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, Italy to a full line of scooters and one of seven companies today owned by Piaggio.
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.
Post World War II Italy, in light of its agreement to cessation of war activities with the Allies, had its aircraft industry severely restricted in both capability and capacity.
Piaggio emerged from the conflict with its Pontedera fighter plane plant demolished by bombing.
Italy's crippled economy and the disastrous state of the roads did not assist in the re-development of the automobile markets.
Enrico Piaggio, the son of Piaggio's founder Rinaldo Piaggio, decided to leave the aeronautical field in order to address Italy's urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation for the masses.
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).
Piaggio was displeased with the MP5, especially the tall central section.
He contracted aeronautical engineer Corradino D Ascanio to redesign the scooter
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.
Upon seeing the MP6 for the first time, Enrico Piaggio exclaimed: "Sembra una vespa!" ("It looks like a wasp!") Piaggio effectively named his new scooter on the spot.
Piaggio sold some 2,500 Vespas in 1947, over 10,000 in 1948, 20,000 in 1949, and over 60,000 in 1950.