50 years of Vespa

The Vespa is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Vespa 50 this year. The Vespa 50 was launched in 1963 in response to regulatory changes in Italy. By 2002, the Vespa 50 and its variants  had sold roughly 1.42 million units across the world. This is a remarkable success for a vehicle which was launched to escape the regulatory constraints more than anything else. The popularity of ‘small body’ Vespa has grown through the decades.

Vespa 1963 50
Source: MC24.no

With the introduction of ‘Highway code’ in 1962, vehicles larger than 50cc were required to have a license plate. 14 years and above were allowed to ride scooters under 50cc without a license. Young riders who till then was a small share was rapidly becoming mobile and affluent. Vespa 50 circumvented the regulatory challenge and opened a hew world for the youngsters.

The marketing campaign revolved around this.

“Giovane, moderna e…senza documenti” or “Young, modern and… without papers”

Vespa 1963 50

The vehicle was an immediate success. Youngsters flocked to it. It symbolized the newfound freedom of the younger generation, which again was the result of social changes which were sweeping across Europe in sixties. For Vespa, the immediate impact was a drastic drop in the average age of its customers and evolution a youthful and cheerful brand.

The Vespina (nickname for the Vespa 50) was the last model designed by Corradino D’Ascanio, the man behind the Vespa.

Corradino D’Ascanio

It was introduced along with the Vespa 90 and sported the first integrated side panels on Vespa. The integrated side panels made it simpler, lighter and cheaper.

The engine was a completely new 49.7cc unit (V5AI). It was mounted at 45 degree angle and was not horizontal. With 1.45hp it could reach a maximum speed of 39.5 kmph.

The scooter weighed just 66kgs and had 5.2 litres fuel tank capacity. The spare wheel was mounted behind the leg shield. The handlebar itself was a single piece diecast with an optional cylindrical speedometer. The gearbox was a three-speed unit with painted half bars and polished clutch lever. The round headlight, which was mounted on the handlebar, did not have the surrounding trim. The standard seat was a single occupancy piece. A longer ‘Turismo seat’ (which was adopted from the Vespa 90) was offered as an option from 1964. Metallic paint was also available as an option.

True to Corradino’s earlier works, the Vespa 50 excelled in its clever marriage of simplicity and function in an elegant manner.

Vespa 50 S Source: Vespa.com

Vespa 50 S
Source: Vespa.com

The Vespa 50 S was launched in 1963 itself. The S sported a powerful variant of the same engine at 2.6hp (V5SAI) and has a 4-speed gearbox. The tyres were upgraded to 10″ units as well. The top speed was 60.6 kmph.

The original 50 was upgraded from the single seat to a complete seat as in the Vespa 50S in 1964. It was renamed as 50N somewhere in 1965 to set it apart from the Vespa 50S. The Vespa 50 spawned a multitude of variants and underwent regular updates.

The wheels changed from body colour to silver in 1964. In 1965, the flywheel got a cover and a larger engine hatch was engineered. The rear tail light was replaced by a simpler plastic unit. The new Piaggio badges got introduced from October 1967. Along with the change in badge, the Vespa script got a black finish and the vehicle became a little longer. The original Vespa 50 was available in a light green colour alone. Later obviously a range of colours were introduced.

The biggest success of the Vespa 50 was in convincing and converting even the naysayers to the scooter community – the sign of a true icon!

Vespa 1966-70 50L

The Vespa 50L, an upgraded version of the Vespa 50N was launched in 1966. The luggage hook and an upgraded front suspension appeared on this variant. Fripperies like the legshield trim, the headlight rim, the mud guard crest and alloy channels for the floor rubbers were added. The new Piaggio logo appeared on this model in October 1967. The same year saw the elongation of the Vespa 50L.

Vespa 1969-83 50 Special

Vespa 1969 50 Special Source: Vespa-servizio.com

Vespa 1969 50 Special
Source: Vespa-servizio.com

In 1969, the Vespa Special was introduced. It had a three-speed gearbox and a trapezoidal headlight. The Vespa 50 Special sported the new trapezoidal headlight units, unique wheel hubs and the different tail fins. The gearbox was a three-speed unit. The initial set [V5A2T] had 8″ wheels while the later ones [V5B1T] which was released in 1972 had 10″ wheels.

The Vespa 50 Special Series II had a four-speed gearbox, horizontal lettering (against the diagonal one on Series I). The Series II [V5B3T] was very popular and remained in production till 1983.

Vespa 1973 50 Special
Source: francois.eudes.free.fr

Vespa 1969-83 50 R

1969 also saw the introduction of the Vespa 50R. The biggest difference of the 50R over the preceding variants is the separate finned hubs to take the nine inch wheels. The 50R is based on the 50N and sports minor changes to the leg shield and the mudguard.

The Vespa 50R was the cheapest model in the range when introduced. The 50R Series I was produced till 1975 and had a three-speed gearbox. The 50R Series II has very minor revisions. The main difference was the addition of a seat hook.

The production which ended in 1983 saw 238,761 units. But varying production figures are often quoted for the Vespa R. The 50R which eventually replaced the 50N and the 50L soldiered on for a long time.

Vespa 1969-76 50 Elestart

The Vespa 50 Elestart Series I was launched with an electric start and was targeted at women. The batteries were housed in the left side of the engine and the spare tyre, if required, was placed behind the leg shield. The gearbox was the three-speed unit.

The Vespa 50 Elestart Series II was launched in 1975 and had a four-speed gearbox. Through its production the Elestart remained a novelty and is considered to be ahead of its times.

Vespa 50 Special in “La soldatessa alla visita militare” [1977]
Source: imcdb.org

Vespa 50 Special, Dolce & Gabbana 2013 Women's Collection

Vespa 50 Special, Dolce & Gabbana 2013 Women’s Collection Advertisement


  1. 50 years of Vespa 50, Vespa.com. Accessed on  Oct 12, 2013
  2. Vespa Freunde-straubing.de – Vespamodelle von 1946 bis 1985. Accessed on Oct 12, 2013
  3. Veteran Vespa Club. Accessed on Oct 12, 2013
  4. Vespa-Servizio Storia 1974-73. Accessed on Oct 12, 2013
  5. Vespa Italian Style for the World, Giunti