Is This Piaggio Museum The Most Cheerful Place In Italy?
Story and Photography by Edoardo Mascalchi
“Vespa mangia le mele. Chi non Vespa, no.”
In English, roughly: “Who rides a Vespa eats apples, who’s not on a Vespa doesn’t”. This famous Italian slogan of 1968 captured an entire world of passion. It’s cited as a landmark in Italian advertising because it perfectly represented a Vespa owner’s lifestyle, characterized by values such as freedom, beauty, and respect for the world around them.
Filippetti, the creator of the slogan, thought that the “no” people were adults, seen by him as boring. In the next few months, the 70th anniversary of Vespa will come, so, after the 500D, I decided to pay a tribute to another great little Italian icon: the Vespa: style and elegance symbol.
I’m at the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera (Pisa), one of the three production sites of the brand, where you can visit an entire space dedicated to the Vespa and other products. Rinaldo Piaggio founded the company in 1884 in Genova, albeit dedicated to the production of nautical décor. It then extended to the rail industry, engines, and bodies for trucks. With the First World War, Piaggio decided to concentrate its production in the aviation market by founding a dedicated factory in Pontendera, becoming—especially in the period of the Second World War—an industry leader and also a strategic objective for enemy bombardment.
The destruction of the factory forced Rinaldo’s children to reconsider the whole purpose of the Piaggio brand, instead focusing on individual mobility. The intent was similar to those who designed low-cost vehicles, only on two wheels: scooters were designed to avoid all the issues present in a motorcycle at that time, including balancing, servicing, and cleanliness.
Italian aeronautical engineer—and designer of the first production helicopter—Corradino D’Ascanio is said to have hated motorcycles, which is why his project was a totally revolutionary solution. Watching the first prototype, the MP6, Enrico Piaggio said, “Sembra una Vespa!”
That, of course, meant: “Looks like a vespa,”—vespa is Italian for wasp. It was the birth of a legend, and more than 18 million units sold.
The best way to relive this story is visiting the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera. Downstairs, you can relive all aspects of the Piaggio world with a corner dedicated to current models, and also the Ape (“Bee”) and the Ciao (“Hello”). I found some examples really curious, like the Ape built to be supplied to fire brigades!
Vespas are the focus, including the first prototypes from the ’40s, like the MP5 Paperino (“Donald Duck”) and MP6. You can also admire the most iconic models, like the 98-cc First Series, the GS 150, the Vespa 50 (called the “Vespino”), up to the Vespa 200 Rally with electronic ignition.
There’s also space for Vespa models used in movie productions such as Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, or even a model, the 150 TAP, with a huge canon through the middle!
No matter what else is put on display, the museum is definitely a special place for Vespa fans—and deserves to be visited and appreciated even if you’re not yet eating apples.