AUTOROTICA: The Vespa 400 Microcar (1957 to 1961).

Most of us think of Vespa as the maker of the ubiquitous, chubby-faced city scooter, but back in the day, Vespa also manufactured a microcar—the forefather of today’s City Cars—like the SmartCar, and Fiat 500.

The Vespa 400 was produced by ACMA (Ateliers de construction de motocycles et d’automobiles) in France, from 1957 to 1961. There were two models—the "Lusso" and "Turismo" designed by the Italian company Piaggio (parent of the Vespa scooter company). The two-seater had a 394cc engine which delivered 14hp, and a top speed of 50 mph. With that type of power I could imagine a competitive drag race between the Vespa microcar and today’s scooter.

Like other microcars of its day, the Vespa 400 was a basic car. It could accommodate 2 + 2, with front seats resting on tubular metal frames with cloth upholstery on elastic "springs." There was room behind the seats to accommodate two small children, a dog or luggage on an optional “cushion.”

The rear hinge doors have only a plastic lining on the metal skin to separate the metal from in the interior--allowing for extra internal space. Instrumentation is very basic with only a speedometer and warning lights for low fuel, main beam, dynamo charging and indicators.

Oh, and did I mention it was a convertible? The cabriolet fabric roof could be rolled back leaving conventional metal sides above the doors—similar to the modern-day Fiat 500. The car battery is on a shelf that can be slid out and the spare wheel is in a well under the passenger seat.

All very practical solutions for a very small car.

Around 28,000 Vespa 400s were built, with a very small number (under 2,000) imported to the United States. Prices for restored cars hover between $12,000 and $15,000 according to Hemmings, with restorable cars generally priced in the $5,000 range. And as for today’s Vespa scooter, a 2013 Vespa GTS will cost you around $6,000.

Given a choice, we’d take the adorable microcar anyday.

AUTOROTICA is a weekly series here on FIVE THôT. This article is part of a series on the post WWII microcar movement.

Images via Retrorambling

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