Trucks are big things with big V8 engines, spewing diesel smoke, correct? Not quite. Trucks are things for hauling other, smaller things—and when the hauling is on the narrow streets of Italy, nothing beats the pint-size Piaggio Ape.
That’s ape as in Italian for honeybee, so think Apis mellifera instead of the superfamily Hominoidea and pronounce it ah-PEH. And don’t look for a V8 engine: the one in the Ape has a single cylinder of 3 (three) cubic inches. Upgrades are available which up that to a whopping fifteen, good for high-speed pizza deliveries followed by burnouts in the piazza.
The Ape you see here is from 1969. Its current owner purchased it in Naples, where it was used to deliver salami and cheese, just as intended. And like every proper Italian machine which stirs the heart, this one is mid-engined. So mid-engined, in fact, that all three cubic inches of that rat-tat-tat two-stroke little wonder are right beneath the bench you sit on. Flip it up and you can get your fingers dirty right away.
By the time this Ape was manufactured in 1969, the design was already two decades old. Similar to every tiny post-war European vehicle, it was borne out of necessity and poverty: another cheap, no-frills construction to get the economic heart of Europe pumping. The idea was Corradino D’Ascanio’s, the man who’s had a hand in everything from the Vespa to the Lambretta to the Agusta helicopter. In fact, the Ape is nothing but a Vespa with two rear wheels and a cabin.
They are clearly workhorse machines, a bit rough in places, but this cappuccino-colored panel van transcends its utilitarian roots to become a three-wheeled cube of desire. Both the size and the dimensions hit the cuteness receptor in the human brain with a mighty thud. Kids, as you can see, cannot resist at all.
The Ape is probably as alien a solution to the American idea of trucking as the occasional Ford F-250 is to a European inner city. But for its natural environment, the Ape is as close to perfection as it gets. Plus, it’s a motor scooter in the eyes of the law! You can park it wherever you wish—for free. And absolutely nothing beats that in a car-choked city center.
Special thanks to Misi Szilágyi of Stipistop for loaning us his Ape. Photography by Natalie Polgar and the author. And if you really need to know: that statue of a pair of mosquito-mayfly hybrids in the pictures is located in a playground on the Vérmező in Budapest, which translates to: The Field of Blood. It was named so after Hungarian revolutionary Ignác Martinovics and his men were beheaded there on May 20, 1795.