The Vespa, Roman Holiday & Social History
The Vespa featured in Roman Holiday was a 1951 Piaggio Vespa 125. Today it’s number plate “Rome 69287,” is preserved in a blue wooden frame, in a little museum in Tolochenaz, the Swiss village where Hepburn lived until her death in 1993…
Vespa’s appearance in the 1953 film may have been brief, but together with the countless movie posters which featured the young Audrey Hepburn riding on it’s handlebars, this beautifully made Italian scooter was immediately catapulted from humble beginnings in Piaggio’s little factory in the Tuscan countryside into international fame.
The image of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck riding through the streets of Rome on the Vespa in ‘Roman Holiday’ has become synonymous with freedom, adventure and imagination. Watching the scenes it inspires you to want one, and reports from the time suggest that right after the release of Roman Holiday Vespa sold over 100,000 units as a direct result. By 1970 Piaggio laid proud claim to the production and sale of over four million Vespas worldwide.
Vespa’s role in social history has been significant, with Italy often referred to as “the country of the Vespa”. Its strong influence can be seen not just in Italy but also abroad, and in the hundreds of films that followed ‘Roman Holiday’. By 1962 there were over 60 movies featuring the little Italian scooter again, and over subsequent years this has grown to include ‘Quadrophenia’, ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’.
In Hollywood even the tough guy movie stars had a special affinity for the vespa; John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin and Charlton Heston were all captured riding Vespas between sets, and off screen too, in their lifetimes.
The Vespa has also been the “travel companion” for many names like Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, Geraldine Chaplin, Joan Collins, Jayne Mansfield, Virna Lisi, Milla Jovovich, Marcello Mastroianni, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, Anthony Perkins, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Nanni Moretti, Sting, Antonio Banderas, Matt Damon, Gérard Depardieu, Jude Law, Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.
For me the Vespa is a metaphor for the Italian lifestyle – a passionate love for beauty, design, art and the good life, and its association with one of my favourite films – Roman Holiday – will mean that it will always have a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of so many others, the world over.
The scene in Roman Holiday where Ann first encounters the Vespa