Viva Vespa!

Celebrating Vespa style
Celebrating Vespa style 04:13

When in Amsterdam, do as the Dutch do and ride a bike. When in Rome, on the other hand, do as Seth Doane does: 

The best way to see an ancient icon of Italy may be from the back of a far-more-modern one: A Vespa.

Annie Ojile is a Minnesota native who, after a dozen years here, navigates the roads like a Roman -- thanks, of course, to her Vespa.  "We're taking the time to enjoy the ride, to see what's around us, and to be seen," she told Doane, perched on the back of her motorbike.

Annie Ojile of Scooteroma take Seth Doane for a ride.  CBS News

Ojile started a tour company Scooteroma, to let visitors see Rome as she does. She zipped past all of the tourists getting on the tour buses.

"Don't take the bus!" she shouted  "Get on the Vespa!"

She lives what she calls the Vespa vita, or Vespa life. "Driving a Vespa is definitely a lot about style," she said.

Ojile favors her bright red Vespa. "Because it's sexy! It's beautiful, stands out, I'm not a shy girl."

And the Vespa helps show that?  "Absolutely! I make an entrance no matter where I go."

An Italian classic. CBS News

At Vespa's headquarters and factory in Pontedera, Italy, Davide Zanolini sounds like he works in fashion, not scooters. "When you drive a Vespa, you are wearing your Vespa," he told Doane. "It is part of your look."

The talk here is about creating the "new collection." Vespas come in 12 shades today. The plan is to let future buyers customize them, choosing from about 20 colors.

Parent company Piaggio had been manufacturing planes in Italy through World War II. Then in 1946, as the nation struggled to recover from the war, Piaggio designed a scooter for the masses. It was cheaper than a car, more accessible, and (of course) had that coveted Italian style.  

An early design for Piaggio's Vespa scooter. CBS News

As Zanolini pointed out, it was the first vehicle driven by women in Italy in the 1950s. "And so Vespa contributed very much to the independence and the freedom of women in Italy."

"Simply because of the design? Because you could get on this wearing a dress?" asked Doane.

The only way to travel: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday." Paramount


In the film "Roman Holiday" (1953), Vespa got the sort of product-placement companies can only dream of. 

"For sure," said Zanolini. "Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn driving the Vespa in Rome is probably the most iconic image."

Today, designers at Vespa are trying to retain some of that vintage glamor. 

"Vespa has strong roots in the past, but has to look forward," said Marco Lambri, Vespa's chief designer.

He explained how they work to find the right balance to move this heritage brand into the future. "Vespa is an icon, and as an icon, [it] has an iconic shape," he told Doane.

Creating new designs with an iconic shape. CBS News

Digital ideas take shape in the model shop where, according to Lambri, the ideas have to be perfect. "You have to recognize the Vespa when your eyes are closed," he said.

On the road, Annie Ojile -- wearing lipstick that matches her Vespa -- thinks heads should turn. 

The Romans designed  a pretty spectacular backdrop a couple thousand years ago. And Vespa -- just over 70 years old -- seems to fit right in. Perfecto!

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