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FEATURE Crafted

Behind-the-scenes of the new Vespa 946

Soraya Darabi and Lauren Benet Stephenson

The whimsical Italian Vespa embodies carefree fun and style with its sleek steel body and fetching colors—it’s made for zipping effortlessly from soirée to soirée. But as our team learned on an exclusive tour of manufacturer Piaggio’s headquarters in Pontedera, Italy, to take a sneak peek at its newest vehicle, the 946, it also has a well-respected and storied past, a history that is inextricably linked to decades of craftsmanship and finely honed details.

"Behind-the-scenes of the new Vespa 946" on #Zady #Features #Stories

The entrance to Piaggio, where Vespa scooters are, to this day, expertly crafted

We visited the headquarters of Vespa manufacturer Piaggio and toured its assembly line not because we were invited on a press tour. Far from it—we begged to be allowed in. The company is famed for fashionable scooters, with passionate enthusiasts riding bikes as old as 70 years. For this reason, the Vespa has always been an unofficial mascot for our team at Zady. We revere it for its classic and timeless style, and—compared to its cousin the motorcycle—environmentally friendly omissions. So we were thrilled when Vespa approved our tour request and even welcomed a Zady sneak peek of the newly (read: today) unveiled vehicle, the 946.

As Creative Director Marco Lambri told us about his prized release: “Vespa has a unique and delicate history. If you make an ugly Vespa, you will be remembered for that for history. You must be careful working on a new Vespa release, because the brand is synonymous with design and fashion. Our brand receives a particular kind of attention. It has a strong history that couldn’t forget its origins.”

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"Behind-the-scenes of the new Vespa 946" on #Zady #Features #Stories

Shiny new 946 Vespas on the factory floor

Our tour included the main factory building, which used to house up to 13,000 factory workers, who crafted every single part of each Vespa. (This remains true, with one tiny exception: The tires are now made in France.) The efficient operation churns out an astounding 900 Vespas per day, a statistic that’s all the more impressive after Marco explains to us that every single detail of the Vespa is finessed by hand. “Everything is done by hand, to make sure that it’s perfect,” he said.

Scroll through to learn how the Vespa 946 is crafted:

Welcome To Prato

To enter the Vespa factory you first drive onto the Piaggio lot, built in 1920. It resembles an old Hollywood studio.

Production

The Vespa assembly line is inspired by the original line that produced Ford’s Model T.

Arriving at Vespa Headquarters

The building is lined with vintage posters of Vespa, the most famous of their acclaimed motorbikes.

Body of Work

Vespa shells waiting to be assembled.

Assembly Line

A total of 81 percent of Vespa’s factory staff is female. Our tour guide explained, “You need small hands to get inside of the Vespa body and connect the cables. And women are just more precise.”

Our Guide Paolo

Paolo, our guide, has worked at the Vespa factory for 40 years. He himself rides a Vespa to work every day. He remembers when the factory had 13,000 employees.

Inspiration Board

The process for determining the new shapes and colors of Vespa begins with inspiration boards, compiled with trend forecasters.

Marco Lambri, Creative Director

Designer Marco stands proudly in front of his choices for new colors. It’s an intense decision, made annually.

New Winter Colors

The Vespa has always been inextricably linked with popular fashion. In part, that is why color selection is taken so seriously.

The 946

The most popular color for a Vespa is white, followed by red. In European markets, metallic gray is also in great demand.

The Factory Floor

Let’s go back to the start: Paolo says there are at least 60 checks on the Vespa assembly line. Each station requires at least five checks.

Tools of the Trade

Vespas are handmade—very, very few modern vehicles still are.

Control and Command

Colorful buttons on the Vespa factory floor.

The Archive Room

In addition to its museum of scooters, Vespa owns the largest archive of any motor vehicle company, keeping every last sketch neatly in place for historic and research purposes.

Ready to Hit the Road

The Black 946 is ready to roll off the floor.

The Vespa Museum

The Vespa museum and archives are next to the factory buildings and contain a rich history of the brand.

A Look at What’s New

The mirror of the brand-new 946 scooter, the most “innovative scooter in the world.”

Cherry Red Vespas

The final station check asks employees to “lightly grace the Vespa from top to bottom to make sure it feels right to the touch.“

Handmade Engines

Employees with small hands inspect the engines to ensure everything is tightly screwed into place. The Vespa fleet is crafted almost entirely by women.

946 Bikes, Ready to Roll

The 946 bikes will be released in black and white only, to begin.

Assembly Line

After production, all Vespa models are double-checked in their entirety, right down to oil pressure checks.

Inside the Archives

We pulled antique Vespa magazine ads out of the archives; they looked as fresh as a daisy.

For Safe Keeping

The museum includes Vespas made for WWI soldiers and the Vespa shown in Roman Holiday, the iconic movie starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. The Vespa in the black and white film was actually a 1950s gray-green model that became very popular after the war.


A Very Brief History of Vespa

The Vespa model we know today was first developed by the Piaggio company—which previously specialized in industrial and aeronautical design—as an efficient means of transporting aid during the reconstruction of ravaged post-WWII Italy. Its first publicly released model, the MP6, was playfully nicknamed “Vespa” because founder Enrico Piaggio thought it looked like a wasp (or a vespa, in Italian). Vespa has produced scooters since 1946, first for use by the Italian army. In 2003, there was a resurgence of the brand, and they produced 30,000 Vespas (at the time considered a great success). Last year, Vespa produced 165,000 Vespas, and they are now sold in more than 100 countries. Today 900 scooters are produced a day.


A Zady Q & A with the Creative Director of Piaggio

Marco Lambri has been with Piaggio since 2004. He has a degree in architecture and a distinct passion for “two wheels.” As a young child, his father gave him a small bike as a birthday present. From that moment on, he tells us, his life changed. Early into his career he began working in automotives as a designer at Fiat. While he worked on cars as his day job, on weekends his passion projects involved bicycles and motorbikes. When Piaggio asked him to join their team as Creative Director, he felt he’d been given a gift. “Two wheels are more personal than cars,” he says. “You are closer to the engine. You have a relationship with your scooter. It’s a tight relationship that cannot be described.”

"Behind-the-scenes of the new Vespa 946" on #Zady #Features #Stories

Marco Lambri at Vespa Headquarters

Zady: How do you first approach designing a new scooter?

Marco: It’s like a recipe—all the ingredients must be in the right proportion.

Zady: Why this scooter, and why now?

Marco: The Vespa 946 is the gem that the company has been excited to announce for a while. It is the combination of past and future. We wanted to design a vehicle true to our history, but also a sign of what we want to become as a company.

Zady: And what part of the history would you like to hold onto?

Marco: We are proud to say that today everything is still produced in Italy, except for the tires, which belong to Michelin in France. Indian Vespas are made in India, East Asian Vespas are made in Singapore, to keep their production local to those markets. Still, the quality at each factory is the same. We hold onto that tradition.

Zady: And the innovative part of this new vehicle?

Marco: The 946 is a single cast of aluminum—except for the handle bar—because one piece is perfection. We use the most expensive [best] material you cannot find elsewhere else. For many years this model was in the works. The 946 was inspired by the Italian Renaissance, because it symbolizes our revival. It is made only in classic colors black and white to begin, to emphasize the shape and form of the vehicle over fashion. Many parts of the 946 are painted twice.

Zady: How do you want your customers to feel when they ride this scooter for the first time?

Marco: A bike is to feel like a horse—something that joins you to it. People used to think scooters are not as emotional as motorbikes, but Vespas… are different. Vespa is the mother of all scooters. We want them to feel like they are riding a piece of history.

Zady: What do you consider the most important aspect of your job as Creative Director?

Marco: To dream. To be curious. Curious about the past, the present and the future. To transform.

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