As you explore the tight and twisting lanes of southern Italy’s delightful villages and towns with ItalyIndeed, one of the things you’ll notice is the number of Ape vehicles.
As iconic as Rome’s swarms of Vespas – and indeed designed by the same man, Corradino D’Ascanio – the charming three-wheeled Ape, (Italian for ‘Bee’), has been in constant production since its introduction in 1948.
As the dust settled after World War II, many Italians neither had transport nor the means to buy and maintain a vehicle. What was needed was a low-cost commercial vehicle to help power Italy’s post-war economic reconstruction.
D’Ascanio and Enrico Piaggio hit upon the idea of creating such a vehicle by taking D’Ascanio’s Vespa scooter, adding an extra wheel at the back and placing a flat-bed structure across the rear axle. The first buyers could choose from 50, 100 and 150cc versions and during its almost seventy years of production there have been many different versions of the Ape. One of the most significant developments came with the introduction of a driver’s cab in 1964. Although designed for one with its handlebar control, rather than steering wheel, placed centrally, there is just about room for a passenger. The various configurations including van and pick-up are used for any number of commercial enterprises and in some countries they are very popular with postal services. You’ll see them going around with all manner of cargo or parked by the roadside where the load-area makes a perfect impromptu market stall.
In the last couple of years Ape production has ceased in Italy but this wonderfully versatile little workhorse continues to be made by Piaggio India. The Ape has been an intrinsic part of the scenery in southern Italy for nearly seven decades and who knows for how long these little bees will continue to buzz? What is certain is that no matter how humble and unassuming they may be, the contribution they made during the 1950s and 60s to the period of rapid economic growth known in Italy as the ‘Miracolo Economico’, means that their place in our history is assured.