The Piaggio Ape Calessino: Italy’s Cherished Three-Wheeled Vehicle

The Piaggio Ape Calessino holds a special place in the realm of tuk tuks, and epitomizing Italian flair and practical design. This charming three-wheeled vehicle has a rich history that spans back to the 1940s, evolving through various models and adaptations while maintaining its iconic status in Italy and beyond. Here’s a journey through the history of the Ape Calessino, exploring its origins, usage, and the different models that have emerged over its lifetime.

The Origins of the Piaggio Ape Calessino

The story of the Piaggio Ape Calessino begins shortly after World War II, and was designed by the aircraft designer Corradino D’ascanio, who was also the inventor of the Vespa a year earlier. In fact, the Ape was originally marketed as “VespaCar”.

The name “Ape,” meaning “bee” in Italian, was chosen to symbolize the vehicle’s hardworking nature. In 1947, The Ape was designed as a light commercial vehicle to power Italy’s post-war economic recovery, offering an affordable and versatile mode of transportation for small businesses.

The Calessino, a variant of the basic Ape, added a passenger cabin, making it a popular choice for transporting tourists in scenic Italian coastal towns.

Originally designed for commercial purposes.

Early Models and Evolution

The original model of the Ape Calessino was characterized by its compact design and rear-mounted engine, which allowed for a spacious cabin despite the vehicle’s small size. It was initially equipped with a modest engine, suitable for the low-speed and heavy loads it was intended to carry. Over the decades, the Ape Calessino underwent several upgrades in engine capacity and design, adapting to the changing needs of its users.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the Ape Calessino become a symbol of Italian dolce vita, particularly in picturesque locales like Capri and the Amalfi Coast. It was during this era that the Ape started to be seen less as a mere commercial vehicle and more as a cultural icon, embodying the leisurely pace and stylishness of Italian life.

The Revival and Modern Models

In the early 2000s, Piaggio decided to revive the Ape Calessino in response to a growing nostalgia for vintage models and the rising demand for eco-friendly vehicles in urban and tourist environments. The new models retained much of the classic charm of their predecessors but were equipped with modern engineering and eco-friendly engines, including electric versions that catered to contemporary environmental concerns.

The current versions are the Ape Calessino 200 and the current commercial version is the Ape Classic 400 (flat bed version)

The current model Ape Callesino 200

The modern Ape Calessino models feature more powerful engines, better suspension systems, and enhanced safety features, making them suitable for a broader range of commercial and recreational purposes. They are now used not only in Italy but in various European cities and tropical destinations where their compact size and versatility make them ideal for narrow, crowded streets.

Ape Callesino being used for sightseeing tours in Italy

Usage Across the Globe

While the Ape Calessino has its roots deeply embedded in Italian culture, its utility and charm have found appreciation on a global scale. In addition to being a tourist favorite, the Ape is used in many countries for commercial deliveries, street vending, and even as an advertising medium, thanks to its ability to navigate through tight spaces and its eye-catching appearance.


The Piaggio Ape Calessino is more than just a tuk tuk; it is a piece of Italian heritage on three wheels. From aiding in Italy’s economic recovery to becoming a beloved fixture in scenic resorts and bustling city centers around the world, the Ape Calessino has proven that good things come in small, three-wheeled packages. Its evolution continues to reflect its adaptability and enduring charm, ensuring that the Ape will remain a beloved sight on roads for many years to come.