Seventy years of success, unique charm, a vehicle famed across the world, unrivalled versatility. No commercial vehicle can boast a history quite like that of Ape. A three-wheeler that has always kept pace with the times, transporting a working Italy.
The Constitution of the Italian Republic comes into effect and Luigi Einaudi is elected President on 11 May.
Gino Bartali wins the Tour de France for the second time, Torino wins the Italian football championship, and the London Olympics sees victories for Zatopek and Consolini. Oscars go to Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica, Hamlet and Laurence Olivier.
Books published include House of Liars by Elsa Morante, Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, and The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw. New inventions include the LP record, the transistor, and cybernetics. The yearly per capita income of Italians is 139,152 lire.
The number of Vespa scooters on the streets continues to increase in Italy and throughout Europe. Piaggio production jumps to 19,822, a major spike compared to the 2,464 scooters produced when the Vespa was launched in 1946. The Italian economy is arduously getting back on its feet, and industry, commerce and artisan businesses are picking up again. Goods are transported using large lorries that clearly derive from military vehicles, costly conventional four-wheeled commercial vehicles or three-wheeled delivery vans that are heavy and slow; in the city, pedal-powered tricycles and hand carts are predominant.
As with the Vespa, careful observation of everyday needs inspires Enrico Piaggio and Corradino D’Ascanio to create a new product. By taking a metaphorical rib from the Vespa, they create the Ape, which first goes on sale in 1948. "The “Ape” motorcycle-van is destined for great success — writes Italian Motociclismo magazine — It is an extraordinarily modern machine, with a very low price and low fuel consumption making it affordable for even the smallest business, but conceived without false economy according to the most rational criteria in terms of both function and construction."
The first Ape retains all the fundamental characteristics of the Vespa — albeit in a three-wheeled structure — as well as the front section of course, and the 125cc engine that, as of 1948, would also equip the Piaggio scooter, originally presented with a 98cc engine. The price tag is 170,000 lire.
In the words of the brilliant aeronautical engineer D’Ascanio, who created both the Vespa and the Ape: "Our goal was to fill the gap in the utilitarian transport market in the immediate post-war era by offering a small-engined three-wheel van that was inexpensive to purchase and service, easy to drive, agile in even the busiest city traffic and, above all, a suitable, rapid and viable solution for the home delivery of goods bought in shops.
The first to benefit directly from the new vehicle in these early days are small and medium sized retailers, the target audience when it comes to the initial Ape advertising campaign: "The Ape contributes to quickening the pace of commerce and sales, developing, so to speak, the amount of traffic to a shop and creating a welcome connection with the customer". The success of this brilliantly intuitive idea is astonishing. Swarms of Ape vehicles ('ape' means bee in Italian) start to buzz around an Italy that still lives “in black and white”, the name of the company supplied - in beautiful script - on the load box.
1952. The first evolution
In the summer of 1952, power is boosted — the engine size of the Ape going from 125 to 150cc — with capacity increasing accordingly, just 200 kg up until that point. The next thing to change is the deck, made of steel in 1954. Once all these updates are finalised, a new model makes its debut, the Ape C, a minute lorry that can carry up to 350 kg. The launch of this new Ape is accompanied by an impressive advertising campaign, with millions of pamphlets printed in five languages and a major promotional initiative conducted at dealerships. Italy's economic boomis knocking at the door.
From 1958 to 1968 Dimensions increase, as does equipment, introducing an Ape with… five wheels
The Ape world is in continuous evolution. 1958 sees the birth of the Ape D, with increased dimensions, a cab complete with doors, a headlamp mounted on the front of the cab rather than on the mudguard, and 170cc engine capacity. Boasting ingenious content and revolutionary practicality, this three-wheeler becomes universally synonymous with light commercial transport. The Ape is now developing a firmly established image and, riding the wave of the social and cultural trends of the era, Piaggio coins the slogan "Ape, the vehicle that helps you make money".
The technical evolution of the Ape continues: in 1961, Ape makes the “jump” to five wheels with the Pentarò model,an original vehicle boasting a significant payload (700 kg), which follows the example of larger lorries. 1966 belongs to the Ape MP, the cabin of which is meant to offer the driver (and eventual passenger) greater comfort, similar to that of car-type vans. The two-stroke engine is boosted to 190 cc, but more importantly, a host of new technical and design solutions are introduced to make the Ape even more functional than ever. The engine is installed at the rear in a “sled” structure and chain drive is replaced with axle shafts that directly driving the rear wheels, now suspended with pressed steel arms, rubber spring elements and hydraulic shock absorbers. In 1968, the steering wheel makes its debut in the Ape MPV as an optional, an alternative to the standard scooter-like handlebar.
1969. The “Apino” is born: a true commercial vehicle with a tiny 50 cc engine
Another important addition to the family arrives just a year later, in 1969. Piaggio presents the Ape 50, an epochal event in its own right, as it is the first model in the Ape range to be classified as a scooter. As has often occurred in the history of Piaggio products, the Ape 50 was conceived to replicate the success of the Vespa 50 in the two-wheeled market, which was launched in 1964 in response to a new regulation in the Italian Highway Code that made license plates mandatory for vehicles with larger engines.
1971. Introducing the Ape Car
But the real “revolution” comes in 1971, with the launch of the Ape Car, a model that could compete with lightweight vans and that stands out for its design, extremely modern for the age. The Ape Car features a new body, which is larger to accommodate a more spacious and comfortable cab. The Ape Car has a proper steering wheel, while the 220 cc two stroke engine is, as before, installed at the rear on a specific "sled" structure. Even Piaggio's advertising at the time focuses on likening the capabilities of the new model with those of commercial vehicles deriving directly from the car.
1982. Giugiaro's Ape
The Ape Car is a huge success, but the next significant technical/design change does not come until 1982, with the arrival of the Ape TM: A completely new vehicle in terms of its design — the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro — cab dimensions, steering wheel control and car-like dashboard, all features that contribute to accentuating the comfort and spaciousness of the vehicle itself. The independent arm suspension layout is also new, as are the light alloy brake drums and 12 inch wheels. Ape TM is one of the most successful vehicles in the Ape range thanks to its robustness and performance.
1984. The conversion to diesel
Though two stroke engine are still the beating heart of Ape, it is time for some new engine types. Hence, the arrival of the first Ape with a diesel engine. Ape Car Diesel is equipped with a new 422cc Diesel engine with 5-speed gearbox. The engine itself is revolutionary, in that it is the smallest direct injection diesel engine in the world. Two years later, in 1986, the Ape sets a new record for load capacity with the Max version, capable of carrying up to 900 Kg of cargo
1994. For the youngsters
Another Ape venture —not to do with four wheels but rather with youngsters — comes about in the mid-90s, 1994 to be precise, when the charmed Ape Cross special series is launched, a model destined for significant commercial success.
Derived from the Ape 50, the Ape Cross is designed for the many young people who use the Apino as an alternative to “two-wheel vehicles”. The Ape Cross comes complete with aroll bar and a practical and spacious luggage compartment behind the cab, while its vivid, youthful colours are specially created and not available for the standard Piaggio commercial range. The Ape Cross can even be fitted with an electronic alarm system and a stereo audio system with speakers.
2007. The return of the Calessino
As far back as the 50s, Ape was building its timeless appeal, linking its image to shots of Hollywood stars in villages across the Mediterranean islands, celebrities who were often followed by paparazzi and photographed on the Ape they would use to get around the holiday resort. Ape soon became a star of the celebrity world, in legendary Italian destinations such as Versilia, Capri, Ischia and Portofino.
In 2007 Piaggio introduces a unique, limited series on the market: Ape Calessino. Ape Calessino is a tribute to the vehicle's history as well as a personal mobility solution for use in exclusive settings. The Ape Calessino reinterprets the iconic design of the 1960s, with wooden trim details, chrome accents and an elegant vintage blue colour scheme evocative of the sun, sea and spirit of the Mediterranean.
In 2013, the Nuovo Ape Calessino is born, sold throughout Europe and built on the base of the Ape Taxi that Piaggio produces in India, a passenger vehicle known across Asia as a Tuk Tuk. Ape Calessino 200 is designed to comfortably accommodate two passengers plus driver. An extremely original vehicle, it stands out thanks to its personality and one of a kind design that, having offered the world its own take on urban transportation, is now updated with a very modern design and technical features.
Today, just like seventy years ago, the strong points of the Ape range lie in its compact dimensions, extreme handling, low purchase and running costs, generous load capacity and extreme robustness. A vehicle that, despite retaining its original construction philosophy, has continued to change in order to respond increasingly effectively to the ever-changing needs of professional mobility.
With approximately 6 million units having been sold across the world, Ape remains a product of reference for the Piaggio Group. The success of Ape goes well beyond the confines of the old continent, enjoying global reach, the vehicle produced in Italian factories in Pontedera and in India, in a factory located in Baramati, close to Bombay.
In 2017, the Group sells approximately 200,000 Ape vehicles, confirming its leadership in the cargo sector on the Indian market, with a share of 48.8%.
Ape is now available, for the European market, as a 50 cc petrol version, the Ape Classic 435 Diesel and the Calessino 200 cc special series. All of the new engine sizes obviously adhere to the strictest European standards in terms of emissions but today's Ape is also characterised by new outfitting, new versions and new modes of use that are not limited to a work context. Ape is increasingly used by companies that, to publicise their products, use the Pontedera 3-wheeler, synonymous with congeniality, joy and Made in Italy, in TV advertising or printed media campaigns. Ape is also used in more refined, exclusive ways. From a mobile outlet for exclusive aperitifs and tastings linked to the street food world, to an original and alternative vehicle for travelling presentations of prestigious clothing collections.