An Italian vehicle
When I was little, long before I learned to drive, cars seemed to be magical machines. While most cars were well beyond my reach, there was one vehicle that fascinated me because it came close to my size. In a world of huge mechanical beasts, the Piaggio Ape Car was small enough that it could have been born from the dreams of a child. Easy to use and cheap to buy, for decades the Ape has captured the collective imagination of Italians while remaining the first choice for a practical work vehicle.
History of the Ape
The Ape debuted in 1948 with the goal of providing a reliable means of transportation for companies and working individuals who could not afford a four-wheel vehicle. Corradino D’Ascanio derived his design from the original Piaggio Vespa scooter, but added a second wheel to the rear axle making it possible to include a flatbed that could carry anything from construction materials to bottles of milk.
The Ape Car
The first version of the Ape was characterized by scooter style handlebars and a single seat. Soon a cab was added to the front in order to protect the driver from the elements. This small cabin could accommodate a passenger and was designed with two doors to make it easier for workers to make deliveries. In fact, by the 1950s Piaggio was using the slogan “Ape, the vehicle that helps you make money” in order to target small and medium sized businesses.
While the addition of the cab might have made the Ape look more like a car, the vehicle continued to have many features of a scooter including low fuel consumption and a compact size that was perfect for navigating narrow Italian streets.
The 1970s saw the arrival of the Ape Car. The original 50cc engine reached a much more powerful 220cc and the cab, which included a steering wheel to replace the original handlebars, was larger and more comfortable.
The legacy of a unique design
For 65 years the Ape has been a fixture of daily Italian life transporting everything from wood during post-war construction to pizza and passengers during the economic boom. Although the Ape classic that is currently available includes a number of technical innovations, the basic design and silhouette of this unique three-wheeled vehicle remains unchanged.
Looking at an Ape today I am amazed by how small it looks compared to when I was a child, but what surprises me even more is that while it has a very vintage appearance, I never think of it as being old or outdated. It is this ability of D’Ascanio’s original design to transcend time that makes the Piaggio Ape an icon for both young and old Italians.