The modest Italian lightweight trucks are popular all over Europe.
Ape Origin Story
After WWII, Italy was in ruins and Italian consumers couldn’t afford fancy personal automobiles. Instead, many bought the much less expensive Vespa scooters.
But, a larger commercial vehicle was needed to transport goods. The Italian company Piaggio adapted their Vespa, making a 3 wheeled vehicle with a tiny front seat (that could uncomfortably accommodate 2 small adults) and a flat bed in the rear.
This new vehicle was dubbed the Ape, meaning bee in Italian, after the buzzing sound of the 50cc engine.
Apes were originally manufactured in Italy, but production moved to India years ago.
Today, you’ll see the Ape all over Europe and Asia. Small food businesses can easily transport ingredients and cooking appliances to local squares or parks to roast chestnuts, make sandwiches, or sell snacks. There’s also an open-air version that can be outfitted with extra seats and buzz tourists around town for sightseeing trips.
My Favorite Ape
I’ve saw a guy with a panini press in Palermo selling sandwiches and drinks from the back of his Ape. In Rovinj, a landscaper used his Ape to move brush from a client’s property. In a small Italian town, they used several Apes to pick up garbage. And, here, in Setubal, Portugal where I live, a man uses an Ape to transport his roaster, wood chips and chestnuts to the Praca de Bocage almost everyday in the winter to sell roasted chestnuts for a couple Euros per bag.
But, my all time favorite use of the Ape is this guy.
In Setubal, I passed by this Ape almost every day. I figured it was abandoned. After all, the front tire was flat and it was covered in a layer of grime, indicating it hadn’t been moved for quite a while.
Then, one day I walked by and the side panel of the truck was open. Next to it was a small table with books. I peeked inside the Ape and it was loaded with piles of books, too. An older man was talking with customers and selling books from the truck.
Since then, I’ve seen the makeshift book store open for business dozens of other times. There doesn’t seem to be any set schedule, but I always smile when I see the table of books on the sidewalk. They’re all in Portuguese, of course, but maybe when my command of the language extends beyond “please” and “thank you,” I’ll buy a book.