V is for Vespa: Making Engineering Sexy

By Abi King | Italy

Mar 23

Piaggio Vespa Museum brings the story of this beautiful scooter to life. It's a highlight of travel in Italy.

The Piaggio Vespa Experience

Vespa. On the one hand there’s the breathless icon, the vision of beautiful Italian limbs perched upon beautiful Italian design, zipping past fountains, ochre walls and cafes practically swaying with romantic intrigue. On the other, there’s a bald man in a shirt and tie. The man who designed the thing.

That man was Corradino d’Ascanio.

Piaggio Vespa Museum with its origins

The Piaggio Vespa Story

The Vespa museum in Pontedera, Tuscany, welcomes you not with racy Vespas and photos of celebrities, nor dashing ad campaigns. Those wait inside. Instead there’s a memorial and a polished aerobatic trainer plane, monuments to the man who began his career in aeronautical engineering but who achieved fame with a much smaller machine: the Vespa.

At the end of the Second World War, Corradino d’Ascanio found himself out of a job in an Italy with a ten year ban on military manufacturing. Elsewhere, plant owner Piaggio found himself with the remnants of a blitzed engineering factory and an irritating habit of getting mud on his trousers while riding his motorbike.

The elements collided.

The Vespa Legend

The Story of the Vespa

Piaggio hired d’Ascanio, they both got to work and after a few shiny prototypes, the Vespa was born. Its unique design had gears on the handlebars, a single metal chassis and an easy way for riders to rest their feet on the platform instead of straddling an unwieldy mechanical beast.

Splash guards even protected those tailored Italian suits.

Either from the Vespa’s narrow waist or from the buzzing of the engine, the motorbike reminded both men of a wasp. This was handy, since Vespa in English means wasp.

Creating the Vespa in Italy

Falling in Love with Vespas

Fame and Hollywood followed, surpassed only by a visit from the British Blue Peter team.* The Vespa became both a legend and an art form and the museum in Pontedera celebrates it well.

Yet the words on the plaque by the exit are the ones that stay with me still:

“Corradino d’Ascanio, 1891 – 1981

A man of science and extraordinary imagination and creativity.

The book of his life tells the story of aviation, the helicopter and the Vespa.”

The museum also shows glamorous photos of a woman with long hair clasping the man of her dreams as they speed through the Tuscan countryside.

Behind every sexy invention, you’ll find an engineer.

The History of the iconic Italian Vespa

Disclosure: I visited Tuscany as part of a blog trip organised by Avventurosa (a social media specialist) & Casa Gentili (a Bed & Breakfast in Tuscany.) Neither have anything to do with aeronautical engineering – or the mighty Vespa.

Did you enjoy this story on the Piaggio Vespa museum in Tuscany, Italy? Why not pin one of the images below!

The sexy vespa museum in Tuscany, Italy via @insidetravellab

The Vespa Piaggio Museum in Tuscany, Italy. An unusual thing to do and an intriguing story. Via @insidetravellab


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Melvin says:

    2nd picture from the bottom… I first thought, it had your name on it! :)

  • Serena says:

    my grandfather had a few of these lovely vespa, and i’m dreaming to buy one for myself in the future! and you have to know, my boyfriend is a sexy engineer :D

  • Aly says:

    Owning my own little Vespa and scooting around has always been a dream of mine! I aim to get one one of these days, just need to make sure I get a long scarf, goggles, metal helmet, and either fresh bouquet or long loaf of French bread to put in the basket and I’ll be set ;) ha ha

  • Alison says:

    Sounds a great place to visit, it reminds me of the Citroen showroom on the Champs-Elysees. My interest in engines generally disappears after I’ve gone from A to B, but things like this always inspire me.

  • Erica says:

    Vespas are so romantic… especially in Italy! /swoon

  • jade says:

    Totally agree with Erica- they are pretty romantic. I’d love to take one around Italy!

  • Abi says:

    Here’s to sexy engineers and vespas, then!
    @Melvin – I don’t think I’m cool enough to pull off a custom made vespa with my name on it. But I’m happy to be proved wrong ;)

  • Bluegreen Kirk says:

    I think they are great but my wife on the other hand cant stand them. I think I am mostly to blame since I always tease her about getting a little pink one while I ride my motorcycle. She would kill me if i took her to the Vespa Museum.

    • Abi says:

      Or perhaps she would have a change of heart…?!

  • Erica says:

    I would LOVE to own a Vespa. We’re currently looking at getting a scooter for me here in Austin right now. I would LOVE this museum!

  • When I left Columbus, these started getting really popular among the downtown-dwellers. I certainly wouldn’t mind having one to scoot around town :-)

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic says:

    Kali and I have decided that if (when?) we move back to San Francisco, we’re totally getting a Vespa! It’s not nearly as romantic as driving one around Italy, but they’re easy to park and it would make for beautiful trips around Napa valley in the summer. :)

  • Federico says:

    I’m thinking about getting a scooter, a vespa would be great! But then, as I think it over, I’m sure it’ll get robbed :(

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