Known as the APE (ah-pay), Italian for “bee”, this little three-wheeled workhorse often found itself as busy as its namesake. Designed by the inventor of the Vespa scooter, aircraft engineer Corradino D’Ascario, it was seen as a means to re-mobilize Italian businesses after the war during the period of the Miracolo Economico. In continuous production since its introduction in 1948, the APE was and is a vital part of urban life in Italy, and has found a new niche in India as a people mover as well. So popular has it become in India that the Italian factory was shuttered, and all APEs are now made in India; Italy has to import them!
The earliest models were very simple - a beam axle connected two rear wheels to the open front half of a Vespa scooter, with a flat platform attached above for load carrying. Over the years, engines have ranged from 50cc gasoline to 422cc diesel engines, while the body grew a cab and extra seat in 1964, and the load-area options include bare chassis, open pickup, and van. The multi-seat Autorickshaw people-mover is popular in India. Load-carrying capacity is impressive – the high-torque engine makes climbing Italian hills with a load easy, but slow. The model seen here can carry over 1100 pounds, plus driver, up a 21% grade. This is a half-ton pickup!
APEs are seen in service as ice cream trucks, electrician and plumber work trucks, fishmonger deliveries, portable florist and farm sales stands, and are also seen decorated as promotional vehicles for various products. As a period sales brochures states, “The P501 is a partner that costs a little and gives a lot.”
Manufacturer: Piaggio & C. S.p.A.
Country of Origin: Italy
Drivetrain Configuration: Rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine: 187cc air-cooled single, two-stroke
Transmission: 4-speed plus reverse
Top Speed: 39 MPH
Years of Production: 1948-present
Number Produced: Unknown
Original Cost: Unknown