Introduced in 1957 the VESPA 400 was an innovative solution to the needs for compact and economical transportation in Europe’s micro car marketplace.The Vespa car was designed and engineered by Piaggio in Italy but manufactured in France due to concerns regarding competition with the just introduced FIAT 500 models in the home market. Piaggio was new to car manufacturing and careful not to appear too directly competitive with FIAT.
Designed with aeronautical priorities and engineering sensibility, the Vespa 400 was a very compact, ultra light urban runabout with a roomy interior and a slick rollback convertible top. Twin bucket seats are augmented by a rear compartment that can be fitted with a cushion for kid-sized back seats or used for cargo.
Overall length is a trim 112" on a 67" wheelbase, curb weight is under 850 lbs.The 400 features a twin cylinder, 393cc two-stroke twin cylinder engine with semi-automatic oil injection. Rated at 14 HP with a 3 speed manual transmission, performance is modest but adequate for the city. Top speed is 50 - 55 mph. Suspension is independent on all four wheels with coil springs, hydraulic shocks and a front roll bar. Brakes are drums at all four wheels. Fuel consumption is 45-50 mpg.
Contemporary road tests included a ringing endorsement from Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated, most popular auto reviewer of that era, who noted the smooth, comfortable ride quality and sharp handling …."Here is real fun… this car has a fantastic ride!".
The Vespa 400 was very sophisticated and well-engineered compared to the other microcars available, such as the BMW Isetta, and initial sales were good. Piaggio addressed many needed improvements after launch and the 1959 model features all of the upgrades including automatic oil injection and opening door vent windows. Unfortunately for Piaggio, the European economy had improved making mini cars such as the Fiat 500 and BMC Morris Mini more popular than microcars in the marketplace. The microcar fad ended more quickly than expected, and the 400 was in production only until 1961 and only 30,000 were made.It remains one of the most interesting of the microcars and a very rare collectable today.
- dean seven