Getting a Buzz from Old Vespas

Marco Quaretta and his Vintage Scooter Workshop

Marco Quaretta and his Juke Box Marco Quaretta and his Juke Box Vespa is the Italian word for ‘wasp’, and it was Enrico Piaggio - founder of the Piaggio factory in the province of Pisa -  who gave the scooter its name back in 1946, because of the high buzzing noise – like a wasp - that its engine made, and its unusual narrow-waisted shape.

A Life-long Passion for Vespa Scooters

Unlike other teenagers who eventually grow out of their love for their two-wheeled means of transport, Livorno-born Marco Quaretta never lost his passion for the workings of the Vespa scooter. By watching others and experimenting on his own, over the years Marco has become an authority on this much loved Italian classic, and for some years now has had his own immaculate workshop and vintage Vespa scooter showroom in the heart of one of Livorno’s oldest districts, San Jacopo, not far from the church of the same name and the Pancaldi bathing lido.

Classic Vespas and Memorabilia in Livorno's San Jacopo

Most afternoons you can find Marco in his Livorno workshop, after a day’s work elsewhere in a totally unrelated field. Entering the officina is like peering into another era, a dotingly kept Aladdin’s cave where there is usually a Vespa laid bare that Marco is tinkering on, as well as his gleaming display of vintage models surrounded by a collection of posters and memorabilia from the 50s and 60s. This includes a wonderful, working juke box that plays some of the classics of Italian pop from the Dolce Vita era.

Vespa Line-up in Marco's ShowroomVespa Line-up in Marco's Showroom
I know nothing about engines or any of the technical jargon to do with bikes or cars, but I love the shape colour and feel of vintage models. Marco’s display is a real treat. Gazing admiringly at the current line-up of ten scooters, the oldest dating from 1948, I imagined what it must have been like to zoom around on the back of one of them in their heyday, blending stylishly into the Italian scene.

Famous Vespa Riders 

The Vespa has been a cultural icon in Italy since it was first produced by Piaggio in 1946. It has been used in many a movie about Italy, from the fifties up to recent times. Think of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953), and Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), to name but a few. And it has been adopted by many well-known personalities – not just Italians –, from British chef Jamie Oliver, hopping around London’s gourmet markets and stores, to Australian travel journalist Peter Moore, touring Italy’s back-roads.

Moore's Sophia well cared for in Livorno

Peter Moore's Sophia Peter Moore's Sophia Back in Livorno, one of the bikes in Marco’s showroom is the very same one – nicknamed Sophia  - ridden by Peter Moore on the journey he describes in his book Vroom with a View. It is kept in safe custody by Marco whom Peter came across on the internet when he was looking for a suitable old Vespa to buy. They became good friends, and keep in regular contact. Peter even describes Livorno as “one of my favourite places in Italy”. All because of a passion for Vespas, and a dream to relive the romantic Italian past.

There is not much romance in driving in urban Italy these days, the narrow streets filled to bursting point with moving and parked vehicles, the noise and pollution leaving you harassed and tired. The modern version of the Vespa has none of the charm or careful manufacturing of its predecessors either. But a visit to Marco’s  workshop makes you wonder whether, straddling one of his shining beauties, it might not still be possible to relive the atmosphere of a past era, when ladies wore headscarves and rode side-saddle. As Marco knows, and Peter Moore found out, people still love to see a classic Vespa and (usually) welcome its rider with open arms.

Marco is happy to show interested visitors his collection. You can write to him at

Get off at the church of San Jacopo on the LAM Blu bus route.