This first fabulous race Vespa was conceived for participation in various circuit races. With it, Piaggio dealers could enter their participation in speed contests. The Vespa in fact took part in several gradient and track races, with many victories in the scooter category, among which the Naples Grand Prix in 1947 and the chronograph climb at Rocca di Papa (Rome). The Vespa 98 Corsa’s form derived from the standard production model, but it had a much smaller, bubble-shaped shield and small handlebars. The horn was taken off the steering column cover and the seat is placed far back, so that the rider had to stretch to reach the handlebars. The rear brakes were also retracted to suit the rider’s elongated, aerodynamic position. The engine casing, a fundamental aspect of the vehicle, had small openings for better ventilation. The front mudguard was very small. The steering column was strengthened. The suspension had two coil springs. The rear suspension was directly above the engine support arm. The engine had no starter switch and the crankcase was cut at the point at which the engine start lever would have been placed to give the scooter more incline on curves. It had a three-speed change, the 17-mm carburettor was the sport type with an intake cornet, and there was a direct “megaphone” exhaust.
The creative genius of Piaggio’s engineers, which had led to the appearance of the first Vespa on Italian roads in 1946, was confirmed a few months later by the emergence of a real jewel from the experimental division of the Pontedera workshops. The Vespa 98 Corsa was built with the specific objective of showing the world that a small scooter could be extremely competitive on the circuit. The “silver swarm” of Vespas that had taken over Italian roads and piazzas inspired Enrico Piaggio to produce a vehicle with an “aggressive” design that would race to win. The Vespa 98 Corsa (Circuit) was hence built for speed in the races of its category and represented a concentration of innovative ideas to be tried out on standard production. It mounted the steering column and suspension on the right, a solution that would be applied to the Vespa 125 from 1948 on. The body was handbuilt on a steel frame. The brakes were drums; the rear had an air intake for cooling. It had the three-speed gear with the lever on the handlebar. Cooling was through forced air, ignition through a flywheel magneto with an internal coil. The clutch had multiple steel disks in a wet sump. The carburettor was a 17 mm Dell’Orto. The vehicle’s original colour was red. It was a little “meteor” to dream with and inspire dreams on in those first few Vespa years.
Towards the end of the 1940s most motorcycle constructors considered that the best way to publicise their products was to participate in the various motorcycle races that were generally held on town roads. The scope was to bring people closer to motorcycling and create potential customers. Piaggio did not want to be left behind and equipped a series of “circuit” scooters, like this 1949 sample, to race in the categories reserved for them, making its mark right from the start and leaving behind all the other scooters. Besides the publicity angle, the Vespa Circuit was also used as “test bench” for new ideas that were then used on standard products. The Vespas 125 circuit and the previous circuit models were totally hand-built by the specialists of the company’s experimental division and were used in races until the end of the 1950s by the official riders Dino Mazzoncini and Giuseppe Cau, who in 1950 wins the chronometer race Catania-Etna, gaining the first place in his category (125 cc) and obtaining the absolute third place in the general results after Guzzi and Benelli.
In 1949 the Vespa 125 Corsa was manufactured, the frame was of the aluminium alloy used in aircraft construction and assembled using alloy rivets, an avant-garde technological feature for the time. the larger fuel tank stretched towards the steering column, and was intended to offer increased range and optimize riding at high speed. the Vespa 125 Corsa took part in several city races, notching up many prestigious victories.
In 1950 Giuseppe Cau and Dino Mazzoncini gain the first and second place at the Bologna Grand Prix. in the same year, Giuseppe Cau wins on the Perugia circuit with the vespa 98 Corsa no. 38.
In order to promote the sporting image of the Vespa, Piaggio turned its attention to record breaking in the hope of reviving a glorious pre-war tradition. On April 7 1950 on France’s Montlhery circuit, three riders took turns as the Vespa spent 10 consecutive hours acquiring 17 world records: over 1 hour (average speed 134 km/h); over 100 miles (average 129.7 km/h), 500 miles (average 123.9 km/h), 1,000 km (average 124.3 km/h), and over 10 hours during which the Vespa covered 1,049 km. On a streamlined vehicle very similar to this (the Vespa 125 Circuit “alloy frame” of 1949) rider Dino Mazzoncini also performed brilliantly in track races, most memorably in the head-to-head between Vespa and Lambretta that took place on the Genoa Circuit (Corso Italia) and ended in a victory for Vespa in the motor scooter class.
A vehicle developed for trial racing, in which it enjoyed considerable success. Its styling was very similar to that of the standard models, except for a larger fuel tank, wrapround leg shield and a larger right side sack to house the carburettor on the cylinder. It earned its name by competing in the 26th International 6-Day event of 1951, at which it won nine gold medals. The Piaggio racing team was composed by: Biasci, Cau, Granchi, Mazzoncini, Merlo, Nesti, Opessi, Riva, Romano and Vivaldi. In 1951 the Vespa 125 Sei Giorni also won the Motorcycle Italian Federation Trophy, which saw the victories of three Italian riders on the Vespa (Giuseppe Cau, Miro Riva, Bruno Romano).
In 1951, Vespa set off to challenge the most prestigious of speed trial: that of the standing kilometre.
On the 9th of February, between the 10th and the 11th kilometre on the Rome-Ostia motorway, a Vespa with two horizontally opposed pistons (17.2 H.P. – 9500 rpm) designed by Corradino d’Ascanio and driven by the test-driver Dino Mazzoncini, beat all standing kilometre records with a time of 21.4 seconds and an average speed of 171.1 km/h.
The engine’s two drive-shaft were connected by cogs and each cylinder was served by a separate carburettor, outflow controlled by the piston on the magneto side. Liquid cooled with radiator on the left side.
This is the only remaining specimen of four experimental Vespa scooters built in 1985 (the engine test is dated 11 December 1985). The other three were demolished and the fourth survived “by chance” (it was the so-called “back up” which was not used to race). Piaggio built these scooters for the Paris-Dakar race, but then decided to abandon the project and demolish the vehicles.