Our Story Begins in Italy
They say that necessity is the mother o invention.In the case o the Vespa and Lambretta, the samewas also true o design.Today, both brands are widely regarded as iconso a bygone era, but in 1946 they provided a practi-cal means to an end, a way orward in the post-waryears when the country’s industry and inrastruc-ture were devastated.Enrico Piaggio, head o Italy’s leading aeronau-tics company, aced a crisis on two ronts. Not onlywas Italy’s aircrat industry subjected to restrictionsas part o peace agreements, but his two actoriesin Tuscany had been plundered by retreating Ger-man orces and were eventually reduced to rubbleduring strategic Allied bombing.Ater brokering the return o his machinery,Piaggio assessed the economic realities and socialneeds o post-war Italy. He decided that what hiscountrymen needed was an aordable and practi-cal orm o light transportation. Inspired by Alliedmotorcycles, he commissioned a design or a sleek,modern motorbike or the masses.Unhappy with the rst prototype (the Paperino),Piaggio turned to aeronautical designer GeneralCorradino D’Ascanio. The general disliked conven-tional motorcycles and took the opportunity tocorrect what he saw as their dening faws. To keepthe driver clean, he incorporated a shield-like rontand replaced the greasy drive chain with a meshtransmission. By positioning the engine beneathrather than in ront o the seat, he let legroom toaccommodate women. A supporting arm similarto airplane landing gear made the small tyres easyto change, and the handlebar-mounted gear levermade shiting a snap.Upon seeing the nished prototype, Piaggio issaid to have exclaimed, “Sembra una vespa!” (“Itlooks like a wasp”). Italy shared his enthusiasm—the Vespa was an immediate success. Within a ewyears, demand led Piaggio to license production toactories across Europe and in Brazil and India.Another industrialist who saw his actoryrazed during the war, Ferdinando Innocenti, aceda longer road to success with his product—theLambretta—despite having gone into research anddevelopment beore the war had ended.Innocenti was inspired by the U.S.-made Cush-man motorbikes and began to consider using hisrolled tubing industry to produce a similar model.But even ater Piaggio’s success with the sleek,aerodynamic Vespa, Innocenti insisted on a designwith an exposed rear-mounted engine, which heound beautiul. Following months o buzz thatzzled into skepticism as Inncoenti struggled toget it right, public response to the rst Lambrettamodel was lukewarm, and many o the bikes wereshipped to Argentina.The second Lambretta incarnation dialed itin closer with better suspension and a handlebar-mounted gear lever. The third model, the1950 Lambretta 125 LC incorporated a luxurious,streamlined body with sleek, elongated back panels.Innocenti nally got it right with 1951’s D model.With both Vespa and Lambretta in ull produc-tion, the stage was set or the scooter boom toexplode into a craze.
Meanwhile in Vietnam
Ater Vietnam renewed relations with America inthe early 90s, journalist Henry Kamm returned to Vietnam to capture the country at a crossroads.He’d been a correspondent during the war, andound that a ew things had picked up right wherethey’d let o:“Trac is at least as chaotic as it was in theearlier days, and Communist rigor has notprevailed against the penchant o the Saigo-nese to break the social contract or mutualsaety symbolized by trac lights or one-waystreet signs. The young have revived the grimlyunromantic pre-1975 Sunday-evening mat-ing ritual, in which endless swarms o boysdrive their girlriends on their two-wheelers,at maximum speed and noise levels, rom thesquare around the Roman Catholic cathedraldown General Uprising Street to the riverrontand back up the parallel one-way streets.”Kamm’s remembrances o Vietnam’s streets, aswell as the archive o photos at Saigon ScooterCentre depicting proud owners posing on their Ital-ian bikes, are evidence that Saigon was very much apart o the global scooter craze o the 50s and 60s.
22 aslife HCMC
Throughout the war, businessmen imported whatwere previously luxuries—refrigerators, radios, motorbikes—rather than capital goods like factoriesand machinery