vespa

1949: a Ginevra il primo Vespa Club del mondo

114 i paesi nel mondo in cui è commercializzata la Vespa

16 milioni le unità prodotte all'anno nel 2000

Based on the information above in this section and on the key facts listed above, find the following information about Vespa and write them down in Italian, if you can:

1. When and where was Piaggio founded?

2. Who is Corradino d’Ascanio?

3. Why was Vespa commissioned? What was the main purpose that the owner of Piaggio wanted it to serve?

4. When was the first Vespa scooter produced?

5. What is the difference between Vespa and a motorcycle?

6. How many models of Vespa have been produced?

7. Where is the Vespa museum?

Resource activities

The Birth of a Myth

Like Italian fashion, Vespa accompanied with its various models, the development of Italian society, with a success that has been transformed into a “myth” also through its numerous appearances in film and television. Find out more about the myth of the Vespa in this activity.


The Icon

The following activity explains how the Vespa is not simply a scooter, but has become an iconic symbol of Italian design and of the particular socio-economic climate post-WWII. 


Vespa and Cinema

How has the appearance of the Vespa in films contributed to its popularity?


Around Tuscany on an Old Vespa

Examine this blog entry from a girl who travelled around Tuscany on a Vespa.


Answer Sheet

Answers to the activities in the other downloads.


Reflective questions

To answer and record these questions you will need to have an account and be logged in.

Task 1

What are the key arguments, concepts, points contained within it?

Task 2

What are you struggling to understand?

What could you do to improve your understanding of these concepts/terminology etc.?

Task 3

What further questions has this resource raised for you?

What else are you keen to discover about this topic and how could you go about learning more?

Can you make any links between this topic and your prior knowledge or school studies?

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Further reading

  • Piaggio Museum - Manufacturers of the Vespa

    The museum has a permanent exhibition on the Vespa and looks at the history of Italian and international transport.


    A site for dedicated Vespa fans in the UK! Featuring scootering news, reviews, photos, dos, ride-outs, rallies, gigs and links of interest.

  • Elogio Alla Vespa

    A tribute to the Vespa, a detailed overview of its history and a discussion of the different models.