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LEGEND OF THE VESPA

LEGEND OF THE VESPA Rome - (Adnkronos Multimedia) - "It looks like a wasp", exclaimed Enrico Piaggio in 1945, seeing the strange shape of the prototype of the "motorscooter", the invention which was inspired by a light-weight 2-wheel vehicle used by American parachutists. And Vespa it was! Perhaps one of the major Italian industrial and commercial successes which contributed to the triumph of the "Made in Italy" and which still today forms a symbol of Italy in the World.

The beginning of the long story of the Vespa and the Piaggio (www.piaggio.com) dates back to 1884, when Rinaldo Piaggio, a young 20-year old from Genoa, founded a small factory for the manufacture of ships' furnishings, located in Sestri Ponente on the western outskirts of Genoa, using the shed and materials of a timber warehouse bought by his father a few years before. But Rinaldo Piaggio was not easily satisfied. From the ships' furnishings he moved on to the construction of the interiors of railway carriages, then to the production of whole carriages and to the bodywork for lorries and trams. He developed a passion for engines and, at the outbreak of the First World War, he changed direction again and launched into the production of fighter planes. He opened a new factory in Pisa and then, in 1917, a small production unit in Pontedera, not too distant from Pisa but further inland, where the firm's headquarters are still located today.

Piaggio became one of the major European fighter plane manufacturers and the premises were completely destroyed by allied forces air raids during the Second World War. At the end of the war Enrico Piaggio, Rinaldo's son, rolled up his sleeves : he wanted to rebuild the big factory in Pontedera, but not to build aeroplanes. He wanted to invent something new, a lightweight means of transport easy to use, at an economical price. He asked his chief designer of the Piaggio aeroplanes, Corradino D'Ascanio, to transfer his creative talent for designing flying vehicles to design a new mode of travel on the ground. A prototype was soon developed, the MP5. This was ugly and uncomfortable and nicknamed Donald Duck, but it already contained all the innovative ideas for the scooters in the years to come. In 1946 the first marketable product was completed. What should it be called? Vespa, because of its shape.

The rest of the story, still continuing after 60 years, is that of growing success: from 2,500 scooters sold in 1946, to 20,000 in 1948 and 170,000 in 1953. Production plants were opened in Germany, France, Spain, United Kingdom, India and Brazil. In 1960 the sales of the Vespa superseded the 2 million mark. No other means of transport has ever been produced in similar quantities. Born with a 98cc engine, the Vespa has been produced in hundreds of different versions, from the famous "Vespino 50" to the more modern scooters on the market today, through the celebrated PX model created in 1977 and still being produced today after 27 years of undisputed success, through the cinema-world's blessing in William Wyler's film "Roman Holiday", where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck crossed the city on board the unmistakable Vespa 125"U".

Today the Vespa and the Piaggio, are probably the best known names of the firm, without, however, overshadowing its other brand names, the Gilero and the Derbi, and they constitute one of the major successes of Italian industry: almost a thousand million sold in 2003, achieved above all in the scooter section, in which the most recently developed models are now in line with the unrelenting tradition of the Vespa and now makes up 30 percent of the European market. The success, that of the Piaggio and the Vespa, that has during the recent decades also been the driving force of the whole two-wheel Italian industry. This sector has seen the birth of numerous important new manufacturers, notwithstanding the competition from the Far East. Today, Italy leads the motorcycle industry in Europe and is making a significant recovery after the difficult economic situation of the last few years.
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