In 1884, a twenty year old boy named Rinaldo Piaggio founded Piaggio, a Genoa-based firm which initially manufactured locomotives and other parts. After a few years, the company started producing rail carriages, goods vans, coaches, engines and truck bodies while during the World War I it even created airplanes and seaplanes. In 1917, Piaggio decided to buy a new plant in Pisa while after four years it expanded with a new one in Pontedera. This latest addition is actually the place where Vespa, a famous name on the motorcycle market, was founded many years later. Although this plant was massively damaged by bombs, Enrico Piaggio, Rinaldo's son, had the resources to rebuild it.
After the war was ended, Enrico Piaggio wanted to build a bike that would be addressed to all kinds of consumers and above all, a low cost product available to all of them.
In order to reach this goal, he designed a scooter called Paperino, meaning Donald Duck, but, due to the fact that Enrico wasn't happy with it, Corradino D'Ascanio, the designer of the bike, had to re-build it. As a result, the company designed the Vespa, the scooter launched in 1946.
The first step was made, so next year a new Vespa bike was officially launched, being equipped with a 125cc engine. In 1946, there were no less than 2484 scooters on the market, while the number was increased the next year to 10535 units. By 1948, the Vespa production reached 19822 scooters while three years later, 171200 vehicles were already released. Vespa had a remarkable success as after four years of availability, the scooter was manufactured in 13 countries, sold in 114 nations and even copied in USSR where the Viatka 150cc was pretty much the same as a Vespa.
By 1988, no less than ten million Vespa units were already sold, the Vespa PX model probably representing the highest success of the company. Getting back to the first Vespa, it was powered by a 98 cc engine, had 3.2 bhp at 4,500 rpm and could reach a top speed of 60 km/h. However, it was kept in production for only two years, being then replaced by newer models. The Vespa 125 was a little bit different from the 98 edition, being equipped with a different engine and also with rear suspension. The 1953 Vespa 125 came with a more powerful engine which produced 5 bhp at 5,000 rpm and a top speed of 75 km/h.
Vespa 150 GS was just another attractive model which was consider to be “the most popular, imitated and remembered model”. This Vespa model could reach a top speed of no less than 100 km/h.
Vespa won a lot of awards, being described as the best Italian motorcycle after Giancarlo Tironi, an Italian student, managed to reach the Arctic Circle riding a Vespa. In 1980, two Vespa PX 200 scooter reached the finish line of the second Paris-Dakar rally which underlined, once again, that Piaggio built one of the most advanced scooters in the history.