Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:25 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
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Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:25 pm linkquote
I recently stumbled across a black and white photograph online of an early Vespa that captured my imagination. When I found out it was part of the launch of the first mass produced Vespa in 1946, that could have just as easily failed than succeeded, I spent some time researching the story online, translating some Italian sources and finding more photos, and wrote up a short piece for our Vespa Club of Britain magazine. Having done the work, I thought our MV readers outside the UK might be interested to read it.
Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:26 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
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Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:26 pm linkquote
Most MV members will know some of the history behind the Vespas we ride today, from the early prototypes to the latest models. Fewer may know how Enrico Piaggio steered his company through a mostly destroyed post war Italy to produce the first mass produced Vespa and get his countrymen moving again. This is that story.

As the Second World War drew to a close, Piaggio and 300 workers had relocated from Pontedera to Biella in NW Italy to escape Allied bombing and the expected invasion in Lampedusa. Italian industry was on its knees. Steel and energy were restricted by quota and equipment was scarce. The Pontedera factory was mostly rubble, and company coffers were small. There was tension between workers who had participated in the Resistance and those that hadn't, and whilst the war was over, employees were depressed by the economic crisis of the first year of peace, which had severely eroded the purchasing power of wages.

But the will of Piaggio and his team was stronger than the national gloom. The company had already produced a two wheel prototype scooter called the MP5. The 'Paperino', or Donald Duck, was made largely using scrap metal supplies. Even though over a hundred Paperinos were built, Enrico Piaggio wanted a better option for mass production, and turned to his accomplished designer Corradino D'Ascanio to review the project and create something more technically and stylistically advanced. Rather than modify the Paperino, D'Ascanio wanted to take his own approach, and set about redesigning the concept using what he believed were the key principles; it should be easy to mount, comfortable, highly manoeuvrable, clean and safe. The design that D'Ascanio created to meet these needs became 'Moto Piaggio 6'. When Enrico Piaggio saw its pinched waistline and rounded sides of D'Ascanio's design in September 1945, his said 'sembra una vespa' - 'it looks like a wasp'. The name stuck.


Designer Corradino D'Ascanio works on his MP6 prototype


The MP5 Paperino prototype


The MP6 prototype with first air cooling design


MP6 prototype left hand view

Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:41 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
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Location: Northants UK
 
Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
Posts: 6064
Location: Northants UK
Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:41 pm linkquote
The first MP6 prototype was ready for testing in October 1945, near to the Biella site, on a road to a mountain sanctuary with a 13% gradient. The test didn't go well, as the prototype immediately had problems with engine cooling; the leg shield vents designed for airflow didn't provide enough and the engine temperature rocketed to 300 degrees. Technicians tried various experiments through October to fix the problem, but it wasn't until December when a fan mounted on the flywheel, forcing air across the engine, made the breakthrough. Piaggio now had an MP6 engine that worked. Even then, technicians were still experimenting with at least five subtly different designs, each one built using traditional hand craft techniques.


MP6 drawings with revised cooling fan in the right legshield


Revised MP6

Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:45 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
Posts: 6064
Location: Northants UK
 
Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
Posts: 6064
Location: Northants UK
Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:45 pm linkquote
Piaggio knew these construction methods couldn't be transferred to mass production, and with the Pontedera factory semi destroyed, he knew that creating a mass produced Vespa meant collaborating with companies who could already produce what he needed. Through skilful goodwill, he secured help with metal presses from Alfa Romeo, headlight components from Augusto Basili in Milan, exhausts by Ceva, tyres from Pirelli and Superga, cylinders by Gaia and Alfa Romeo and so on. Steel and raw materials were still in short supply, and Piaggio lacked funds, so his team also became skilled at juggling the irregular stop-start supplies from these companies that were so typical of post-war Italy. Now small scale production of the new Vespa looked possible and it was no longer a prototype, the MP6 became the Vespa 98.

With a viable design and early production supplies coming together, Piaggio's thoughts turned to sales and distribution. His first idea was to distribute the Vespa through Guzzi motorcycle dealerships, as Guzzi's earlier start in 1921 meant their dealer network was already established. Piaggio went to see Carlo Guzzi and the Parodi brothers, but despite his business plan and all the men having been born in Genoa, they were unimpressed and turned him down. Guzzi's rejection forced Piaggio to think of another way to create dealers and bring the Vespa to market (in an historical twist, Piaggio bought Moto Guzzi in 2004).


Enrico Piaggio


Early craft and labour intensive Vespa production

Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:49 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
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Location: Northants UK
 
Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
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Location: Northants UK
Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:49 pm linkquote
Several years before in 1938, Piaggio had collaborated on an early scooter design with Giancarlo Camerana of Fiat. They had become friends, and Camerana was now Vice President of Fiat. As Piaggio was looking for dealers for the Vespa, he invited the main Fiat dealer for Milan, Osvaldo Ghizzoni and owner Tancredi Giambattista, to see the prototype. Giambattista remembers 'Ghizzoni had been a Fiat concessionaire since before the war. When Enrico Piaggio asked Osvaldo Ghizzoni whether we were interested in trying a new motorcycle design, we went straight down to Pontedera. We were the first to be called among all the dealers in Italy. It was winter, half the factory was in ruins [from Allied bombing]. There were no windows in the offices, and we found Enrico Piaggio with an army blanket over his shoulders'

'The Vespa immediately made a terrible impression on us. They showed it to us in a workshop. It was a prototype. We didn't like it because we were still tied to the image of the motorcycle. It looked like an abortion to us. An engineer, his name was Carbonero, invited me to have a go in the workshop. And suddenly I changed my mind. The floor was rough, but right away I realized the Vespa could be a brilliant solution to the problem of personal transport'.

From that moment, Ghizzoni agreed to work as a dealer for Piaggio. To make sure Fiat wasn't overshadowed, Ghizzoni created a separate independent company for Vespa sales. He took the name of the street where Fiat was based, Via Sarpi in Milan, and called the new company the Society of Representative Agencies of Industrial Products (SARPI) to sell Vespas across Italy. The creation of SARPI led to Piaggio creating another deal, this time with car maker Lancia. The Vespa would be displayed in Lancia showrooms and dealers would be obliged to sell a certain number of scooters alongside the most prestigious Lancia models of the day. As a result, Vespas gradually appeared in Lancia dealers in November 1945, just six months after the surrender of German forces in Italy as World War II came to an end.


The Pontedera factory site in 1945


Extensive Allied bombing had all but destroyed the Piaggio factory site. The sign says 'Bomba Inexplosa' - Unexploded Bomb

Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:53 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
Posts: 6064
Location: Northants UK
 
Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
Posts: 6064
Location: Northants UK
Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:53 pm linkquote
Gradually, Piaggio was putting the peices together to bring the Vespa to market. But it wasn't until March 1946 that Piaggio felt ready to reveal the Vespa, his first for mass production, to the Italian public. By then, he was re-establishing the company back at the Pontedera factory, and the first 50 models of the Vespa 98 were now ready. On 24 March, the Vespa was displayed at the Mechanics and Metallurgy show in Turin, to showcase the company's innovative use of materials and construction. On 27 and 28 March, Turin newspaper The New Press published short articles on the design but they went largely unnoticed. On 29 March, Piaggio had planned the main event. He chose the high society ambience of Rome Golf Club to present the Vespa, with invited guests from the highest civil, religious and military authorities. The list included US Rear Admiral Stone, then post war Allied Chief Commissioner to Italy, accompanied by a film crew from American newsreel company Movietone. On seeing the pastel green Vespa, Stone shook hands with Enrico Piaggio, congratulated D'Ascanio and his technicians on their work and posed for the camera with this new product. The collection of journalists was less convinced, apparently mystified by the strange, toy-like object described as a 'motoleggera' (light bike). Some thought it looked unstable and had too little power, and said so in their articles, while others could immediately see the potential of its innovative design.

The following day, March 30, journalists were invited to see the Vespa 98 in action. Luigi Di Gennaro, the dealer Piaggio had secured for the Lazio region, showed off the Vespa's acceleration, solidity and handling on grassland and on the straight. Gennaro was also a famous motorcycle racer, and to have him both endorse and ride the Vespa was great publicity for the new machine. These road tests were encouraging, and even with no rear suspension the Vespa 98 was considered more manoeuvrable and comfortable to ride than a traditional motorcycle. A rare photograph captures the gathering. On the left is Guido Galbani, Piaggio mechanic from Pontedera, the man in uniform is Captain Rothney, and holding the handlebars is Luigi Di Gennaro.


The original photograph that captured my imagination about this story


Luigi Di Gennaro demonstrates the Vespa 98 off road

Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:59 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
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Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:59 pm linkquote
The same day, a small, modest advertisement appeared in the second or last pages of some national newspapers, at a time when newspapers were little more than one or two sheet publications. It announced the first consignment of the 'motoleggera utilitaria Vespa' would be available in April, through SARPI and the first seven 'exclusive sales representatives' established with Piaggio, including both Ghizzoni and Gennaro. More members of the public saw the Vespa on the cover of popular Italian magazine La Moto on April 15, 1946 and also on the cover of the Moto Cyclismo motorcycle magazine. The Piaggio display at the 1946 Milan Design Fair soon followed reached yet more people, a year ahead of competitor, Lambretta.


The first Vespa advertisement, with Piaggio, the SARPI distribution company and the regional sales representatives


Moto Cyclismo magazine with the Vespa 98 on the cover


Press story of the new Vespa

Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:04 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
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Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Joined: 05 Sep 2010
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:04 pm linkquote
Following its public debut, the first fifty Vespa 98s sold slowly, but with the skill of the dealers and the introduction of payment by instalments, sales eventually took off. Enrico Piaggio and his team had finally done it - the Vespa had arrived.


Early Vespa 98, inspiring a new generation


Getting used to this weird new machine


An early 98 on the streets of Rome. No stand on this model - just small aluminium 'skids' to the rear underside of the footboard

Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:09 pm

Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
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Veni, Vidi, Posti
1975 Vespa GTR 125, 1976 Vespa V90 (Resto), 2001 Vespa ET4 125 (Sold), 2009 Vespa GTS300 Super
Joined: 05 Sep 2010
Posts: 6064
Location: Northants UK
Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:09 pm linkquote
Collectors examples of the very earliest Vespa 98s still have the original badges from the first seven authorised dealers Enrico Piaggio
established in 1946...


Gelmina plaque


Ghizzoni plaque, the very first dealer to agree to work with Enrico Piaggio, including the Via Sarpi address that inspired the SARPI company

Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:52 pm

Enthusiast
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:52 pm linkquote
Wow, that was an enthralling read!! It flowed so well and the pictures were great. Bellissimo Brown Beret old chap!!
Tue Apr 11, 2017 6:49 am

Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 6:49 am linkquote
Nice work on the history, well written.
Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:57 am

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Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:57 am linkquote
Great story! Thanks for the write-up!
Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:59 am

World Traveler
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:59 am linkquote
Awesome write up. This should be put in the WIKI somewhere. 8)
Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:51 am

Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:51 am linkquote
Well done! Thanks for sharing with us here in the colonies.
Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:11 am

Ossessionato
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:11 am linkquote
Really interesting story and great pics to go with, thank you for sharing!
There were several small details I haven't heard before, like the unsuccesful trial to co-operate with Guzzi in the early days.

About the pics: I absolutely love the simple, naked handlebar style of the old Vespas!
Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:57 am

Molto Verboso
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Molto Verboso
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:57 am linkquote
What an excellent contribution to this community. Many thanks.
Tue Apr 11, 2017 3:44 pm

Hooked
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Hooked
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 3:44 pm linkquote
Thank you. I've never seen this level detail in the previous Vespa histories I've read.
Wed Apr 12, 2017 3:58 am

Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Veni, Vidi, Posti
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Wed Apr 12, 2017 3:58 am linkquote
usmusket wrote:
Thank you. I've never seen this level detail in the previous Vespa histories I've read.
Thanks everyone for your kind compliments. I really enjoyed doing this piece. Because the Vespa Club of Britain magazine is only a small publication, I had to leave out some angles of the story, such as the technical specs of the machine, the variations of the deluxe model, and the creative ways the dealers started to sell the 98 to the Italian people. But it made the flow of the original story easier to capture, and gives scope for some follow up.

I think some of the early history is still coming to light even now. The story of Paolo Zanon is just as fascinating - he's an Italian Vespa enthusiast who through his years of collecting and researching, amassed such a great knowledge that Piaggio found out about him, and gave him access to the Piaggio archives, some of which hadn't really been reviewed for 70 years and many documents not even seen before. Zanon has been able to piece together the stories and history like only a true enthusiast can, and has now written some incredibly detailed books for the Italian market to bring them to Vespisti everywhere. I was able to find some answers to my own curiosities for my story from his interviews.
Thu Apr 20, 2017 3:45 am

saggezza di scala
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saggezza di scala
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Thu Apr 20, 2017 3:45 am linkquote
Brilliant work! You brought a bit of dusty history to life!

How is it that every single installment isn't 'Highly Rated'!

You got a big thumbs up from me.
Thu Apr 20, 2017 7:49 am

Hooked
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Hooked
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Thu Apr 20, 2017 7:49 am linkquote
Nice writing!

If Triumph, Ducati, Enfield and Guzzi can offer "modern-retro"; why not Piaggio/Vespa?

Who's up for a modern ABS/ASR "retro" MP6 in a 150 and/or 300 engine offering? Or best blend IMHO - a P200 2-stroke option.
Fri Apr 21, 2017 8:46 pm

Hooked
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Hooked
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Fri Apr 21, 2017 8:46 pm linkquote
I love reading the history of companies like Piaggio, hearing about the human struggle needed to realize a dream. It's the combination of great design, vision, determination and luck all converging. Thanks for the color on Vespa's beginnings.
Fri Apr 21, 2017 9:08 pm

Ossessionato
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Fri Apr 21, 2017 9:08 pm linkquote
Great bit of work you've done here!

Having watched Discovery's Harley and the Davidsons, I can't help but think there's at least as good a story here.
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