Do we challenge our skilled people enough to step out of their comfort zones? Probably not. But sometimes when we do the results are spectacular. I’ve just been away in Italy for two weeks (and lovely it was too) and here’s something I learnt while I was there.
Corradino d’Ascanio was an aeronautical designer who designed fighter planes for the Piaggio company in Italy during World War Two. Then the factory got bombed. And then Italy lost the war. The country was in a mess. There were few cars, and those that were still working could barely get about because the roads were so bad.
So Enrico Piaggio saw an opportunity and asked his chief designer to design a cheap, easy to use and reliable form of transport for the masses that would alleviate this problem. The solution that presented itself was a two wheeled one. Thing is, Corradino hated motorbikes, but instead of refusing to do it he decided to use his knowledge of aeronautics to create something a little different. He used materials that had never been used in automotive production. He took an uncompromising and revolutionary approach to the design.
"Sembra una Vespa" ("It’s like a wasp") said Enrico. And he didn’t just mean the way it looked. But by 1950 they were selling 60,000 wasps a year. When Audrey Hepburn got on the back of one in Roman Holiday in 1952, they sold 100,000. And the rest is Vespa history.
Vespa owners have included Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Paul Weller (and a whole bunch of other mods), Jerry Seinfeld, and Salvador Dali. It’s stylish, cool, and has revolutionised the two wheel industry.