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The Piaggio Ape (pronounced "ah-peh" - Italian for bee) is a three-wheeled light commercial vehicle first produced in 1948 by Piaggio.

History and design

At the end of World War II, most Italians, badly affected by the war, lacked means of transport, and more importantly, the financial means to acquire full-sized four-wheeled vehicles. In 1947 the inventor of the Vespa, aircraft designer Corradino D'Ascanio, came up with the idea of building a light three-wheeled commercial vehicle to power Italy's economical reconstruction, an idea which found favour with Enrico Piaggio, the son of the firm's founder, Rinaldo. The very first Ape model and the mark immediately following it were mechanically a Vespa with two wheels added to the rear, with a flat-bed structure on top of the rear axle. The early sales brochures and adverts referred to the vehicle as the VespaCar or TriVespa; it cost 170,000 lire. The first Apes featured 50cc, 125cc or 150cc and more recently 175cc engines. By the time of the 1964 Ape D, a cab was added to protect the driver from the elements. The Ape has been in continuous production since its inception and has been produced in a variety of different body styles in Italy and India.

Controlled with scooter style handlebars, the original Ape was designed to seat one, but can accommodate a passenger (with a tight fit) in its cab. A door is provided on each side, making it quicker to get out of the vehicle when making deliveries to different sides of the road. Performance is suited to the job of light delivery, with good torque for hills but a low top speed, which is irrelevant in the urban settings for it was designed. Outside of towns, Apes are customarily driven as close as possible to the curb to allow traffic to pass.

Usage

The vehicles comes in various configurations such as vans and pickups for load carrying (it was popular with postal administration in some countries) and an autorickshaw (Tuk-tuk) for human transportation. More recently Piaggio have made lifestyle models such as the Ape Cross Country and the Ape Web aimed at the young. The Ape is also commonly used as a promotion tool. Advertising hoardings are mounted in the load bay. The Ape's unusual looks can help draw attention to a brand or business.

The Ape is a common sight in Italy where its compact size allows it to negotiate narrow city streets and park virtually anywhere. It is also often seen at the roadside where the load area is used as an impromptu market stall by farmers. The Ape is produced in India by Piaggio India, and a similar vehicle is manufactured by Bajaj Auto. In India the Ape is most commonly found in the form of an autorickshaw or (tuk-tuk). Nowadays two model ranges are offered: the "Ape 50" with a 49.8cc Petrol Engine and the larger "Ape TM" which comes available with a 218cc Petrol engine or a 422cc Diesel engine. The "Ape 50" can carry 170 kg while the "TM" can carry 700 kg. A limited edition named the Calessino was made available: this had retro styling and came in an autorickshaw body. The bodywork was close to the Ape of the 1950s and 1960s and was designed to evoke memories of the era of dramatic economic growth in Italy known as La Dolce Vita.

Model history and descriptions

  • 1948-1952 - Ape A: 125cc engine, wooden pick up bed, front fork mounted to the left of the wheel hub and column mounted gear lever.
  • 1952-1956 - Ape B: similar to the A model but with a 150cc engine, a pressed steel cargo bed, front fork mounted to the right of the wheel hub and cable operated gearchange.
  • 1956-1967 - Ape C: Still sporting a 150 cc engine but with a major redesign: the first Ape with an enclosed cab, the engine uses a 5% oil mix and is sited under the driver's seat. It was still manually started, but electric start was optional.
  • 1967-1974 - Ape D: 175cc engine. Featured a trapezoidal headlight fitted on the bulkhead rather than the mudguard and an intake valve that allowed the engine to run with a 2% oil mix. The first Ape with cab heater.
  • 1965-1973 - Ape E: Identical to the D model but with a 150cc engine.
  • 1968-1978 - Ape MP: MP stood for Motore Posteriore (Rear Engine), the engine was moved from the cab to the rear to improve comfort.
  • 1970-1978 - Ape E/400R: 175cc engine and minor changes.
  • 1979-1981 - Ape P: 175cc, with minor changes.
  • 1981-1993 - Ape 500: 175cc, new bulkhead with two headlights.