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Italy says happy 70th birthday to iconic scooter

Updated: 2016-05-14 13:41:48

( Agencies )

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Actress Honor Blackman poses on a scooter in a slender cocktail dress [Photo provided to China Daily]

Design classic and symbol of the dolce vita, the Vespa turned 70 last month and Italy's most celebrated scooter is buzzing along nicely after tripling sales in the last decade.

It was on a Vespa that Gregory Peck pursued Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, the 1953 film that helped make the marque synonymous internationally with the Roman capital.

But it was actually in Florence that the wasp-shaped two-wheeler was born, Enrico Piaggio having registered the patent in the Tuscan capital on April 23, 1946.

Seventy years later, more than 18 million models have been sold and Piaggio's objective of reinventing the family aeronautical company has been realized and then some.

With the company still dealing with the damage done to its production facilities by World War II bombing, Piaggio asked one of his engineers, Corradino d'Ascanio, to create a motorcycle that would be both easy to produce from the materials at hand and inexpensive for consumers.

The simple brief proved inspired, as did the choice of d'Ascanio, who never made any secret of the fact that he found the motorbikes of the time uncomfortable, cumbersome and dirty.

The engineer addressed each issue one by one and the result was a scooter with a revolutionary design that remain barely untouched to this day.

It was an instant success. From sales of 2,284 in 1946, annual production increased to nearly 20,000 within two years, and to 60,000 in 1950.

By the mid-50s sales had tripled again and Vespas were being manufactured in 13 countries.

Retro style

"The Vespa was better than a motor bike: it had a body with a front apron that protected riders from dust, the mud and the rain," says Patrice Verges, a historian of the automobile industry.

"It had small wheels which made it possible to carry a spare with you at a time when punctures were a regular hazard because of nails dropping off horseshoes.

"And people liked the design and the distinctive noise, which was like that of a wasp."

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