Nothing symbolises Italian urban chic quite like the Vespa. But in the city that gave birth to them, the diehards suddenly have a fight on their hands
Corrado Nicora is talking about the flyest Vespa in Genoa: his own. For his 50th birthday, the secretary of Vespa Club Genoa decided that a new scooter was just what he needed. It had to be the tangerine GTS 300, but there was a problem: it was only on sale outside Italy. He was on the verge of shelling out the extra cash for the imported model when he stumbled across one in a Genoa showroom. His face lights up as he recalls the moment, his hands reaching out like Indiana Jones for a sacred idol. This one its mine.
Not being able to find a particular Vespa in Genoa Nicora believes there are only three tangerine GTS 300s here is weird in a city where the Vespa is king. Fewer people own cars in Genoa than in any other Italian city apart from Venice; there are an estimated 180,000 motorbikes and scooters in Genoa, among a population of 600,000. Among them, the aristocrats are the 20,000 Vespa owners. The creator of the Vespa, Rinaldo Piaggio, was born in Genoa and the original Piaggio factory was in the citys Sestri Ponente district. Lambretta, Vespas rival in the retro-scooter stakes, is practically a dirty word. (No, no, no, no, says Nicora, when I mention it.)
The Vespa, which is now manufactured in Pontedera, Tuscany, quickly became a worldwide ambassador for Italian style. Its elegant swooping chassis symbolised postwar modernity and freedom, and, in later years, a kind of retro connoisseur taste. But the brand seems ageless: total global sales have passed 18m.