The first Vespa in French Polynesia appeared after the Second World War. They immediately won over the Polynesians with their practicality and beautiful curves. Today as in the past, the Vespa is both a very practical mode of transport and above all a lifestyle. Report.
“Look… This one is from 1975.” Nothing escapes Arii. Leaning against the wall of the Chong Fat store in Papeete, a specialist in mechanical parts for two-wheelers, the young man is on the lookout. As soon as he hears a Vespa passing through the street, he reaches out like a musician raising the notes of a song on the fly. This thirty-year-old is a specialist in Vespa, he would know how to recognize them among thousands. Employed in this store, opened in the 1960s, Arii meets every day Vespa drivers and enthusiasts who come to buy second-hand parts, specially imported from Italy, the Vespa’s country of origin. There are about ten of them coming every day. “This is a place of social connection. When they come, we discuss Vespa, the models, the parts, the engines, what we’re going to do with them…”, explains the 29-year-old man who bought himself a 1981 Primavera model six years ago, his first machine. “I chose it for its curves and its line. A Vespa is like a woman, we love her for her generous shapes. Like many Polynesians, Arii was won over at first sight by this two-wheeler who came straight from the Italian peninsula.
The Vespa, a daily machine
The first Vespa arrived in French Polynesia after the Second World War. At the time, only a few cars were driving in Tahiti. Polynesians were more used to travel by bike or truck, the bus of the day. In 1948, the family company Tracqui made the Italian Vespa its business, only two years after Italy presented its innovative new means of transport to the public. It’s a small revolution for Polynesians, who trade their bikes or cars for this new, practical and less tiring machine. Now it is easier to go shopping, join friends in the shade of a coconut tree or go out for fun… Every Polynesian family has its Vespa. “We would go get the fish with it, or we would go to the beach. And everyone climbed on it: grandpa and grandma, young couples, children. Nowhere else can you see these images,” Arii confides, proud to have also this old-fashioned two-wheeler that has become a real lifestyle in French Polynesia. Even today, the Vespa abound in the streets of Tahiti. At the market in downtown Papeete, every Sunday, Polynesians come to get their breakfast. Coconut bread, pua roti (roasted pig), firifiri (doughnuts), fish, fruit and vegetables… this moment is important for the Tahitians, some even come from neighbouring villages to enjoy this moment of life and this morning effervescence before returning to the tranquility of the family home. Most of them go there by scooter. It is a real Vespa parade of all types and decades. The Primavera of the 1960s, the Px of the 1970s or the Piaggio of the 1980s… “It’s practical to drive and easy to repair,” explains Rudy, 47, with a bag full of groceries at his feet. “It’s my little jewel,” confides Thierry, a truck driver, with his hand on the handlebars of his Vespa ready to start. “We go everywhere with it”, a Polynesian couple is having fun next door. “It’s cheaper than a car and I like its noise,” says Marcel, who has just finished his market tour… Everyone uses the Vespa to get around, to go to the market or to work, to take their child to school or to walk around the island. All of them have appropriated this Italian two-wheeler to make their daily lives easier. Over the years, the Italian Vespa has been transformed into a Polynesian Vespa. One Sunday morning in December, dozens of Vespas lined up in a car park in Papeete. Some are dressed with a Polynesian flag, others have a chrome engine or a designer seat. That morning, as dawn broke, a dozen Vespa enthusiasts gathered to take a tour of Moorea Island, Tahiti’s sister island.
Only Vespa enthusiasts. Some, like Marcel, have three Vespas in their homes. What he loves most of all: working on these machines, replacing parts, modifying the paint, waxing his engine. “I spend a lot of time on it; it’s a bit like my second wife,” he says with a smile on his face. The forty-year-old is at the origin of the Vespa Team Tahiti association, created in 2011 to bring together Vespa aficionados. Today, about twenty of them have joined it. “When we meet again, we talk about the Vespa, about what we’ve modified on our machine, and then we discover a lot of models,” enthuses Edmond, 59, who uses his Vespa every day to pick up his grandson at school. Francisco, too, never leaves his two-wheeler, whose engine and bodywork he has renovated. “My wife is often angry because I spend more time on it than with her,” he says. The Vespa is the apple of my eye. “Many of these aficionados like to work on their machine, very easy to handle and repair, but also inexpensive.
“If you like old mechanics, the Vespa is a real pleasure, you just have to have an ear,” explains Arii, the store employee, who has already taken part in the two tours of the island organized in Tahiti at the end of the year. Some also like to rework the mechanics to boost their Vespa, as is the case with Laurent, a resident of Moorea. When the Vespa Team joined him for a tour of the island, he showed what he could do: he transformed his 8-horsepower Vespa into a 30-horsepower machine. “They were impressed,” explains the 40-year-old, who has two Vespa, a 42-year-old Sprint and an 18-year-old Primavera. For hours, they talked together about their respective Vespas, a moment of friendship and passion.
A community around the Vespa passion
Beyond a simple mechanics and a beautiful object, the Vespa is also a particular noise and a look. “When I get on it, my first pleasure is the start. She has a particular sound of her own that I like very much. Besides, I love to drive around with it and shift gears. It’s small and easy to handle,” says Cyril, who fell in love with his Vespa a few years ago. Since then, he hasn’t left her since. He likes to stroll through the streets of Papeete, look at the other Vespa and greet their drivers. “Between us, we help each other, we say hello, it’s a real community,” says Cyril, who has adopted the famous Vespa World Charter and the very special way of driving it. “You have to stand up straight, behave like a gentleman in all circumstances and know the origin of your Vespa. » A driving respected all over the world by lovers of this unique two-wheeler. And when you start to get used to it, it becomes impossible to do without it. “Vespa is like Polynesia, when you taste it once, you always come back to it! “, likes to remind Cyril. This is how the Italian Vespa conquered the Polynesians, who can no longer part with it.