Iconic Roman Holiday Vespa, oldest in the world, for sale

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck ride through Rome on the Vespa 98 cc Serie 0 Number 3.The iconic Vespa that supported the supple fundaments of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck as they scootered their way through the Eternal City in the 1953 classic film Roman Holiday is currently for sale at the online auction site Catawiki. As if co-starring with two of the all-time greatest movie stars in one of the all-time greatest movies weren’t enough, this particular Vespa is also the oldest in the world. With a chassis number of 1003, the Vespa 98cc Serie 0 Numero 3 was the third Vespa ever made. Numbers one and two are long lost, leaving number three with the title of the oldest Vespa.

Piaggio Vespa 98 cc Serie 0  Numero 3, 1946, front view. Photo courtesy Catawiki.Piaggio began in the late 19th century as a manufacturer of railroad cars. Towards the end of World War I, the company switched its focus to aeronautics but continued to manufacture a wide array of vehicles and parts suitable for civilian and military use. When its main factory was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1940, Piaggio’s production was severely curtailed. After the war, Enrico Piaggio, son of company founder Rinaldo, wanted to produce a low-cost, easy to drive vehicle that could be a reliable mode of transportation for the population of a country whose economy and infrastructure were in ruins.

Piaggio Vespa 98 cc Serie 0  Numero 3, 1946, view of underside. Photo courtesy Catawiki.He asked Corradino D’Ascanio, an aeronautical engineer who had worked for Piaggio building airplanes during the war, to scare up a design for a small motorcycle that had none of complications and bulk of its big brothers, making it suitable for wide popular use. Corradino threw out all previous designs and in a matter of days created an entirely new one. His innovations included a gear shift on the handlebars to make driving easier, tires that could be replaced by anyone without need of a mechanic, a body design that protected riders from mud, dust, water and assorted street debris, an enclosed engine that saved street clothes from the scourge of grease stains, and a driving position that allowed riders to be comfortably seated even for long journeys.

Piaggio Vespa 98 cc Serie 0  Numero 3, 1946, view of interior. Photo courtesy Catawiki.When presented with the prototype in April of 1946, Enrico Piaggio exclaimed delightedly, “It looks like a wasp!” And that’s how the Vespa got its name. In the first decade of manufacture, the Vespa went from a production of 2,000 of the first V98cc models to one million in 1956. In 1965, 3.5 million Vespas were sold, one for every 52 Italians. Today it remains one of the great successes in motor vehicle history, and the original Vespa is an icon of Italian design. There’s a 1955 model in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The indelible images of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck zooming through Rome on that Numero 3 certainly played a large part in making the Vespa a worldwide icon.

Piaggio Vespa 98 cc Serie 0  Numero 3, 1946, side view. Photo courtesy Catawiki.The Serie 0 were prototypes, a sort of run-through of different options, not production units, which is why they are also known as the “pre-series.” Only 60 of the series were manufactured. Every part of the Serie 0 Vespas was individually made specifically for one bike. You can see the chassis number 1003 stamped not just on the frame, but on the fenders, muffler, kickstand and many other parts. This vehicle was lovingly handcrafted piece by piece. It’s also tough as nails. The paint is gone, but 71 years after it was made, Number 3 is still in working condition.

As is the case with some cars, Vespa scooters have become increasingly valuable over time.

“Thanks to a huge fan base, old Vespa scooters tend to keep their monetary value,” said [Vespa expert Davide] Marelli.

“A Vespa scooter from the 1970s, for example, can be worth five times as much as its original retail price. The older the Vespa, the more valuable it is,” he said.

For many years it has belonged to a private collector who has a prestigious, very select group of 60 rare and important Vespas. The presale estimate is 250,000-300,000 euros ($268,150-$348,600). Bidding is already up to $195,748 and there are still 36 hours to go before the sale closes. A small price to pay for the chance to own a piece of history and to touch butts with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck via the Transitive Postulate.


16 thoughts on “Iconic Roman Holiday Vespa, oldest in the world, for sale

  1. The ‘wasp’ (vespa) fair enough, but what about the ‘bee’ (ape), here type ‘A’ from 1947 ? I wish that Audrey sat on one of those. Besides, what happened to that paint ? :no:

  2. Anent the first photo: I can assure you that a Honda motorbike is just as good as a Vespa at getting a girl to hug you.

  3. In 1957, when I was yet a college student, I spent five weeks with a college friend traveling on a Vespa! We went from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel, to the castles in the Loire Valley, and down to Limoges and on to the Tarn and then to Marseilles and the Rivera. Along the way we slept on our sleeping bags in fields behind the hedge rows or in small hotels with only cold water and the WC down the hall. We went on along the Mediterranean and up through Becanson and on to Strasbourg. We loved everything we saw and everyone we met. People were so kind to we two girls and never let us worry about repairs on our Vespa..and there were very few. We drove on to Belgium and visited my pen pal in Liege. On the way back toward Paris we spent a couple of days in Fontainebleau. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I have loved France..and VESPAS ever since. Thank you for this wonderful post. Jane and I had expected to rent bicycles and see a bit of the countryside but found that we could rent the Vespa for the same amount as two bikes..and having seen “Roman Holiday” when in Paris..the decision was easy!

    1. Wow, that sounds like the absolutely perfect college trip. Taking inspiration from Roman Holiday was a brilliant idea. And your pen pal in Liege! I remember how exciting it was to meet pen pals back when people still wrote letters at all, including to people they never expected to see in person.

      Did you keep diaries or a scrapbook? Because this dreamy summer of yours should most certainly be a book. “Coming of Age in the Age of Roman Holiday.” 🙂

  4. I wonder why the paint is pristine in some areas and bare metal in others. It looks like someone stripped it down at some time.

    1. I couldn’t find any specific information on why the paint was removed in areas, but the auction house’s description noted that it had been done very conscientiously, without sandblasting that would damage the metal. The exposed the metal was then painted with a conservation-appropriate clear protective coating to prevent corrosion. Perhaps the paint was chipping off or was damaged in some way that could result in harm to the metal? Or maybe it had been terribly overpainted in a way that required the removal of any traces of the original paint remaining. I’ve seen some truly hideous spray paint jobs done by bumblers with zero idea of how to treat historical machinery.

  5. Indeed, it seems as if someone took the decision to strip down the paint, which in most cases is necessary for a proper restoration. Then, however, someone else decided to leave it like that, and not to do a proper restoration, but to apply some basic conservation to the bare metal instead. Presumably, the reasoning here was to keep a certain uniqueness to it, i.e. in order to auction it off.

    Note that one probably has a similar problem, when it comes to things like the 2 millennia old Roman toilets (from the previous post). However, in cases where the original paint was never doubted and basically always known, I do not really understand, why they refrained from a full restoration. A friend of mine did a very successful one with a Bavarian ‘ZĂĽndapp DB 234 Norma Luxus‘ bike from 1954.


  6. If the scooter has been stored indoors all these years, most likely it still had the original paint on it before it was stripped. With other vintage, collectible bikes, the old paint would be a plus and stripping it to bare metal would be undesirable, but in this case, it probably doesn’t matter.

  7. Thank you for your kind note. I recently found on Facebook the daughter of my friend, who is now deceased. She knew about the trip as her mother had talked about it and she asked me to tell her more. I started writing of our adventures on my page in what turned out to be 45 installments. It has been in my memory for so long and I have thought of it so often. It was truly a life changing experience.

  8. It reminds me of all the riot footage we used get of the Mods and Rockers in Brighton on the news here in the States when I was a small boy.

    The Ape is the centerpiece of Fellini’s film “La Strada”. It’s a smack at the brutish aging circus strongman played Anthony Quinn who travels from show to show with his long-suffering acrobat girlfriend, whose actual name escapes me at the moment. She was Fellini’s longtime love and muse and in about everything he ever made. It will come to me by next week, I’m sure of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.