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La Dolce Vespa

  • Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Seven or eight years ago, while on summer vacation in northern Italy, Gianluca Baldo was stung by a wasp, and he was never the same again. A friend surprised him with the gift of a vintage 1976 PX 200 Vespa—because vespa means “wasp” in Italian. It was not the same model as the Vespa scooters Baldo rode around Milan as a teenager in the early 1970s, but ultimately, it did not matter. He hopped aboard and “it triggered something incredible,” Baldo says. “The memory that that ride brought back was tingling in my brain. I certainly didn’t expect it, but that small spark turned into a fire.”

Baldo returned to San Francisco, where he now lives, leaving the PX 200 at his family home in Italy. But he could not leave behind “an unstoppable desire” to add more and more Vespas to his life. He now owns 70 of the vintage scooters, and three years ago he cofounded Bello Moto, a vintage Vespa shop in San Francisco that rents, sells, and restores the scooters and stocks authentic parts. Baldo admits that one of his motivations for opening Bello Moto was to generate enough work to keep a Vespa specialist busy full-time. “I don’t want a collection of metal,” he says. “I want a collection of pieces I’m able to take out and ride on short notice.”

You don’t have to be a born-and-bred Italian to love vintage Vespas. The scooter marque has a worldwide fan base and the United States is an active part of it. Introduced in 1946 by Piaggio, an Italian company that previously made aircraft, the Vespa was built to be easy to ride, easy to maintain, cheaper than a car, and tough enough to traverse roads ruined by World War II. Unlike a motorcycle, the Vespa scooter lets its rider sit erect and travel well dressed: Its frame contains the motor, protecting pant legs, skirts, and shoes from splatters of oil and grease. Of course it looks gorgeous; Italians designed it. The Vespa was a perfect fit for its Euro-centric postwar niche, but its reach soon expanded to meet the needs of riders far outside of Italy—and today, it attracts a passionate following of collectors around the word.

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