Sixty years of buzzing

May 14, 2010 / Local Interest
apetto3The three wheeler cars that buzz around our villages are a modern version of the donkey which until 50 years ago was Italy’s beast of burden. But when Piaggio created this spin off of the Vespa (wasp) scooter in 1948 there was no turning back.

The Ape (bee, for its engine’s sound) models run from the fancy Calesse model with wicker seats that film stars used to zoom around the narrow lanes of Capri, Ischia and Portofino in the 1960s, to those rustic beasts of burden used by farmers and artisans to haul (small portable tanks) everything from hay bales to gas bombole.

There are more than 2 million Ape in use in Europe alone and the streets of Mumbai and Bangkok are flooded with them, although their true home are Italian country roads. The reasons for its success? The Ape is economical to operate, can be driven without a license, and they can be decorated, personalized and in a pinch two can ride up front with space in the back for cargo.



Mary Jane Cryan

by Mary Jane Cryan

Mary Jane is a historian, cruise lecturer, author and publisher of books on Italian history and central Italy has been residing in Italy for half a century.

See her award winning website and weekly blog posts on 50YearsInItaly for more about central Italy and to order books directly from the author.

15 Responses to “Sixty years of buzzing”

  1. I love this post. I have always been
    fascinated with the Ape, especially
    when you see some of the biggest men in them :-)

    I didn’t know they could be driven without a license!!

  2. I still remember the first time I saw these cute little trucks in Italy! Thanks for the post about these modern day “beasts of burden” But I must say we still saw donkeys used as beasts of burden in some of the small towns above the Amalfi Coast!

  3. The reason Ape’s can be driven without a license is because they are not considered cars, but motorcycles. In fact, they have a 2-cycle engine and they don’t have a steering wheel, but a regular handle-bar with the gas on right, and the clutch & gear-shifting mechanism on the left.

    They are extremely popular with farmers.

  4. I have been thinking for a long time that this might just be the vehicle for me! Now Mary Jane’s note has encouraged me to go and try out my neighbour’s ape and see if I can make it go!! thanks may Jane!

  5. Frank Scaramella

    Thanks to the Almighty, the Italian Ingenuity in every field, has and continues to deliver simple and extremely useful tools and methodology the world over,continuing with the same spirit Dante and others before him set the tone in literature.Whatever the field,without forgetting the different Cuisines that are being used and abused the world over, We aren,t doing that bad? Are we?Viva l”Italia!!!

  6. Michael Yaccino

    They are fun to ride in. I jumped into one a few years ago in Terra Dura the town of my grandmother.

  7. Joseph D. Spano
    Joseph D. Spano

    Hello Frank….You and I are just right for the ‘Ape’ can’t you just see us ….up and down the mountainsides of our wonderful frazioni.
    what a way to complete our days. And for all the other readers, you would enjoy them also! La vita è in Italia

  8. Francesca

    This is one of my favorite Notes! My father-in-law has a green Ape just like the one in the photo – it’s gotta be over 30 years old & still runs great. Thanks for a smile & wonderful memory.

  9. Mike Ciletti

    A few years ago my wife and I were motoring a backroad to Bellagio when out of nowhere from a side road zoomed an old man on a hay-laden Vespa. He zigged, I zagged, we both cursed, and at that moment a little-known feature of the Vespa saved us from disaster: In skillful old hands the beast can actually turn tight corners on two wheels without spilling hay.

  10. Gwenn Piccinotti Selvaggio

    I love these “little” things. Do they sell them in the US? I think they are very functional but as I seem to remember you can hear them for blocks. Hmmmm, maybe not so good.

  11. chris

    interested in seeing and test driving the “ape” in the ny, usa area.

    any suggestions?

  12. Gian Banchero

    I used to muse about getting a Vespa (WASP) with a sidecart to transport my goose Melina and and me around town (Melina enjoyed rides in the countryside when I had my VW BUG, trumpeting out the window at whatever or whomever interested her), I now think I’ll upgrade from a BUG to a BEE and away we’ll fly into the blue. Thank you for the article!

  13. Matt B

    How funny…in Thailand they are called Tuk Tuk’s after the sound that the tiny diesel engine makes. I have wonderful memories of a night spent with a beautiful stranger weaving through Banckok traffic at 3:00am. Totally magical but I’m sure in the states a Tuk Tuk wouldn’t crash test well against a Suburban so we’ll never see them here…too bad.

  14. Great article…thanx for sending it..I would own an Ape if I had more use for it!!! Amazing how long they have been around.


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