Sorry Ferrari and Fiat, but one of the most engaging and enduring modes of Italian transportation has to be the venerable Vespa scooter. Accessible and affordable, embodying fun and adventure, this iconic scooter (the name means Wasp in Italian) dates back to 1946 when warplane maker Piaggio was forced to go into a new line of manufacturing at the end of World War II.
To quote the original patent application, a Vespa is categorized as a "motorcycle with rationally placed parts and elements with a frame combining with mudguards and engine-cowling covering all working parts", of which "the whole constitutes a rational, comfortable motorcycle offering protection from mud and dust without jeopardizing requirements of appearance and elegance.”
Vespas became part of the cultural landscape with the release of the 1953 film “Roman Holiday,” in which Audrey Hepburn famously rode the handlebars with Gregory Peck piloting through the streets of Rome in a 1951 Piaggio model 125.
While that particular model resides in a small museum in Tolochenaz, Switzerland (the Swiss hamlet in which Hepburn resided until her passing in 1993), the world’s oldest surviving Vespa is up for bid this month at the online auction site Catawiki. Carrying chassis number 1003, it’s the third in Piaggio’s “0 Series” of 60 prototype scooters, with the first two built no longer in existence. Not only is model 1003 still running, it’s expected to bring Ferrari-like money under the hammer, namely between $250,000 and $300,000 Euros