50 years of nostalgia

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 June, 1996, 12:00am

An Italian-made legend on two wheels, that made the Swinging Sixties buzz, is celebrating its 50th birthday. The anniversary of the Vespa scooter will be marked this month with an international gathering.

Manufacturer Piaggio is also opening a museum at its headquarters near Pisa.

Developed in the aftermath of World War II, the Vespa (an Italian word for wasp) fulfilled a need for cheap yet sophisticated transport.

It was immortalised in the 1953 film Roman Holiday, when Gregory Peck won the heart of Audrey Hepburn while riding a Vespa.

The scooter's distinctive shape, blending American streamlining and Italian design, swiftly replaced the bicycle in Italian cities.

'What the Model T Ford was to America, the Vespa was to Italy,' said one design expert.

Piaggio retains about 43 per cent of Europe's scooter market and more than 200,000 Vespas were sold worldwide last year.

Roberto Leardi, who heads the Vespa Club of Italy, said: 'The Vespa carries a lot more than just people. It symbolises the reconstruction of Italy after the war.'