The Ape (that’s “bee” to you)

The Ape (that’s “bee” to you)

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

I was having coffee with a friend (who actually reads my blog!) and he asked “when are you going to post something on Italian cars?”. Hmmm, I hadn’t really thought about that. “So,” he continued, “maybe something about Ferraris, Maseratis, Alfa’s and that kind of thing.” Well, if you are one of the few others that reads things here you probably might think that is not particularly my style. Not for me those glamour pusses of the Italian autostrada. But how about one of the workhorses, the veritable backbone, of the Italian countryside and small towns. The Ape!

Ape in citta'

It’s also a vehicle that you’ll probably never see unless you go to Italy and then will curse when you are behind one on a road somewhere. They’re really a very practical vehicle in a lot of ways; inexpensive to buy and operate, capable of hauling stuff around better than anything on two wheels and correctly sized to go through almost the tiniest street in those cute little hillside towns. I’ve looked inside one and was surprised to find not a steering wheel but the handlebars for a scooter. It has been great fun researching this thing. It was first built in 1947 just in the aftermath of WWII and answered the need for  a really cheap and functional vehicle for the economic recovery of (cliché alert) war torn Italy. It was made by (surprise!) Piaggio, the same company that made the Vespa. So Ape (pronounced “ah-peh”) which means “bee” in Italian joined the Vespa which means “wasp” in Italian. One need only look at the proliferation of both vehicles to this day to see how wildly successful they were. It didn’t have an enclosed cab until 1956 – it must have been a real adventure before that. For a fascinating slide show of Ape photos click here to look at these photos from the Italian website Megamodo.

The Ape came in models from 50cc to 150cc originally and have had engines as large as 500cc. I found a video that is pretty cool of a 50 cc version of modern manufacture. This little speed demon accelerates from 0 to 25 mph in a scorching 21 seconds (unloaded). Of course that’s not the whole story because it will go all the way up to 30 mph but probably not with a load of olive oil in the back.

Aside from the takeover of roads in Germany as mentioned in the video they are taking over other parts of the world. India is being overrun apparently as shown in the photo below.

India Ape

Ah, the wonders of the web. Who would have thought that someone would come up with a camper based upon the Ape? But here it is in all it’s glory. If you think that these photos are amusing you can click here to look at the rest on this site.

But wait, there’s more. I’m not sure that even the Italians can invest the Ape with sex appeal but that hasn’t stopped them from trying. Get a load of the spiffy vehicle below. Can’t you just picture yourself in this beauty?


If you want still more pictures, some quite bizarre, of Apes and Ape activities (like races) just put this into your Google Search for Images “ape 3 wheel”. Someday it would be great to ride in one or even get behind the handlebars and explore in one of these myself. Has anyone else out there had any Ape experience? How about other unusual transportation?

2 Responses to “The Ape (that’s “bee” to you)”

  1. Jamie P. Says:

    I’m in! I see them now… buzzing around the ‘gourmet ghettos’ around the Bay Area. The gentry out gathering the pasta, olives, and just-picked greens for the day’s provision! Do you think I could haul lumber for my handyman jobs? They MUST make a hauling trailer for the thing, no?

    When do we start importing them, Joe??

  2. Joe Says:


    I think that it’s just the thing for Alice over at Chez Panisse. Very humble and earthy but eminently practical. Of course that 30 mph top speed can put a little crimp in the style of any locavore in this country. My Italian correspondent, Massimiliano looked at the Ape post and asked why we didn’t have them over here. Of course that speed issue as well as the distances really are a problem with this. It surely would be fun around town though, wouldn’t it. Of course it’s crash worthiness is probably about as good as a Vespa, maybe even worse, so I don’t think that we’re likely to be able to run down to the Ape store and buy one any time soon.


Leave a Reply