Home » Let’s Consider The Italian Scooter-Maker’s Car That Was Built In France. And Tiny People: Cold Start

Let’s Consider The Italian Scooter-Maker’s Car That Was Built In France. And Tiny People: Cold Start

Cs Vespa400 1
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You know about the Vespa 400, right? Piaggio, the famous Italian maker of Vespa scooters, wanted to branch out into the four-wheel vehicle market, and so came up with this absolutely charming little microcar, the Vespa 400. It was actually shorter than a Fiat 500 and really only intended for two people (well, maybe two adults and two kids or a big dog) where the 500 was an actual, if optimistic, four-seater. Still, Fiat wasn’t crazy about the competition, and so threatened – or so the story goes – to make a scooter of their own and wipe the cobblestones with Piaggio unless they backed off. And, they sort of did, moving production to Fourchambault, France, and targeting the French market more.

Oh, and also – how small are the people in that brochure image up there? They look like maybe they’re part of that specially genetically engineered sub-scale human used in brochures for microcars and small British sportscars like the Bugeye Sprite. I suspect they used a lot of Shtetl Hobbit DNA, like I have, to achieve these sorts of humans. For comparison, here’s some full-scale humans with Vespa 400s:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Cs Vespa400 4

I think the ones in the brochure cover are, what, 80% scale?

The Vespa 400 was a really charming and clever little car. It wasn’t designed so much for packaging efficiency as it was for style, with an elegant little three-box design and nice proportions, along with a roll-down roof.

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The engine was a little two-stroke 400cc twin making 14 hp, and sporting one of the biggest, most snail-like fan enclosures I’ve ever seen. The spare tire was cleverly stashed under the passenger’s seat, and the battery came out on a little drawer fron the faux-grille on the front.

Cs Vespa400 Accessories

These were made from 1957 to 1961, and enough were around to allow for aftermarket accessories, like these shown here, to exist. Is the company’s logo those two battering rams? Also, that’s a lot of chrome accessories to stick on one little car; I bet if you had them all on you could add a second or two to your 0-50 time. You’re not getting to 60.

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Barry Allen
Barry Allen
9 months ago

Gotta love when the engine compartment is tiny but still mostly empty.

George Millwood
George Millwood
9 months ago

Love the articles on small cars although I could never drive them as I was too big to fit behind the wheel of my wife’s Honda S800 coupe.

Banpei
Banpei
9 months ago

My first thought was that Piaggio built the Autobianchi Bianchina Trasformabile in license. However, their shape is nearly identical including the retractable canvas top. It looks like Piaggio scaled down the Bianchina 80% and sold it in France and hoped Autobianchi never found out!
A few years ago I made a video about the Nissan Figaro being inspired by the Bianchina Trasformabile and that the Bianchina Trasformabile was also Lucy’s car in Despicable Me 2. However her car looks like a mashup between the Bianchina Trasformabile and the Vespa 400. The front end and tail lights of Lucy’s car match the Bianchina, but the side trim and rear bonnet match the Vespa 400. So I have to revise that opinion now.

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
9 months ago

Honest to god, the Vespa 400 has the smoothest shifting gearbox I’ve ever experienced. Wonderful cars.

MiniDave
MiniDave
9 months ago

Honda did an ad many years ago about how much more room there would be on the highways if everyone drove a Civic……I drive classic Minis, so even Civics look big to me – even more so today when a Civic is now a full sized car! I’d be perfectly happy to see our roads filled with Mini sized cars and trucks again……..

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
9 months ago

Shtetl Hobbits?
Great name for a band.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

I expect some gypsy wedding music. I also expect the band members to all be extremely tall.

Gubbin
Gubbin
9 months ago

I love these. Saw one parked inside the bed of a pickup at a scooter club meeting once.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
9 months ago

That’s just Eddie Arcaro and his family on holiday.

Toecutter
Toecutter
9 months ago

I love these tiny cars.

If you build something with such low mass and low frontal area, and then focus on aero drag reduction, you open up the potential to an EV sports car that only needs 50 Wh/mile to hold 70 mph on the highway. Then you can get away with a modest 10-15 kWh battery pack to get acceptable range, keeping materials costs low. And then if the thing weighs less than 700 kg, you don’t need a whole lot of power to make it run circles around $250,000+ supercars on a track, but with today’s motor and battery tech, you could easily have such a thing making 500+ horsepower with AWD anyway. And since EVs offer more creative ways to place components, the car doesn’t need to be a cramped sardine can either and the occupants could have plenty of room to stretch their legs because the batteries could be in the middle of the car where a transmission tunnel and driveshaft would normally have been and the motors themselves could be in the wheels.

Last edited 9 months ago by Toecutter
Eric Smith
Eric Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I’d settle for any small(er) EV here in the states. But heck, we can’t even get the Honda E. The unfortunate primary argument you’ll encounter for your low mass/low frontal area EV is that when one of them meets an F-150 there will be nothing left of the car but a small sticky spot on the road where the driver had once been. I’m often frustrated by this argument as it just accepts that 2-3 ton SUVs are a permanent fixture and to keep one’s offspring safe on the roads that the only logical conclusion is to embiggen the autos even more. Imagine how driver AND pedestrian deaths would be cut down if many more of us were driving autos of the size you envision. I know: it’s a pipe dream and not what American’s want apparently…

Toecutter
Toecutter
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Smith

It’s an endless arms race with no winners other than the industry and government that both get fatter along the way. The vehicles get more expensive, more feature-laden, more profitable, the government gets more taxes from the sale and fuel use while the infrastructure becomes greatly more burdened requiring more taxes, and the unsafe nature of the heavier vehicles “justifies” yet more regulations and barriers of entry into the vehicle market.

We’re just one economic crisis, fuel crisis, energy crisis, and/or resource crisis away from the current paradigm becoming entirely unservicable, with mass suffering to follow. The cracks have already formed with the lower classes increasingly finding themselves priced out of driving altogether, and with constantly increasing debt burdens becoming a necessity for everyone else to have transportation including the well off.

I ride velomobiles and share the roads with these 3+ ton monstrosities, and it does not feel at all safe. But if I crash into a pole or building, I have a lot LESS kinetic energy to dissipate than these vehicles do. Overall, everyone would be safer if the vehicles got less massive, including for the operators.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
9 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

At this point I think trucks, or at the very least lifted trucks, should be banned all days of the week except Friday-Sunday. Let the weekend rock-crawlers and… sigh… show truck people have their fun in the proper context, but don’t force the rest of us to deal with those monstrosities in daily traffic. Any truck with lifted suspension should be a weekend toy only.

Toecutter
Toecutter
9 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

I don’t like the idea of using government to ban things or make more laws. That, coupled with endlessly-enabled corporate greed, has led us to the current point in time with the current set of circumstances.

Instead, I’m more fond of it taking less of peoples’ money to subsidize fossil fuel access and the war machine that makes fossil fuels readily available. Lets get rid of auto industry bailouts and let them fail when they can’t sell their overpriced vehicles the next time the credit dries up and the economy collapses. I’m also fond of the idea of getting rid of rules, rather than adding new ones. Lets get rid of the CAFE footprint rule, written by auto industry lobbyists so that large vehicles are favored and small ones penalized, in a regulation originally intended to increase vehicle fuel efficiency. Lets get rid of massive amounts of regulations that pose impossible barriers of entry into the auto industry by small startups and which drive the cost of vehicle engineering and testing so sky high that currently only billionaires can enter and compete.

The days of the 3-ton rolling codpieces are numbered. When their time is up is hard to predict, but it’s coming. Resource shortages, economic cycles, and trend cycles alone will assure it. Whether it happens today, or 20 years from now, no one knows.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
9 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

All fantastic points, it’s just my concern – as someone from a somewhat rural area – that even with all the best incentives, people will not give up dailying their massive unnecessary truckular conveyances willingly.

Absolutely our current situation is unsustainable and will collapse at some point, and I wish it would be thoughtfully replaced instead of, well, whatever chaos happens when it collapses. Either way there’s going to have to be a massive shift in everyone’s collective value system and the way we do things, but it seems like the people holding us back from doing that already are kicking and screaming to hold on to the status quo, which is why I lean towards bans. Maybe that’s the wrong way of doing things, but… it’s taking so long otherwise.

Last edited 9 months ago by Austin Vail
Toecutter
Toecutter
9 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

All fantastic points, it’s just my concern – as someone from a somewhat rural area – that even with all the best incentives, people will not give up dailying their massive unnecessary truckular conveyances willingly

Banning these conveyances would pose a scenario where the demographic that uses them would not willingly give them up.

Ending the monetary subsidies that enable them, on the otherhand, would make them no longer economically feasible or affordable to operate. Non-users of these vehicles would no longer be subsidizing their use.

I think the following quote from Ayn Rand is apt to the situation:

[Man] is a specific organism of a specific nature that requires specific actions to sustain his life… That which his survival requires is set by his nature and is not open to his choice. What is open to his choice is only whether he will discover it or not, whether he will choose the right goals and values or not. He is free to make the wrong choice, but not free to succeed with it. He is free to evade reality, he is free to unfocus his mind and stumble blindly down any road he pleases, but not free to avoid the abyss he refuses to see… Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction.”

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
9 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Meanwhile, state gubbinments all over the place are outlawing kei cars strictly for being small and to receive industry lunches.

05Mil Machine
05Mil Machine
9 months ago

#9 and #18 crack me up. Dont even need a trip to AutoZone

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
9 months ago

most snail-like fan enclosures

Anyone know what the tank on the right-side of this picture is? Looks like it has a hand crank. Also, it isn’t shown in the brochure above, so an optional hand-cranked AC? A way to hydraulically open the canvas roof from the engine compartment? Optional hydraulic brakes that you have to crank to pressurize before each trip? Food storage for the squirrel that actually lives in the hamster wheel disguised as a fan shroud?

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
9 months ago

Vespa cars use two-stroke engines, and the engine compartment has a little tank of oil with a hand-cranked pump, so that after filling your car with gas, you can see how many gallons you put in and then hand-crank the oil pump the corresponding number of times to mix the proper amount of oil into your gas tank. Much more convenient than having to manually mix your oil and fuel beforehand.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
9 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

Ah, yes. That makes perfect sense. Would also explain why such a convenience may have been optional since you could just pour the oil in by hand after filling up.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 months ago

What’s with the lady in the last colored ad? It’s like she’s looking at the car, but it’s gotten even smaller since she removed her sun glasses. This car has a severe case of shrinkage.

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
9 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

The water was very cold.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

… They got little baby legs
They stand so low
You got to pick them up
Just to say hello …

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
9 months ago

There’s a ton of room in that engine compartment. Considering how small the car is, that means the engine is tiny.

A. Barth
A. Barth
9 months ago

Is the company’s logo those two battering rams?

*golf clap* 🙂

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
9 months ago

Friend in Colorado Springs had one for a time. I never rode in it as it was really small and I’m rather large. He’s now the go to guy in America for Heinkel Scooters should anybody need that.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
9 months ago

Yeah, those were indeed tiny! And indubitably cool! About a decade ago there were at least two running 400s around here in East Tennessee with one being either turbocharged or supercharged or even both (I’ll have to track down the memory card with the pictures to ascertain) which apparently made for an absolutely blistering 25 hp.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 months ago

Holy crap. Actually recall seeing some of these turds, (the car) in real life as a kid. New.
5 year old self tried like hell to get grandparents to buy me one, so I could run away from home.
And go live with Jethro and Ellie May.
Good times.

Last edited 9 months ago by Col Lingus
Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
9 months ago

I don’t care how good the driver is, there’s no way it’s getting into that parallel spot in the two-page brochure spread without fouling the DS behind it.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
9 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

You just get out, pick the car up, and set it into place! Easy Peasy!

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
9 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

According to my friend in France, “that’s why they’re called bumpers.” Truly, spend enough time driving there and you’ll get very used to incidental contact and stuffing your car in places you’d never even dream of in the US of A. People here in the US are stunned when they see the tight places I can maneuver in and out of (“you parallel parked the Suburban THERE? How?”), and the truth is I got the confidence to do that from driving in Europe. Some of that learning was driven by the fact that I was a very frequent Hertz renter and they had a bad habit of upgrading me when I wanted nothing bigger than a Clio – certainly not a Renault Laguna (mid-00s vintage).

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
9 months ago

I bet the roll back roof is a concession to taller drivers and passengers.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
9 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Imagine an NBA player trying to drive one? Sure, VW was able to squeeze Wilt Chamberlain into a Beetle back in the day, but this thing’s two sizes smaller – he would’ve looked like Rat Fink with his head and shoulders sticking up through that lovely canvas roof.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
9 months ago
Reply to  FuzzyPlushroom

That’s actually a really funny visual!

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
9 months ago
Reply to  FuzzyPlushroom

Not if they use Mugsy Bogues.

ES
ES
9 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

i was struck by the height of the front seats, vis-a-vis the “rear seat”. a concession for normally-heighted drivers?

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