The Piaggio Museum in Pontedera, near Pisa celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. Opened on March 29 2000 in the former tooling department, one of the oldest areas of the complex, covering 3000 square meters of exhibition space. The Vespa and Gilera collections represent the core of the museum's assets, which also include other products by Piaggio, from the ones created for the aviation and railway industry to the three-wheel Ape and related vehicles.
Renovation works for the area chosen for the museum were based on a project by architects Dezzi Bardeschi, Andrea Bruno, Ugo Bruno and Avery Howe Agnelli. The area retained its original industrial architecture features and preserves and illustrates the history of a company which over its long existence – it was established in Sestri Ponente (Genoa) in 1884 by Rinaldo Piaggio – had a material role in Italy's economic history by designing and manufacturing all kinds of means of transport.
The museum's collection begins with pre-war production, before the Vespa was launched in 1946: in the forecourt visitors can admire the two-seater plane used for acrobatic training purposes P148, built in 1951; the MC2 railway engine built in 1954 and used by the railway company serving Calabria and Basilicata (1936), the first engine in Italy entirely made with stainless steel; the P VII (1934) and P XI (1938) engines built for the aviation industry.
As for personal mobility, the collection showcases the first three-wheel vehicle the Ape Cassone built in 1953 and designed for work purposes; the Ape Calessino of 1956, with doors and windscreen on the front; the Pentarò, i.e. the five-wheel Ape with trailer, along with the Ape TM 703 used by Paolo Brovelli and Giorgio Martino, two young people who used it to drive from Lisbon to Beijing, covering a distance of 25,000 km.
And the prototype for the first moped, dating back to 1955 and which came 12 years before the Ciao; the Vespa 400, a two-seater car in production from 1957 to 1961 in France; the Moscone, the “Vespa del mare” (the seaside Vespa) and finally the MP3 maxi-scooter with two wheels on the front .
The heart of the exhibition is the Vespa collection. The history of the symbol of Italy's post-war economic boom, an icon of Italian-made manufacturing and a fashion phenomenon, begins with the prototypes MP5, called “Paperino” built in 1944-45, and MP6, the first designed by the engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, who also designed the first modern helicopter.
The mass-production series consists of more than 140 versions, including the "first 98cc series" developed in April 1946 with a three-gearbox configuration a power of 3.5 HP and a maximum speed of 60 kmph; the Vespa 125 built in 1951, the U of 1953, the GS 150, first grand touring vehicle built in 1955; the 125 of 1958, the 50 of 1963, also known as the Vespino, the 90 Super Sprint of 1965, the models built in the Sixties (125 Primavera ET3, 200 Rally, P125X); the new generation launched in 1996 to celebrate the 50th anniversary: theET2 with a fuel-injection engine (the first scooter in the world with a two-stroke fuel injection engine) to the ET4 with a four-stroke engine to the more recent GTV, LX, GTS 250 and 300 built after 2000.
Rarities include record vehicles such as the Vespa Siluro and the Montlhéry; the racing limited-edition vehicles, like the Vespa 98 and 125 and the 125 Sei Giorni; the custom-built vehicle Alpha made for the film Dick Smart, Agente 2007 in 1967; the two versions for military use Vespa 150 T.A.P. made in the Fifties (for France) and the prototype the Vespa Militare 125 built in 1964 for the Italian Ministry of Defence.
And also a “huge” Vespa and a “Disguised” Vespa made for Viareggio's Carnival in 2007.
Finally, the “Vespa and art” collection which focuses on two Vespas bearing the signature of an artist – the Vespa Dalì built in 1962, and the Vespa PX designed by the artist Mino Trafeli in 2003 – along with the 14 ET4 models of the “VespArte” competition held in 2001 and a version reinterpreted by Ugo Nespolo.
The Piaggio Museum also includes Gilera, another historical 20th century brand: established in Arcore (in the Monza and Brianza areas) by Giuseppe Gilera in 1909, the motorcycle manufacturer was acquired by Piaggio in 1969.
The collection includes a number of models, starting from the legendary VT 317.
Gilera's production in the 1920s and 1930s is showcased by the 350 Super Sport, the 500 VL Sei Giorni, the 500 VT Bitubo and the 500 Otto Bulloni. The venture of the Rondine begins in 1936. This was an adveneristic faired racing motorcycle with compressor and a four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 500cc, which one several international records. One of the most famous motorcycles in the world was made in 1940: the 500 Saturno Sport, designed by and manufactured in two versions up to 1958. The collection also features the Saturno Sanremo and Saturno Piuma racing models. The Saturno Cross and the 175 Regolarità were again manufactured in the Fifties. On the whole, before withdrawing from professional racing in 1957, Gilera won 44 world grand prixs.
The relaunch of the manufacturer then focuses on models with medium and medium-small displacement and a range of road and all-terrain vehicles. In the Eighties the company develops a new four-stroke one-cylinder engine with a double overhead camshaft which expresses itself to the max in the enduro motorcycle of the RC series, whose 750cc displacement version won the Paris-Dakar twice and also reached an "absolute” position at the Pharaon' Rally.
Gilera is back in the 250 motorcycle championship in 1992 and 1993 and wins in 2008 with Marco Simoncelli. The year 2001 marks its comeback in the 125 championship and Gilera wins with Manuel Poggiali. Mass-series manufacturing is moved to Pontedera in 1993, with a focus in the development of sports scooters like Runner, followed by Nexus 250 and 500 and Fuoco 500.