The Vespa, undoubtedly one of the symbols of pop culture, of freedom, has turned 75 years old. We traveled until 1946: on April 23 of that year we saw the first 15 Vespas; They were presented at the Golf Circle in Rome and from that moment until today, almost 19 million Vespas have been sold in the world.
This mythical motorcycle is a symbol of movies like Holidays in Rome, but it has been the protagonist in others: the Vespa helicopter used in a James Bond movie; in Expensive Diary, a mythical film from the 90s, with Nanni Moretti touring Rome on her Vespa.
The Vespa has been the fetish vehicle of many celebrities of all kinds … in love with the Vespa because – as many of them say – there is no reason but passion before the Vespa. Tom Hanks has a Vespa, Hugh Grant also has a Vespa and even Toni Bennett.
The first Vespa
The history of the Vespa begins in a family business that, during World War II, was dedicated to the production of bombers. They decided after the war to stop making airplanes and commissioned the design of a motorcycle to the engineer Renzo Spolti and a year later to Corradino D’Ascanio.
In 1945 the first prototype appeared, the MP5, Moto Piaggio number 5, they called it the Paperino because of its resemblance to Donald Duck. The first model to go on sale had a 99 cubic centimeter engine, and it cost 55,000 lire (a median salary at the time in Italy was 10,000 lire). The Times newspaper said of her that it was “an Italian product like no other has been seen before from the Roman car.”
Around the world on Vespa
The Vespa took Antonio Veciana and Santiago Guillén around the world in 1962. At that time they were two young students from La Mancha, and they had a Vespa called Dulcinea. They had then more than 18,000 kilometers ahead and a world record: to go around the world in 80 days on Vespa. The idea came from watching the film Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne: “That day we went to bed very late and we left everything ready.” They finished high school, started straight and before they wanted to do something worthwhile, and they did it on the back of a Vespa 150 from the year 61, the first made in Spain.
Dulcinea is already part of the history of Vespa and is in the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera (Italy). And these two from La Mancha succeeded in getting Dalí to paint it: “He said he was very excited because he had never painted a motorcycle. We went to Cadaqués and the stay with Dalí was a very beautiful experience.”
It took them 2 and a half years to prepare for the trip. The first attempt failed because they could not send the motorcycles to cross the Atlantic and Pacific: “We had to delay the start for a year.”
On the back of Dulcinea, Antonio and Santiago set out to break a record: “We left on July 25, the day of Santiago, patron saint of Spain, and we returned on the day of the Virgin of Pilar.” They traveled through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, the United States, England, France again and Spain (18,937 kilometers) … they even sent postcards from Pakistan that reached Spain when they had already returned.
This story was captured in the book In 79 days: Around the World on Vespa, the rights of which are assigned to Manos Unidas. “The Vespa is a philosophy, a way of understanding life”, explains Antonio in Day by day.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.