Saturday, October 31, 2009

Piaggio Museum, Pontedera

The little Tuscan town of Pontedera, halfway between Pisa and Siena, is dominated by the Piaggio factory. The factory (and museum) is situated on the opposite side of the train station (ie, across the tracks) so is easy to find. Unfortunately there is no where at the train station to store baggage but the museum staff kindly offered to look after our bags.

The Piaggio collection is housed in one of the old factory buildings. The collection is extensive and includes aircraft, trains, civil engineering, Gilera motorcycles and, of course, Vespas. I was quite surprised when browsing through the archive section to see that Piaggio had built everything from heavy bombers, sea planes, fighter aircraft and submarines (just the engines I think). There were also aerial photographs of the factory before and after the war showing the extent of bombing damage.

It was wonderful to see the two Vespa prototypes restored and on display. The original 'Paperino' was built in 1946 as a speculative venture by Piaggio's Biella factory. Enrico Piaggio never liked it and handed the project over to designer Corradino D'Ascanio to rework. D'Ascanio's design got the tick and 1,000 were rushed into production. Reaction from the press was largely negative but the public, desperate for any form of cheap transport, were sold on the Vespa. Between 1947 and 1950 the Vespa was constantly revised and improved with bigger engines, better controls, and improved suspension, before the formula was finally perfected. Since then millions of Vespas have been sold all around the world, turning the Vespa into a cultural icon in the process.

An overview of the Vespa display

A stack of Vespas starting with the 1946 model at the top left

The 1946 Paperino. Only about 50 Paperinos were ever built so they are as rare as hen's teeth and now extremely sought after. It's amazing how small the Paperino actually is. It is much smaller and lower than the familar Vespa.

The original 'Vespa' 98cc prototype.

The early trio - Paperino prototype, Vespa prototype and the first production model

A 1966 Vespa 90 Super Sprint

1947 Vespa 98cc Corsa. In order to prove that the Vespa wasn't some novelty Piaggio entered modified racing versions into competions all around Europe. This early racer had a top speed of 80kph.

Two more racers - the 1949 Vespa 125 Corsa and Vespa 125 circuit racer. The Corsa (no 38) hit 130kph while the circuit racer's top speed was 100kph.

Front view of the racers.

A 1951 Vespa 125 racer and 1953 Vespa 125 U, a rare economy model.

The 1950 Montlhery circuit racer. This streamlined machine hit 137kph.

Taking streamlining to the next level - the 1951 Vespa Siluro. With a specially built twin cylinder engine, this machine set a speed record for a standing start with 171kph over one kilometre.

Vespa as standard... the 150cc models of the 1960s.

Modern Vespas.

The Ape was another of Piaggio's iconic vehicles. On the left is the 1953 Ape 150 and beside it the 1956 Ape AC.

1962 Ape firetruck. Apes are still found all across the world, especially in Asia, where they have barely changed. Modern versions remain popular in Italy.

The 1957 Vespa 400 microcar.

The Gilera Motorcycle Collection

Gilera started building motorcycles at the beginning of the 12th century. They were bought out by Piaggio.

In the 1930s Piaggio built these marvellous stainless steel trains for use on Italy's northern railways.

It would have been good if they also had some information about Piaggio's aircraft. Piaggio build fighters and bombers for the Italian airforce during the Second World War.

For information about about the Piaggio Museum, including directions and opening hours, check their website:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Deutsche Technik Museum, Munich

Germany has many excellent technology museums and collections of which the Deutsche Museum in Munich is but one. Not as extensive as Sinshiem, the Deutsche Museum is spread across several buildings in central Munich. The automotive collection is not housed in the main museum but is situated in three adjoining buildings on Theresienhöhe Strasse, near Bavaria Park where the Octoberfest is held each year.

Although not an enormous collection it has an interesting display of racing vehicles, including a wonderful 1930s rear-engined Auto-Union, a 1950s Mercedes and a Messerschmitt racer. The second hall has a fairly random collection of old veteran vehicles and bikes, some later German vehicles and an assortment of buses and trains. The first hall has an interesting display of urban vehicles from the 1930s to 1950s, including trams, fire engines and utility vehicles. With the exception of the racing display I think this is the best exhibition as there is a consistent theme.

This was the first time I'd actually seen a 'real life' Maicomobil and I must admit to be very impressed. It is a truly amazing scooter. The urban display also featured quite a few interesting micro cars.

The Benz Patentwagon of 1886. It all starts here
And the Ford Model-T took motoring to the masses

Victoria moped and 1936 Open P4 'volks-wagen'

Victoria "Vicky" moped

Another handsome moped by Victoria, this time the N99

Progress Strolch and a Kriedler Florett moped

A BMW Isetta, NSU Prima and a Zundapp 50cc moped

A Heinkel Perle moped and Heinkel 150

A Goggomobil sedan, NSU Quickly moped and a Messerschmitt

An IWL Berlin

A Durkopp Diana

A Durkopp Diana followed by the ubiquitous Citroen CV2

The classic French Citroen Traction Avant

Citroen DS. Once my dream car; now.... so many to choose?

The exceptional Tatra T87. Hans Ledwinka's stunning creation showed what could be done with the rear engine concept. This was his personal car. He retired to Germany after the Second World War and lived quietly in Munich. He left the car to the museum when he passed away in the 1960s.

NSU Lambretta. NSU got back on its feet after the war building Italian Lambrettas. They quickly moved on to a new and improved version, the NSU Prima.

Vespa, Maico Mobil and a 1960 Fiat 600 Multipla

The magnificent Maico Mobil - two wheeled car

A very vintage Zundapp and Wanderer Puppchen

Megola motorcycle. The Megola was a radically different motorcycle concept as it was powered by a five cylinder radial engine mounted on the front wheel hub. It was started by spinning the front wheel while up on its stand. It had no clutch which meant that to stop the engine had to be switched off.  It was quite an impractical design but performed well in racing. 

A Zundapp Janus leads a column of economy vehicles

The Zundapp Janus has three doors, one in the side, one at the front and one at the rear.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 34

A magnificent 1939 Horch. The luxury marque of the Auto-Union conglomerate.

1928 Mercedes-Benz

A Steyr 50. Compare this 1936 car with some of the other streamlined vehicles of the 1930's in my postings about the Tatra and Volkswagen Beetle. The Austrian Steyr company would later merge with motorcycle manufacturer Puch and Daimler to become Steyr-Daimler-Puch.

A Setra bus. German built under licence from Tatra.

A Goliath Pionier three-wheeled car. The budget Pionier was Carl Borgward's first motor car.

Veterans and trams

In the early 1920s the Rumpler company built this remarkable streamlined car. It featured a centrally mounted engine and extremely efficient streamlining.  About 300 were built but ultimately this radical, boat shaped car was just a little too unusual to be success.

A Bugatti

A classic Cadillac Eldorado

1938 German Ford

An Alfa Romeo roadster. About as sexy as they come. Here is a German link about this vehicle
1934 Auto Union type A. The first of a long line of world record breaking racers. The car was designed by Ferdinand Porsche and featured a massive 4.4 litre V 16 rear mounted engine, which made the type very difficult to handle. Only 5 Type A's were ever built but they led directly to the Type B, C and D racers that took the racing world by storm in the years before World War Two.

The Auto Union Type A and the world speed record breaking NSU Delphin III racer. In 1956 the 500cc three-cylinder engine motorcycle broke the 200kph barrier with a top speed of 211kph at Bonneville.

Mercedes Benz 300 SLR

Messerschmitt KR200 racer