From Roman Holiday to Lady Gaga, the cult of Vespa continues…
Almost seventy years since Italian aircraft manufacturer Enrico Piaggio teamed up with a brilliant aeronautical engineer and inventor named Corradino D’Ascanio to create the Vespa scooter as a functional and cheap mode of transport in post-war Italy, this design icon is more popular than ever. Even today, if you take a stroll through the centre of Rome, Italy you’ll see Vespa scooters parked in every conceivable place – including sidewalks! And of course, the streets really are alive with the distinctive sound of its buzzing engine. Vespa, in fact, means wasp in Italian.
Whilst Piaggio continues to make motorcycles today, in recent years there has been a renewed interest in restored vintage Vespas with collectors clubs and rallies all over the world and a range of licensed memorabilia items inspired by the classic Vespa design of the 1950s and 1960s.
But WHY has the Vespa stood the test of time? This post takes a look at the enduring appeal of the Vespa over the years in movies, music, art, and fashion, and seeks to answer this question.
#1 – Hollywood loves Vespas! – From Audrey Hepburn to Al Pacino
Ever since Audrey Hepburn took Gregory Peck for a spin on a Vespa scooter in the 1952 movie Roman Holiday, there has been an ongoing love affair between Hollywood and the world’s coolest scooter. Just about any film set in Italy – even if it isn’t actually filmed on location – will throw in a Vespa scooter for added atmosphere, and hundreds of movies have included it over the years as a symbol of being utterly cool!
Notable film titles that spring to mind are Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie To Catch a Thief, Federico Fellini’s 1959 masterpiece La Dolce Vita, Michael Radford’s 1994 Il Postino (The Postman), Julian Temple’s retro Absolute Beginners (1986), and even Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). No less iconic than Roman Holiday, however, is the presence of the Vespa scooter in Quadrophenia …which leads nicely into Number 2 on our list! Read on…
The classic Vespa chase scene from Roman Holiday! – If only the streets were still as empty in modern day Rome…
#2 – Rock and pop stars love Vespas! – From The Who to Lady Gaga
The 1979 British movie Quadrophenia was inspired by Pete Townshend’s rock opera of the same name, which was released as an album by The Who in 1973. Set in mid-1960s Britain the action takes place predominantly over a bank holiday weekend when rival gangs of Lambretta and Vespa riding Mods, and motorcycle riding Rockers, descend on the seaside resort of Brighton and mayhem ensues.
Just in case you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t reveal the ending, but in the spectacular finale the main protagonist Jimmy (played by Phil Daniels) rides the highly customized – with dozens of mirrors and other Mod paraphernalia – Vespa GS, ridden by Sting (in an early acting role) earlier in the film.
More recently everybody from the Jonas Brothers to Lady Gaga has been seen pictured with a Vespa. Lady Gaga has restyled her Vespa S 150 scooter over the last few years – it has been white, denim, and red!
The Quadrophenia Trailer – The ultimate scooter culture movie explained
#3 – Artists love Vespas – From high art to comic book art
Passionate Vespa owners go to great lengths to customize their scooters and the wide, protective front allows lots of space for decorative designs.
In 1962 a Vespa 150 S model was personally customised by surrealist artist Salvador Dali.
In Alvin Lee’s spectacular cover art for Issue #68 of Marvel Comics’ Deadpool, the mercenary anti-hero is seen astride, of all things, a red Vespa!
#4 – The Vespa is stylish and elegant
In most of Italy the long summer season means that riding around town on a scooter is possible for many months of the year. In packed cities like Rome where the traffic is clogging up the roads even suited office workers head to work on a Vespa.
The beauty of the design is that the oily machinery, and dirty sputtering engine parts are completely hidden. You can sit on your Vespa and never risk ruining your clothes! Is this one of the secrets behind its success?
NB – Always wear a crash helmet!
Hollywood and fashion shoots are fantasy worlds…In real life always remember to wear a helmet if you ride any kind of scooter!
Be safe on your Vespa with a matching helmet
Nothing says style more than a matching Vespa Gran Turismo helmet – an essential item for the fashion conscious Vespa owner, who also drives responsibly. Remember – all scooter helmets should be replaced every 3-5 years – they may look new on the outside, but the integral inner shell deteriorates after a while.
#5 – Vespas are eco-friendly – A green icon for the new millennium
When the Vespa was developed in 1946 car ownership was a faraway dream for most people in post-war Italy. Nowadays the Vespa scooter has become a symbol of socially responsible city mobility. Leave your four wheels at home – if you can’t walk there, or cycle there, a Vespa is the next best thing.
Riding a Vespa is a great way of showing you respect the environment and the quality of life in our city centres, by helping to reduce carbon emissions from cars. The modern Vespa has an eco-friendly four-valve engine and from an economic point of view scooters will also save you money – it is hugely more efficient than most cars.