The little Tuscan town of Pontedera, halfway between Pisa and Siena, is dominated by the Piaggio factory. The factory (and museum) is situated on the opposite side of the train station (ie, across the tracks) so is easy to find. Unfortunately there is no where at the train station to store baggage but the museum staff kindly offered to look after our bags.
The Piaggio collection is housed in one of the old factory buildings. The collection is extensive and includes aircraft, trains, civil engineering, Gilera motorcycles and, of course, Vespas. I was quite surprised when browsing through the archive section to see that Piaggio had built everything from heavy bombers, sea planes, fighter aircraft and submarines (just the engines I think). There were also aerial photographs of the factory before and after the war showing the extent of bombing damage.
It was wonderful to see the two Vespa prototypes restored and on display. The original 'Paperino' was built in 1946 as a speculative venture by Piaggio's Biella factory. Enrico Piaggio never liked it and handed the project over to designer Corradino D'Ascanio to rework. D'Ascanio's design got the tick and 1,000 were rushed into production. Reaction from the press was largely negative but the public, desperate for any form of cheap transport, were sold on the Vespa. Between 1947 and 1950 the Vespa was constantly revised and improved with bigger engines, better controls, and improved suspension, before the formula was finally perfected. Since then millions of Vespas have been sold all around the world, turning the Vespa into a cultural icon in the process.
An overview of the Vespa display
A stack of Vespas starting with the 1946 model at the top left
The 1946 Paperino. Only about 50 Paperinos were ever built so they are as rare as hen's teeth and now extremely sought after. It's amazing how small the Paperino actually is. It is much smaller and lower than the familar Vespa.
The original 'Vespa' 98cc prototype.
The early trio - Paperino prototype, Vespa prototype and the first production model
A 1966 Vespa 90 Super Sprint
1947 Vespa 98cc Corsa. In order to prove that the Vespa wasn't some novelty Piaggio entered modified racing versions into competions all around Europe. This early racer had a top speed of 80kph.
Two more racers - the 1949 Vespa 125 Corsa and Vespa 125 circuit racer. The Corsa (no 38) hit 130kph while the circuit racer's top speed was 100kph.
Front view of the racers.
A 1951 Vespa 125 racer and 1953 Vespa 125 U, a rare economy model.
The 1950 Montlhery circuit racer. This streamlined machine hit 137kph.
Taking streamlining to the next level - the 1951 Vespa Siluro. With a specially built twin cylinder engine, this machine set a speed record for a standing start with 171kph over one kilometre.
Vespa as standard... the 150cc models of the 1960s.
The Ape was another of Piaggio's iconic vehicles. On the left is the 1953 Ape 150 and beside it the 1956 Ape AC.
1962 Ape firetruck. Apes are still found all across the world, especially in Asia, where they have barely changed. Modern versions remain popular in Italy.
The 1957 Vespa 400 microcar.
The Gilera Motorcycle Collection
Gilera started building motorcycles at the beginning of the 12th century. They were bought out by Piaggio.
In the 1930s Piaggio built these marvellous stainless steel trains for use on Italy's northern railways.