Brief history of the Vespa in England

Brief History of the Vespa in England

Piaggio & The Vespa


Piaggio is founded in Genoa by 20 year old Rinaldo Piaggio as a luxury ship building company that expanded into producing rail carriages, automobiles, marine craft and later aeronautics.


Enrico Piaggio and his brother Armando inherited the family engineering business on their father’s death in 1938. Enrico decided to move the business from aircraft to scooter production after the end of the war as there was a need for low cost transport.

This proved to be a prudent move as the company would eventually become one of the biggest manufacturers of two-wheeled vehicles in the world and in fact The Piaggio group is now Europe’s largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles and the world’s fourth largest motorcycle manufacturer by unit sales. The group own 7 companies. Piaggio, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Derbi, Vespa, Gilera and Ligier.


The Vespa was introduced by Piaggio to the post world war 2 Italian market. The 98cc scooter was actually invented by Corradino D’Ascanio. Later this same year the 125cc Vespa model was also introduced.


In 1950 Piaggio opened a factory in Germany and a year later in the UK (Douglas of Bristol). The Vespa was soon manufactured in 13 countries and sold in 114!

In 1952 The European Vespa Club is founded in Milan to bring together the clubs of Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland & Belgium.

Although the Lambretta was starting to gain popularity in the 50’s by 1956 Vespa had still sold over 1 million vehicles.



The Italian Government makes it mandatory for all vehicles over 50cc to have license plates.


As a result of the MOD subculture that developed in the 1960s, the United Kingdom has become Vespa’s second-largest global market.


In 1978 the Vespa PX is born.


In 1984 Piaggio marks its 100th Anniversary and by 1988 sales had exceeded 10 million.


A new lifestyle evolved from the UK mods of the 60’s and by the late 80’s/90’s thousands of ‘Scooterists’ attended national scooter rallies held around the UK each year which continue to this day.


When Vespa celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996, more than 15 million of the scooters had been sold worldwide. Other companies vied with Piaggio for market share, but none came close to emulating the success—or romance—of the Vespa.


The Vespa Club of Britain host the prestigious Vespa World Days event at London’s O2 Arena.


The Vespa Club of Britain passes 3,000+ members. The highest membership since the early 1960’s.


Douglas of Bristol

Douglas was a British motorcycle manufacturer from 1907 – 1957 based in Kingswood, Bristol, owned by the Douglas family, and especially known for its horizontally opposed twin cylinder engine bikes and as manufacturers of speedway machines.


Brothers William and Edward Douglas founded the Douglas Engineering Company in Bristol. Initially doing blacksmith work, they progressed to foundry work, and then acquired the flat twin design of W. J. Barter, the founder of Light Motors Ltd. Barter had produced his first single-cylinder motorcycle between 1902 and 1904, and then a 200 cc horizontal twin called the Fair but the Light Motors Ltd. failed in 1907 and was taken over by the Douglas family.


The company manufactured and sold the first Douglas 350 cc version of the horizontal twin motorbike.


The engine was placed lengthways in the frame with belt final drive, and electric lighting. During WWI Douglas was a major motorcycle supplier, making around 70,000 motorcycles for military use.


Douglas built the first disc brakes, and had a Royal Warrant for the supply of motorcycles to the Princes, Albert and Henry. Douglas motorcycles also became popular in dirt track racing.


They were in difficulty and were taken over by BAC, Bond Aircraft and Engineering Company. Motorcycle production continued into WWII and was extended to generators.



Not long after the war, Douglas was in difficulty again and reduced its output to the 350 cc flat twin models.

The MD Claude McCormack caught sight of a Vespa whilst on holiday in Italy and almost immediately made arrangements with Piaggio to build it under licence in the UK. A Piaggio built machine first appeared on the Douglas Stand at the motorcycle Show at Earls Court in 1949 but production did not start until April 1951.


Struggling again the 350 cc Douglas Dragonfly was the last model produced. Westinghouse Brake and Signal bought Douglas out and production of Douglas Motorcycles ended in 1957.


Vespa production ceased with 126,230 units being completed. The company then decided to import Vespa’s instead of manufacturing them.


Douglas ceased importing Vespa scooters into the UK.

Check out the Great Britain Scooter Club Directory

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