Vespa Wideframe Model History 1946-1961

Created by Ralf Jodl at 14:10 on October 25, 2022

The market for Vespa scooters is large and diverse. Due to the immense number of models and technical differences, it is not always easy to keep track of everything. That's why we're shedding some light on the subject in a series of several parts and explaining everything you need to know about the different series. This part is about the Vespa Wideframe models and the questions such as "Where does the design of the Vespa actually come from and how did the term Vespa 'Wideframe' come about?" as well as "How can I recognise these and what are the technical details?".

Here you can read all about Vespa Largeframe, Vespa Smallframe, Lambretta and Modern Vespa find.

75 years and not a bit tired: What began on 23 April 1946 in the small Italian town of Pontedera with a simple idea has developed into a worldwide success story. We are talking about the Vespa "Wasp", which was to take not only the sunny streets of Italy but also hearts around the world by storm within a very short time. Until then, the manufacturer Piaggio had been active in completely different segments: From shipbuilding and the manufacture of railway carriages to aircraft construction - the entrepreneur Rinaldo Piaggio had shown a golden hand with each new sector. But shortly after the end of the war in 1945, his son and successor Enrico Piaggio noticed an increased demand for a mobile, but at the same time inexpensive, simple and easily drivable means of transport. To finally realise the idea, he commissioned the inventor and engineer Corradino D'Ascanio, who had already advised the company in the aviation segment.

Vespa ACMA model (French licensed construction). Model: Amy Bhalla / Photographer: Julia Troop

How did the typical Vespa design come about?

The Vespa owes its legendary shape primarily to practical considerations. In order to appeal to as many customers as possible, Enrico Piaggio developed a design that would appeal to people of all ages, even those with no previous experience. His prototype was as simple as it was ingenious. A drive unit without chains, easy-to-handle wheel mounting with small wheels and a simple construction that enabled even inexperienced users to quickly enter the world of Vespa.

D'Ascanio's signature was unmistakable. For example, he used a front wheel suspension for the design that had already been used in aviation. The idea of designing the scooter with a self-supporting sheet steel body, in which the body and chassis form a single unit, also stems from his experience in other mobility sectors. They ensured that the design was rigid, light, very compact and allowed a free step-through for easy mounting and dismounting.

It should also be possible to change tyres without any problems. For this purpose, he developed a single-sided wheel suspension, where it was possible to change the tyre both in the front and in the rear with only four screws. Conveniently, due to the poor road conditions at the time, each model even came with a spare wheel as standard. Unlike the motorbikes, it was also quite easy to start. Instead of many gear levers and buttons, only a choke had to be pulled to start the engine, which was located on the rear wheel. Other advantages of the design were manoeuvrability, protection against rain and splash water, and easy operation and repair.

How can a Vespa Wideframe be recognised?

Among the unmistakable features of the series are the filigree contours of the body and the gently rounded, curved tail. Also characteristic of the production series is the inspection hatch located in the step-through, which offers a very wide centre tunnel under the seat. A tubular handlebar, the carburettor flap in the frame and the engine sway bars, which were separate from the engine at the time, are further typical features of the series. The headlight was also located on the mudguard at the beginning, but was later mounted on the tubular handlebar. The most distinctive feature, however, is the design of the conspicuously large frames, which were much wider than those of the following generations. A characteristic feature that is familiar to every Vespa fan under the name "Wideframe".

Vespa 125 VM2 built in 1955 with Pinasco 160 cc engine and approx. 16 hp.

What are the most important Vespa Wideframe models?

Until the end of production of the Vespa Wideframes in the early 1960s, around 1.7 million units were sold in Italy (not counting licensed models) in various versions. But which are the most significant? Among the most important examples is the Vespa 98 - whose name derives from its 98 cc engine capacity. Not only was it Piaggio's first mass-produced scooter, but it is also considered today to be the first wide-frame model, nicknamed "Paperino" (duckling) because of its design, and it reached an impressive 60 km/h. It was produced in two series - two with the same engine and one with a different engine. There were two series of this - two in '46 and two in '47 with the same engines. The next stage was the Vespa 125 from 1948, which already had a side stand and a more powerful 125 cc star cylinder engine. The Vespas of the late 40s/early 50s and the V30 series are also significant. In the latter, the design switched to a cable shift from the 1951 model year onwards. After that, the '53 to '56 versions came onto the market as intermediate stages. All versions, which carried the headlight on tubular handlebars, already had an engine output of 150 cc.

Perhaps the most important Vespa sports model of all is the "Sei Giorni". This was developed for the six-day race "Sei Giorni Internationale di Varese" and dominated the race series in 1951 with nine gold medals. It was also regarded as a scooter for experimentation: many components that were tested often found their way into series production. This was also the case with the later 150 GS, which was called the GS3 in Germany and was produced under licence by Messerschmitt. Up to that time, there had never been a version of the scooter with such different characteristics and shapes as the Italian counterpart. While in Italy all Vespas were equipped with a Siem or Aquila seat, the examples in this country had a Denfeld seat and brighter headlights. Apart from the components mentioned, both versions were similar in many respects.

What were the most important changes?

Frame from a single mould

One of the most important changes in the evolution of the Vespa range concerned the beaded frame, which was used from 1946. Instead of using several parts as before, the engineers in Italy opted for production from a single cast. The material of the add-on parts such as mudguards and side covers was also optimised in the course of time. In the beginning, the parts were made of aluminium, but later steel was used as the manufacturing material. A little tip on the side: to determine the difference between aluminium and steel materials, it is advisable to either knock against the mudguard or, alternatively, to use a magnet to determine the material.

Chassis and shock absorbers adapt

The suspension has also changed over the years. Instead of using a front swing arm with only one rigid spring as in the beginning, the models from '50/'51 onwards came off the production line with a damper and spring in the front suspension. To support the spring, which had been used alone up to then, the manufacturer Piaggio brought a friction damper onto the market as an accessory. With this, the parts rotated against each other and - depending on the setting - the rebound and compression stages varied in strength. From 1955, the system was used with a shock absorber, as it is still known today.

The gearstick becomes more comfortable

Whereas a Vespa up to the V15 in 1950 was still shifted by a so-called linkage, with a wire connecting all the way back to the gearshift detent, from the V30 onwards the Italian manufacturer relied on a more reliable and at the same time more comfortable cable shift. Despite this change, the cable routed into the frame, but still protruded relatively unprotected into the outer area. It was not until one of the last Wideframe models, the VB1, that the cast handlebars were introduced, so that from then on all cables were fully protected. Also on the 150 GS series, the cables disappeared into the cast handlebars from the VS2 onwards.

Vespa Wideframe acrobatics of the Oldtimerfreunde München

From single-channel to dual-channel engine

The next significant milestone in the development of the Vespa Wideframe was the change from single- to dual-channel engines, which significantly increased the performance of the engines for the time. Thus, from the V33 onwards, the petrol-gas mixture reached the cylinder from the crankcase not only via one, but even via two channels. From now on, the so-called jaw was no longer completely or partially open, but completely closed. In addition, the entire colour scheme of the scooters changed from green to grey/beige, while licensees continued to use a green shade for even longer. By the way: One of Piaggio's specifications was that licensees should usually continue to produce the previous versions for longer, which is why the Italians often had the successors in their range earlier.

The changing headlight

Until the mid-1950s, the headlight on most Vespas was located on the front mudguard, which is why the production series is also called "Faro Basso". This only changed with the VL series from 1955 onwards, when the manufacturer placed the headlight on the upper part of the handlebars, also called the "Struzzo", which was integrated into the cast handlebars on subsequent scooter models. Due to the different road traffic regulations, the position of the headlights often differed. For example, the French Acma models always had the lamp in the upper area, while the British licensee Douglas had the lamp fixed in the middle of the front area of the Vespa.

The different tank sizes

Another important feature by which the different generations of Wideframe frames can be recognised is the tank size. While the first versions had a square tank with a capacity of around 4.5 to 5 litres, the later designs such as the VM or the VL series used larger tanks that protruded more into the top of the frame. The largest version was fitted in the 150 GS, which filled the entire volume of the frame.

Larger tyres - more comfort

Another decisive evolution took place in the area of the wheels. In order to achieve a smoother ride on a long-distance trip, they went from 8 to 10 inch wheels. However, only the 150 GS benefited from the wide-frame versions. An exception was the licence construction from Acma, who used 9-inch tyres on their Vespas. Sport scooters from Piaggio, on the other hand, relied on a multifunctional system that could be used with both types of tyres. While 10-inch wheels were used for longer distances, the smaller 8-inch tyres were used for mountain stages. As a result, the pilots of the time usually carried a spark plug spanner in their boots so that they could change the tyres as quickly as possible. This special feature can also be recognised visually by the many screws in the area of the tyres.

The Vespa U - the special model

A special model was the Vespa U (the U stands for "Utilità"), of which only 7,000 were produced. In 1953, the special model was intended to appeal to price-conscious customers due to increasing competition. For this purpose, the design was not only simplified visually, but the technology under the bonnet was also reduced to the bare essentials, which made a sales price of around 110 dollars possible. Anyone interested in such a model today, however, has to dig deep into their pockets. Due to the low number of units, this is a popular collector's item, which is now even one of the most expensive Vespas ever.

The ideal entry into the wideframe world of Vespas

As there are four series of Wideframe V98 scooters, the price range is relatively wide. As of today (April 2021), anyone wishing to purchase a V98 in as original a condition as possible should expect to pay between 50,000 and 70,000 euros. Because of this, it is advisable to purchase a cheaper model from the Acma series or other licensees. However, care should be taken that these have a two-channel motor built in. This is not only an inexpensive way to enter the wide-frame world of Vespas, but also a lot of fun when tuning the bike at a later date.

Video: Vespa Wideframe Model Guide

Vespa Wideframe Tuning

Wideframe tuning is certainly becoming more and more popular. Most of the time, the old ladies with the charismatic tubular handlebars slumber in the garage as collector's items or are only used for a short ride. There is too little confidence in the old engines, especially for longer rides. In addition, with 2-3 hp engine power, they are simply underpowered for today's road traffic. To remedy this, a small scene of resourceful tinkerers and hobbyists has sprung up around the "Faro Basso" in recent years. The overflow and timing have been optimised on the original cylinders, pistons have been changed, various types of carburettors have been fitted, etc. The wide-frame motorcycles are generally available in different versions.

Basically, there are two engine types for the Wideframe Vespas:

1-channel and 2-channel engines

For the 1-overflow engine (1-channel) (recognisable from the outside by the exhaust pipe running along the side) there are only a few tuning options: Carburettor kit CP19, air filter, cylinder head CNC and contactless ignition system. The increase in power is nevertheless noticeable. Alternative: Buy a used two-channel engine (approx. 250-300 €) and put the single-channel engine on the shelf. With the 2-overflow engine (2-channel) (recognisable from the outside by the exhaust pipe running downwards) the result is really impressive. With the right components, the engines achieve an output of 10-14 hp with a powerful 15 Nm of torque. And that's enough to swim along in traffic or climb a pass summit. In the meantime, many products have reached series production readiness and can be easily assembled. Racing cylinders from PINASCO made of aluminium with 160ccm, reinforced crankshafts from TAMENI & SERIE Pro by Stoffi, carburettor kits based on the POLINI CP models, racing exhaust systems from SIP, maintenance-free electronic 12V ignitions, longer gear ratios, improved clutches and suspension parts open up a whole new horizon for lovers of a tube handlebar Vespa. With the following components, you can turn any Faro Basso into a Daily Rider without losing the charm of the 50s model. All conversions can be retrofitted at any time. Here is a notepad with the most important components for effective VESPA Wideframe tuning.

Vespa Wideframe catalogue: Tuning & Accessories

In our Vespa Wideframe catalogue we present you a wide range of accessories, tuning and spare parts for the Vespa Wideframe models, including some SIP Scootershop own productions. Have fun browsing or downloading.

Ralf Jodl
Ralf Jodl

Ralf is managing director and co-founder of SIP Scootershop. He has been riding Vespa since 1990 and even today the working day starts best for him when he rides to the SIP headquarters in Landsberg on his Rally 200. Otherwise he owns a 180 SS, a 160 GS and a VM2 fenderlight Vespa.