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Roman Holiday ride vrooms into town

Sixty-one years after Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn introduced Vespa to the world in Roman Holiday, the iconic Italian scooter has returned to Calcutta’s uneven roads for a new journey as a premium lifestyle vehicle.

Speed Auto Services, the new 1,500sq ft Vespa outlet opposite Big Bazaar on VIP Road, started operations on May 2. It has already sold five scooters and has bookings for 20 more.

This is not the first foray of the scooter, which means wasp in Italian, into India. Its makers Piaggio sold lakhs of affordable scooters under a manufacturing deal with Bajaj Auto in the 1960s and LML Motors in the 1980s.

Last April, Piaggio Vehicles, a wholly owned subsidiary of Piaggio & Co SpA, Italy, decided to go it alone in India, hoping that the magic of the best Vespa ad film ever, Roman Holiday, will work on a new generation of customers. Seventy-eight Indian outlets later, the city, too, has one.

Indians who want to emulate Joe and Anna, the reporter and princess played by Peck and Hepburn in the Hollywood classic, have only one Vespa model to choose so far: the LX 125, with a 125cc, four-stroke engine minus gears. The sticker shock for a retro-styled model in white, black, yellow, blue, red or grey starts from Rs 65,000.

“Vespa is a way of life. It is not about commuting and utility. It is about style and fashion. It is for the brand conscious and discerning,” said Piaggio Vehicles India chairman and managing director, Ravi Chopra.

The company arrived relatively late in Calcutta since the city’s scooter market is “only about 8,000 a year”. In contrast, about 120,000 scooters are sold in Bangalore, 96,000 in Delhi and 75,000 in Mumbai annually. Vespa sold 43,000 units in its first year in India.

Enthusiasts who might help Calcutta catch up in scooter sales with the rest of country will have to wait 10-15 days to ride their booked Vespa home, said Atul Mukheria, the owner of Speed Auto Services and a partner of Bengal Harley Davidson. “We are preparing for the inauguration of the Vespa outlet in late May,” he said.

Vikas Murarka, the first Vespa owner in Calcutta, couldn’t wait. He got himself one 10 days ago. “I saw an advertisement on TV saying Vespas are available. I love the brand, so I asked around and learnt that the scooter would be distributed by Speed Auto,” said Murarka, who will continue to drive his Maruti Ritz to work and use the scooter for short commutes.

He also plans to gift a Vespa soon to his princess, his daughter.