Sorry Ferrari and Fiat, but one of the most attractive and durable Italian modes of transport has to be the venerable Vespa scooter. Accessible and affordable, embodying fun and adventure, this iconic scooter (the name means Wasp in Italian) dates back to 1946 when warplane maker Piaggio was forced to enter a new manufacturing line at the end of the Second World War.

To quote the original patent application, a Vespa is classified as a ‘motorcycle with rationally placed parts and components with a combined frame with mudguards and an engine cover covering all working parts’, of which “The whole constitutes a rational and comfortable motorcycle offering protection from mud and dust without compromising the requirements of appearance and elegance.

Vespas became part of the cultural landscape with the release of the 1953 film ‘Roman Holidays’, in which Audrey Hepburn was famous on the handlebars with Gregory Peck piloting the streets of Rome in a 1951 Piaggio 125 model.

While this particular model resides in a small museum in Tolochenaz, Switzerland (the Swiss hamlet in which Hepburn resided until his death in 1993), the world’s oldest Vespa goes up for auction this month on the site online auction Catawiki. Carrying the chassis number 1003, it is the third of Piaggio’s “0 Series” of 60 prototype scooters, the first two no longer existing. Not only does the 1003 model still work, but it is expected to make the Ferrari money, which is between 250,000 and 300,000 euros ($ 270,000 – $ 324,420).

“Over the years, Vespa has become the # 1 symbol representing Italy,” says Davide Marelli, Vespa expert at Catawiki. “The brand is known around the world and many collectors acquire antique Vespas. We hope this Vespa ends up in the hands of a collector or museum who will protect this piece of Italian history for future generations. “

The first Vespas were also sold in North America under the Sears Allstate and Cushman brands (we had an older Allstate version with a small two-stroke engine in the late 1980s). Hollywood luminaries immediately turned to the accommodating two-wheeler, with even tough guys like John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin and Charlton Heston being seen riding Vespas in their respective movie studios between takes. After withdrawing from the US market in 1981, Vespas returned in 2001 with a new line of premium touring scooters that retain elements of the brand’s iconic styling.

Older Vespas have gained in value in recent years and have become coveted collectibles in their own right. “Thanks to a huge fan base, old Vespa scooters tend to retain their monetary value,” says Marelli. “A Vespa scooter from the 1970s, for example, may be worth five times as much as its original retail price. The older the Vespa, the more valuable it is.”

The auction is currently underway here and will run until March 28.

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