During World War II the Italian aircraft manufacturer company Piaggio began work on the prototype for a low-cost motor scooter. The project fell to aeronautical engineer Corradino D´Ascanio, whose initial design (which Enrico Piaggio referred to as a vespa (Italian for wasp) led to the first Vespa in 1946.
Cherished for their ease and style, Vespa scooters have been celebrated in the seven decades since their introduction, with more than 18 million motorbikes sold.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Fashion blogger Linda Tol poses during Milan Fashion Week on September 21, 2014.
As Vespa's Davide Zanolini, the company's executive vice president of worldwide marketing and communication, told CBS News' Seth Doane, "When you drive a Vespa, you are wearing your Vespa. It is part of your look."
As the Romans Do
Annie Ojile, an American expat from Minnesota, has lived in Italy for 12 years, and gets around Rome with ease thanks to her Vespa. She even launched a tour company, Scooteroma, to let visitors see the Eternal City as she does.
She favors her bright red Vespa for standing out in a crowd. "Because it's sexy!" she told CBS News' Seth Doane.
An early design for Piaggio's Vespa scooter.
The first production model, sold in April 1946, featured a two-stroke single cylinder engine witha top speed of 60 kpm (37 mph).
An undated photo of Piaggio's Pontedera factory, which started producing Vespa scooters in 1946.
The Vespa factory in Pontedera, Italy.
The Vespa factory in Pontedera, Italy.
The 1949 Vespa 98 was built for racing.
Another racing Vespa was the 1950 model built for France's Montlhery circuit. Over 10 hours on the course, it set 17 world records, including driving more than 1,000 kilometers at an average speed of 124.3 kph (or 77.2 mph).
This 1951 torpedo Vespa set a record on the Rome-Ostia motorway with an average speed of 106 mph.
The Vespa 125, from 1951, was a more comfortable version of the 1948 model, and was featured in the film "Roman Holiday."
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on board a Vespa in "Roman Holiday" (1953).
A 1950s Vespa rally.
A Vespa 125 Sidecar from 1955.
A man drives a Vespa motorcycle sidecar with three children at the Jarama Circuit on June 9, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.
Piaggio decided to bump up the number of wheels from two to four with its 1957 Vespa 400, a microcar with a two-cylinder, two-stroke, rear-mounted engine.
In 1962, two Madrid University students on a tour of Europe met Salvador Dali in Cadaquez. The artist decorated their motorbike, and affixed his signature, creating a unique museum piece.
Actor Anthony Quinn, on a Vespa scooter, waits for actress Ingrid Bergman, during production of the film "The Visit," in Rome, November 3, 1963.
90 SS Super Sprint
The 1966 Vespa 90 SS Super Sprint), with mounted spare wheel.
Through the magic of movies, this 1967 Vespa Alpha, built for the spy film "Dick Smart, Agent 2007," carried its hero through the air (as a helicopter) and under the sea (transforming into a submarine). Top speed: 65 mph.
In 1970, for the French market, the Vespa 50 was adapted with pedals.
Vespa 100 Sport
The Vespa 100 Sport (1978), built for the American market. To meet U.S. regulations, the tail light was made larger
Vespa 50 S
Vespa's 50 S, from 1985, was a more powerful 50 cc model.
The 1996 Vespa ET4 had an environmentally-friendly, 125 cc four-stroke engine.
An homage to Ferrari following their 2000 Formula One World Championship, this 2001 Vespa ET4 150's leather saddle was made of the same upholstery material used in Ferrari cars.
Vintage Vespas are pictured on sale at Magrett's Auto in Bridgehampton, L.I., May 27, 2002.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow leaves her home on a Vespa scooter August 12, 2003 in Central London.
A Santa Claus races on a vintage Vespa scooter to deliver presents, in Uitikon near Zurich, Switzerland, Nov. 30, 2004.
About 200 Vespa fans take to the road with vintage Vespas in Meilen, Switzerland, on Saturday, July 1, 2006.
The Vespa 46, introduced in 2012.
Vespa 946 Emporio Armani
In 2015, Emporio Armani worked with Piaggio to create a special version of the Vespa 946.
"Vespa Mirrors," an art installation by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, is displayed during a summer arts festival in Nantes, France on July 3, 2015.
A view of the Piaggio Museum, which opened in 2000 in part of the company's former tool-shop in Pontedera. Pictured: The Vespa 125 Montilery.
The Piaggio Museum's Vespa Collection features precious models and prototypes of the scooter dating back to the 1940s.
A man uses a spray gun as he applies a coat of paint on a vintage Vespa scooter body, outside his workshop along a road in Karachi, Pakistan, May 10, 2017.
Over the years Piaggio has had licensing agreements to produce Vespa scooters in other countries, including India, Indonesia, Taiwan and the U.K.
Today, at Vespa's headquarters and factory in Pontedera, designers are trying to retain some of that vintage glamour in new models. "Vespa has strong roots in the past, but has to look forward," Marco Lambri, Vespa's chief designer, told Seth Doane.
A view of the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera.
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