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The Vespa was born out of the need for cheap personal transportation in the chaos of postwar Italy, and also the need for aircraft makers Piaggio to diversify their activities. It was desinged by aircraft designer Corradino d'Ascanio without any preconceived ideas that a motorcycle designer would have brought to the task. The frame was pressed steel monocoque, offering maximum rider comfort with its "stop-thru" layout and integral legshields. The engine, gearbox and rear wheel assembly pivoted to provide rear suspension. Wheels were interchangeable, mounted on stub axles like a car and the gearchange was operated by a twistgrip system on the left handlebar.
"Paperino" and Vespa 98 (1946)
The first "Vespas" owed much to a strange looking scooter called the SIMAT designed by Vittorio Belmondo. By taking the SIMAT and adding legshields Piaggio created the MP5, which was nicknamed Paperiono, or Donald Duck. Production was very low at less than a hundred. The original Piaggio-manufactured Vespa scooter was produced at the Pontedera works in 1946. It featured a 98cc fan-cooled, two-stroke, single-cylinder engine, driving directly to the rear wheel. Fairly wide and hung low to the ground, there was no stand, to park it the rider simply leaned the Vespa over on to a running board.
Vespa Gran Sport (1955)
In 1955 one of the most exciting Vespas was introduced, the GS or Grand Sport (VS1). Unlike the British-built 125cc machines, this top model in the Vespa range had a 145cc motor in a different chassis, producing a performance that was considered sensational for the time. The GS evolved through the VS2, VS3 and VS4 until 1959, when the last of the 150 GS Vespas, the VS5 was produced. The 150 Gran Sport was always sold in one colour only, metallic silver grey, and is widely regarded as the classic Vespa.
Vespa Sportique (1961)
The Vespa 150 Sportique model was introduced in June 1961. It was a four-speed machine with a revolutionary two percent petrol mixture engine, which helped increase performance whilst decreasing engine carbon deposits. Available in a range of colours it was priced at £144 19s 9d. Other versions of the Sportique followed towards the end of 1962 when sales began to fall, notably the Sportique Supreme finished in polychromatic silver with chromium plated mudguards and cowls and a Grand Luxe version finished in Bahama Gold. Both were fitted with numerous accessories as standard and carried a 12-month guarantee.
Vespa Standard 90 (1964) and Vespa 150GL (1965)
A 150 model fitted with a new, sleek, steamlined chassis and squared-off headlamp was introduced in the UK in May 1965. Fitted with a new rotary valve power unit it was known as the Vespa 150GL. A lightweight model in the shape of the 90 Standard appeared in the sprint of 1964, filling the gap in the range. Although the model maintained the traditional Vespa design features, considerable restyling had been applied to both the chassis and the engine, with a pleasing effect.
Vespa Supersprint 90 (1965)
The Vespa Superspint 90, normally referred to as the 90SS was a high performance, four-speed version of the Vespa 90. The leg shields and handlebars were much narrower than on the standard machine and a special high-performance engine was fitted, giving the 90SS a performance equivalent to some 200cc scooters. In terms of manoeuvrability, the 90SS was superior to all the bigger machines on the market and consequently became highly sought after for competitive use, such as road trials, gymkhanas and racing. Available in Roma Red, Peacock Blue or white (not UK), the Vespa 90 SS was priced at £133 14s 3d.
Vespa 180 Rally (1970) and 200 Rally Electronic (1972)
The year 1970 brought the 180 Rally, the last incarnation of the GS series which would stay in production until 1973 - a lifespan of eighteen years. Featuring a more powerful engine than the earlier 180SS model, the 180 Rally was designed for the sporting scooterist who required a higher performance. A stablemate to the 180 Rally, the Vespa 200 Rally Electronic made its debut in November 1972. It was the top model in the Vespa range with a claimed engine output of 12.3bhp at 5,700rpm. Priced new at £259, it was the first Vespa to feature electronic ignition.