The Italian Piaggio Company had been responsible for the worldwide phenomenon of the Vespa scooter. Early on, it was recognized that youthful scooter buyers would be moving on to a small car at some point, and Piaggio should be ready for that eventuality with their own Vespa car.
Production of Vespa 400
- 1957 : ....1 103 ex.
- 1958 : ...12 130 ex.
- 1959 : ....8 717 ex.
- 1960 : ....7 177 ex.
- 1961 : ....1 849 ex.
- Total : ...30 976 ex. (source:"l'Argus de l'Automobile")
- Model: Vespa 400
- Manufacturer : A.C.M.A. (Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles)
- Years Built: 1957 - 1961
- Production : +30,000
- Origin : Fourchambault, Nievre, France
- Motor : rear-engined Piaggio 2-cyl., 2-stroke
- Displacement 393 cc
- Power : 14 hp
- Length : 9 ft. 4 in. (Length:2 835 mm. Width: 1 270 mm.)
- Body : Monocoque
- Interior: 2 + 2 (small)
- Suspension Front: Coil
- Suspension Rear:Coil
- Ignition: Coil
- Top Speed: 50 to 55 mph (80 to 90 km/h), depending on the type of road, wind conditions, etc...
- Gearbox: 3 + rev
- Starter: Electric
- Brakes: Hydraulic
- Weight: 360 kg
- Electrics: 12 v
- 4 Wheels: 4.40 x 10"
History of the Vespa 400
Work on the vehicle by the scooter team had begun in 1952, but it would be five years before the little car would make its debut. This long development period resulted in one of the most wellengineered, extensively tested, nicely-finished, and competent of all the microcars. Fiat had total domination over the Italian small car market and would not allow an incursion into their territory by an upstart car manufacturer.
Piaggio had a sister company in France, A.C.M.A., which was already producing Vespa scooters at the rate of 260 per day, and with nearly 3,000 employees, it had production capacity to spare. Also, France had no small-car manufacturer able to produce a microcar in sufficiently large quantities.
An announcement at the Paris Salon of 1956 whetted the public’s appetite, and prototypes of the Vespa 400 were seen being tested during that winter. The car’s formal introduction to the public took place in the Principality of Monaco, with three renowned grand prix drivers. It was a huge sensation at the Paris Salon of 1957. The pretty little coupe Vespa 400 with a rollback roof compared favorably with the stylish Autobianchi Bianchina, apart from its smaller two-stroke motor. The shell was a monocoque, with a unique and advanced strut suspension that could handle France’s cobblestones with ease. The battery was in a pull-out drawer in the nose, and the motor was hightech, with the carburetor intake fitted to the crankcase, a form of rotary valve, requiring a much leaner than usual 50:1 oil-gas mixture.
The engineers at A.C.M.A. feared engine damage by repeated careless 20:1 gas station fill-ups, and they soon developed an onboard oil metering system. Production of the Vespa 400 was discontinued in 1961.
My 1961 Vespa 400
My Vespa 400 lovely blue example features the rollback roof and is in largely original but very good condition, still wearing its cream-colored wheels. The interior is in very good condition as well, and it features upholstery that is very festive for the depressed times and is somewhat evocative of the loud interiors featured on pre-war luxury French cars like Avions Voisin.