How Vespas Work

Vespa Style

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on a Vespa in the film Roman Holiday.
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on a Vespa in the film Roman Holiday.
Photo courtesy of

For all its practicality, the Vespa has always been an icon of style. Its aircraft-heritage shape is considered by some to be the apex of Italian design; at the very least, it is a symbol that encapsulates Italian fashion, design, art and architecture of the mid-20th century. The Vespa’s success depended heavily on that sense of style.

Vespa hit the British market at the perfect time. Rapidly changing, fad-driven youth culture took up scooters as status symbols, incorporating them into the Mod movement, a subculture that favored modern fashions and a select group of rhythm & blues and British rock bands like the Kinks, the Who and the Small Faces. The scooters were easier to obtain by teenagers than cars, and allowed them to get home from concerts and clubs after public transportation had stopped running for the night. Mods liked to customize their Vespas with elaborate chrome frames, footrests and extra rearview mirrors – sometimes dozens of them [Source: Vespa Classics].

­­While the Mod craze was burning itself out by the mid-60s, it began moving into the mainstream (as youth culture tends to do). British TV and movie stars latched onto the “hip” Mod image, and soon could be seen riding Vespas on screen and off, in advertisements for the latest model and promoting Vespa contests. This popularity soon moved to American celebrities - stars like Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn were pictured on Vespas (Brockway, 25). Once Vespas were associated with celebrities, their popularity spread worldwide.

More than 60 years after they were created, Vespas inspire a devoted following among an international scooter-loving subculture. Vintage Vespas and retro remakes are lined up for club meetings, day-long rides and even long-distance runs. Niche magazines cater to the Vespa enthusiast, and decades-old scooters are sent to restoration experts to be returned to their original glory.

For more information on Vespas, motorcycles and related topics, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Brockway, Eric. Vespa: An Illustrated History. Haynes Publishing; Illustrate edition (October 5, 1998). 978-1859604434.
  • Sparrow, Andrea & David. Vespa Colour Family Album. Veloce Publishing (December 1995). 978-1874105480.
  • Taylor, Patrick. "The Vespa Scooter."