Piaggio: From the Heavens to the Earth | BOOK REVIEW
If really you want to know the true story about the birth of Vespa then this is the only book you need, but grab it quickly before the limited print run sells out.
There are many myths and rumours surrounding the origins of the legendary scooter from Piaggio. The best way to know which are false and which are true is to hear it from the horse’s mouth, but 1946 was an age away. Most of those involved have left this mortal coil.
Perhaps better still, is to do what Paolo Zanon has done, and read through all the original documents in the Piaggio archive. The letters between Enrico Piaggio and all of his engineers depict a vivid picture of the situation as the company tried to diversify post-war.
I wasn’t prepared for quite how fascinating these first-hand accounts of Piaggio’s revival would be. Zanon’s book paints a full-colour picture of the difficulties involved in virtually creating a new class of vehicle from scratch. Scooters existed before, but nothing compared to this newcomer. Vespa stormed the world.
Paolo’s book explains exactly how and why Vespa was a runaway success. It paints Enrico Piaggio as a very astute and determined businessman and also really accomplished organiser, followed by a loyal and talented workforce. Enrico knew enough to reject the Paperino prototype and to forge ahead instead with d’Ascanio’s Vespa.
The right path was not obvious though, as chapters on rejected prototypes reveal. Anyone who says that a 4-stroke automatic GTS is not a true Vespa should think again. Zanon reveals that Piaggio tested both automatic transmission and 4-stroke engines in the very first year of their scooter’s existence. There are many more revelations about the early Vespas that we’ll tell you about on SLUK in the future.
Zanon’s background as a historian shines through in his detective work utilised to follow the threads of the story. The chapter I found most riveting was Enrico Piaggio’s attempts to protect the Vespa designs from being copied and his palpable frustration at being unable to patent the Vespa. Piaggio did protect as many elements of the name, trademark and individual technologies as possible, and even took Innocenti to court for infringements used on the Lambretta.
The book could not tell the full story of this period without covering Piaggio’s other terrestrial products. The Ape 3-wheeler again lead the market, with Lambretta eventually following the Ape layout with luggage being carried behind the driver.
Piaggio also took to the sea with their Moscone outboard engine. Here was another project that helped to mobilise a country but which presented severe technical problems to overcome at the outset.
VIDEO | Inside Paolo Zanon's book
What makes this book special is that it reveals the birth of Vespa as a very human story. It tells of all the incredible characters who acted as dealers and promoted the brand through sport. Many of these were fresh out of the military and possessed of a gung-ho spirit to improve their lives and their country through trading Piaggio’s products.
Paolo is only producing a small run of 700 copies of this absolutely beautiful hard-back, large format tome in English. It has been translated from the original Italian version by Dean Orton of Rimini Lambretta Centre and proofed by us here at SLUK.
Piaggio – From the Heavens to the Earth is only the first testament of Paolo Zanon’s history of the Vespa scooter and further editions will be released in English in due course.
As a limited edition collector’s item it carries a price tag that’s almost as hefty as the book itself, but as a collection of beautiful unseen archive images and definitive text, if you are really into Vespa – or know someone who is – then this book will definitely not disappoint.
How to get it
Paolo’s book is available for pre-order from the SLUK Shop here priced at £65. It will be posted direct from the publisher in Italy upon release (hence the shipping cost).
We have secured ten author-signed copies for the first orders taken via SLUK.