25 Mar 2012

Modernist Product of the Month – Vespa GS 150

The Vespa GS 150, designed by Corradino D’Ascanio (Italian, 1891-1981) 1955. Manufactured by Piaggio S.p.A., Pontedera, Italy. It is difficult to fully appreciate the impact that the Vesp GS 150 must have had when it was first seen in public at the Milan show towards the end of 1954. It

25 Mar 2012

The Vespa GS 150, designed by Corradino D’Ascanio (Italian, 1891-1981) 1955. Manufactured by Piaggio S.p.A., Pontedera, Italy.

It is difficult to fully appreciate the impact that the Vesp GS 150 must have had when it was first seen in public at the Milan show towards the end of 1954. It was the scootering equivalent of the launch of the “E” Type Jaguar at Geneva in 1961. A landmark in scooter history, 60 mph performance was combined with beautifully streamlined styling that hardly seems dated today. There were other scooters around with this kind of performance, mostly German in origin. Whilst well engineered, they were heavy and had hopeless body styling. There was now a definite market for a fast touring scooter that could be ridden to- and compete in-the hundreds of sporting events that took place throughout Europe every summer. The GS had no serious competitor in this market until the introduction of the Lambretta TV series 2 in 1959. If you add style to the equation then there was no serious competitor, ever.

Apart from being 150 cc, the extra power was accounted for by enlarged porting and carburetion, which allowed the engine to run to 7500 rpm – 50% more than the 125 could manage. 7500 rpm is nothing special by today’s standards, but it certainly was at the time. The engine featured a stronger crankshaft and larger bearings to cope with the additional stresses. For the first time a fourth gear was fitted to a Vespa, and there was a larger petrol tank.

The headlight was moved upwards so that it could turn with the steering, and encased in a curvaceous cast alloy headset. The headlight was of a larger diameter than the one on the 125, and the speedo was new.

The side panels were now much larger, and a dual seat fitted as standard – Finally -and most obviously – the wheel size was increased to 10 inches.

The GS150 was produced in the era preceding that of spiralling inflation. Consequently, most of the changes can be considered to be genuine improvements and not, as sometimes happened in later years, excuses for cost cutting. Sometimes, as with the case of the new panel clip introduced for the VS4, it was possible to produce something that was easier to use, looked better and was cheaper to make.

Vespa History

Vespa is an Italian brand of scooter manufactured by Piaggio. The name means wasp in Italian.

The Vespa has evolved from a single model motor scooter manufactured in 1946 by Piaggio & Co. S.p.A. of Pontedera, Italy—to a full line of scooters and one of seven companies today owned by Piaggio—now Europe’s largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles and the world’s fourth largest motorcycle manufacturer by unit sales.[1]

From their inception, Vespa scooters have been known for their painted, pressed steel unibody which combines a complete cowling for the engine (enclosing the engine mechanism and concealing dirt or grease), a flat floorboard (providing foot protection), and a prominent front fairing (providing wind protection) into a structural unit.

Concept

The inspiration for the design of the Vespa dates back to Pre-World War II Cushman scooters made in Nebraska, USA. These olive green scooters were in Italy in large numbers, ordered originally by Washington as field transport for the Paratroops and Marines. The US military had used them to get around Nazi defense tactics of destroying roads and bridges in the Dolomites (a section of the Alps) and the Austrian border areas.

Design

Piaggio MP5 “Paperino”, the initial Piaggio prototype

In 1944, Piaggio engineers Renzo Spolti and Vittorio Casini designed a motorcycle with bodywork fully enclosing the drivetrain and forming a tall splash guard at the front. In addition to the bodywork, the design included handlebar-mounted controls, forced air cooling, wheels of small diameter, and a tall central section that had to be straddled. Officially known as the MP5 (“Moto Piaggio no. 5”), the prototype was nicknamed “Paperino” (either ‘duckling’ or Donald Duck in Italian).

Enrico Piaggio was displeased with the MP5, especially the tall central section. He contracted aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, to redesign the scooter. D’Ascanio, who had earlier been consulted by Ferdinando Innocenti about scooter design and manufacture, made it immediately known that he hated motorcycles, believing them to be bulky, dirty, and unreliable.

D’Ascanio’s MP6 prototype had its engine mounted beside the rear wheel. The wheel was driven directly from the transmission, eliminating the drive chain and the oil and dirt associated with it. The prototype had a unit spar frame with stress-bearing steel outer panels. These changes allowed the MP6 to have a step-through design without a centre section like that of the MP5 Paperino. The MP6 design also included a single sided front suspension, interchangeable front and rear wheels mounted on stub axles, and a spare wheel. Other features of the MP6 were similar to those on the Paperino, including the handlebar-mounted controls and the enclosed bodywork with the tall front splash guard.

Design Icon

In recent years, many urban commuters have purchased new or restored Vespas. A shortage of available parking for automobiles in large urban areas and the Vespa’s low running costs are two reasons for the increase in Vespa (and other scooter) popularity. The cultural use of the scooter as a recreational vehicle with a sub-cultural following in the USA/Canada and parts of Europe & Japan has also contributed to the rise in Vespa ownership. In contrast, the Vespa is considered a utilitarian vehicle for hauling products and sometimes up to 5 family members in much of Asia and Mexico

This resurgence in interest in vintage motor scooters has also spawned a scooter restoration industry, with many restored Vespas being exported from Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia to the rest of the world.

There is a Piaggio Museum & Gift Shop adjacent to the plant in central Pontedera, near Pisa, Tuscany. The permanent exhibition includes those items which toured venues such as the Guggenheim in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Also on display is a model personally customised by Salvador Dalí in 1962.

Sources: Veteran Vespa Club

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