The Primavera turns 50 as Vespa celebrate the scooter that gave the world wings

The Primavera turns 50 as Vespa celebrate the scooter that gave the world wings
By Robert Hackwill
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As the sun returns Italy embarks on a year of celebrations of the iconic 1968 model, and in Piaggio's hometown of Pontedera locals celebrate the success of a concept that has made the town wealthy, and Piaggio a market leader.


Few modes of transport are as iconic and evocative as a Vespa. The little moped, born in 1946, took Italy then Europe by storm, and one of Piaggio's most popular models, the Primavera, is 50 this year.

Fans gathered in Pontedera, the company's birthplace, to celebrate.

"I have lived with the Vespa since my childhood and for me the Vespa really means, as my friend says, to be free to share joy with everyone," said one owner.

Postwar Italians needed cheap mobility. Vespa provided that, and a lot more.

"The Vespa for Italy represents Italian style, from cinematography to the passion that surrounds this vehicle. For Pontedera it meant prosperity," says the Vespa Club Chairman Eugenio Leone.

Now the biggest maker of two-wheeled vehilces in Europe, Piaggo manufactures here and in India and Vietnam.

While the anniversary has been most taken to heart in Piaggio's hometown, which was all but taken over by an armada of scooters recently and has staged a mass road race in the streets, tens of thousands of Vespa fans up and down Italy are holding rallies and celebrations of their own.

The name Vespa means wasp in Italian and is a nod to the noise the engine makes. On the downside - too much enthusiasm whilst revving up can quickly flood the engine and spark plugs need to be cleaned. But on the upside - the scooter has given millions of Italians their freedom, providing cheap transportation. It has also become an ambassador of Italian style.

Piaggio, founded in 1926 was making warplanes by the time Mussolini fell, and when Italy had its aircraft industry severely restricted the company turned its former expertise from making fighter planes into constructing a scooter available to the masses which incorporated a unified body part around an engine.

The original patent includes the description: "motorcycle of a rational complexity of organs and elements combined with a frame with mudguards and a casing covering the whole mechanical part".

The Primavera, which means spring in Italian, was created in 1968 producing a light but nippy machine, at a price most people could afford. The Vespas have a maximum speed of approximately 59 mph and come with either 50-125-150cc engines. The cost of a basic model starts at just over 3,000 euro ($3600) moving up to 5,000 euro ($6,090) for a bigger engine.

For many, the Primavera was the first vehicle they owned as teenagers.

To mark the anniversary Piaggio have opened a massive new Vespa museum in Pontedera with some 250 exhibits dating back to 1909.

Ten thousand people walked through the museum on the first day it opened, proving that many people will come a long way for just a glimpse of that good old Italian style.

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