By Dave Turner
Vespa was the constant competition for Lambretta, starting production around the same time, after the end of the Second World War. Rinaldo Piaggio opened a factory in 1884 making wood working machinery. By 1915 the factory was involved with aviation but following the second world war was forced to find alternative products for his factory to make. Inexpensive transport was one of the obvious great requirements in that devastated period and so like Lambretta, scooters were the chosen subject. However, unlike Lambretta, Vespa managed to survive to the present time.
Trying to create an accurate but understandable run down of production Vespas is complicated by the fact that various models ran in parallel as production took place in several countries. For example Douglas in the UK produced Vespas for several years and imported overseas made examples to sell alongside their own products and following the end of local manufacture. Rather than try to tabulate the numerous versions of Vespa, identifying the models that have been noted will not be so confusing. As with the Lambretta, details of any that have been overlooked will be gratefully received. In an effort to reduce the inevitable complexity the comments have been restricted to solo model scooters, invariably those with sidecars, or adaptations either in front or behind, have been based on a model of a solo scooter.
Piaggio produced a prototype scooter in 1945 and called it Paperino – Donald Duck, reflecting the Italian love of all things Disney. Fiats 500 was Topolino – Mickey Mouse. The Paperino had a 98cc two stroke engine mounted alongside the rear wheel, a layout that was to be followed by Piaggio for many years. Maisto included this unusual subject in their superb range of 1:18 scale die cast scooters while it has also been noted as listed by Edicola. It is possible that these are one and the same.
The body of this first effort was not open in front of the seat and that defied the object of marketing these little machines to the ladies. So the next machines were designed to meet this and gave us the shape that became familiar as the Vespa, named because of the buzzing noise they made – like a wasp – Vespa in Italian. Retaining the 98cc power unit the first of the open frame Vespas were made for just two years – 1946 to 47. All these early machines are often referred to as the handlebar Vespas because of their plated bicycle type handlebars featured on pre-1958 examples – although the UK Douglas built machines employed them for longer.
The Maisto 1:18 series of model Vespas is almost a complete history of the subject, so far no less than 40 different models have been noted. Following the Paperino, they, along with Edicola did the 1946 98cc, while a smaller range of Vespa models, in both scale and coverage, was the 1:32 by New Ray who also did the little 98cc. Vespa produced a ‘sporty’ version of this machine called the Corsa and it has been listed once again by both Maisto and Edicola in 1:18 scale.
Meanwhile, the people at Piaggio had noticed that the Lambretta had now grown to be a 125cc machine and that allowed it to carry a second person and so the first Vespa 125s were made from 1948. As well as the engine, some suspension modifications took place but visually there was little difference to the 98cc machine. Around 1949 it can be noted that the front suspension was moved from the left to the right side while more ‘competition” machines were produced such as the 125 Circuito and Montlhery in 1950.
Models of the early 125 came from Edicola and New Ray while Maisto offer models of both the Montlhery and Circuito. By 1951 the Vespa had reached its developed level that became familiar around the World, Douglas in the UK produced their version, designated 2L2 complete with the headlamp moved up to the front apron and rod operated gear change that remained with their product up to 1953. Hoffmann produced the Vespa in Germany from 1949, a De Luxe version of which was called the Konigin, Hoffmann production ended with a licensing dispute in 1954. after this the German Vespa production was under Messerschmitt for a short time. Mercury in Italy produced models of the 125 while Benbros in the UK produced a very similar model and a genuine repro was made by Scottoy. A rather crude toy from Moko featured the early pattern of front suspension together with the headlight mounted on the handlebars and the early type of engine cover, a combination of features not found so far on real production examples.
A range called CLM Hitech appears on the internet, whether makers or as marketing operation is not clear but a 1951 125 by them has been noted. Marked on the apron as “ZIP” a 1:18 scale 125 model is rather dated by the inscription on the left side of the front mudguard “ Made In Hong Kong British Empire”. For strength the front and back wheels are supported at both sides. A Vespa team competed successfully in six day trials in Italy and replicas were sold to the public as “Sport 6 Giorni” and have been produced in model form by Maisto, Edicola and New Ray.
By 1953 the gear change had been modified from rod to cable operation and the engine cover made significantly smoother. Douglas called their examples the G model. A 125U appeared from Piaggio this was a Utility version but had the headlamp on the handle bars together with abbreviated bodywork over the engine. Models of 1953 Vespas that feature the headlamp on the front mudguard were called Faro Basso (low light) to differentiate. Tekno have made diecast models of the low light standard version, and that has had copies made by BTS.
To be continued
|Maisto||China||4332||Sport 6 Giorni||1:18||diecast|
|Edicola||ACO 12||Sport 6 Giorni||1:18||diecaat|
|New Ray||China||Sport 6 Giorni||1:32||diecast|
Illustrations – Vespa in Miniature to 1953
New Ray 1:32 diecast from China:6043, 1946 Vespa 98.
BTS 1:32 metal from UK: 1953 Faro Basso, repro of Tekno.
Tekno 1:32 diecast from Denmark: 442 1953 Faro Basso
Mercury 1:32 diecast from Italy: 212, 1951 125
Moko 1:32 diecast from UK: combination of high headlight, front suspension on left and early engine cover, difficult to date.
Benbros 1:32 diecast from UK: 15, 1951 125, could be Mercury copy.
Maisto 1:18 diecast from China: 5083, 1953 125U.
Zip 1:18 plastic from Hong Kong: 1952 125
Maisto 1:18 diecast from China: 4340 1945 Paperino prototype.
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