For vintage scooter enthusiasts in Ho Chi Minh City, the Piaggio-made ride has become a valued collectors item. Many devote themselves to restoring the vehicles, which can cost millions of VND.

Vespa, a short and appropriate word given by the Italians for the scooter, and produced by Piaggio brand, has long been the proud symbol of the boot-shaped country. The love for the Vespa is felt by people around the world and, accordingly, possessing them appears on to-do lists of high ranking players. Ho Chi Minh City is not an exception.

In the city's motorcycle circle, there is a fondness for scooters, obviously shown through the way people drive them, polish them, decorate them, and upgrade them.

For openers, the two-wheel Vespa is the origin of all kinds of scooters.

Photographer Nguyen Hai Dong, who leads the trend of shooting brides and grooms posing with the Vespa, has risen to a fever amid newly-weds on wedding albums accompanied by the colourful Vespa. For a long time, his idea was so madly loved by young people that many brides wished to have their pictures taken with these scooters.

Also, rapper Nguyen Tien Dat is famous for owning the largest number of vintage motorbikes, including three Mobylettes, two Vespas, and a Lambrettas, which were manufactured since 1960.

At present, there are two Vespa groups in the city. One usually gathers every Friday at Ly Tu Trong street's Bach Tung Diep Park to exchange information on vintage motorbikes, spare parts and how to repair them, while another hangs out at Notre Dame each Sunday morning so that passersby can admire the beauty of the Vespas.

Trinh The Hung, owner of a garage which collects vintage Vespas, affirms that those that are considered most sought after must have been manufactured from 1948 to 1958. "Vintage Vespas were born in 1946, but only in 1953 did they become popular among the Vietnamese upper and middle classes," says Hung.

Nguyen Van Ty, an experienced motorbike collector, stressed that the price for the Vespa is accelerating at light speed. "Two to three years ago, Vespas or Mobylettes were only worth 2 to 5 million VND. Nowadays, according to market prices, they have risen to 10 million VND for a Mobylette and 12-15 million VND for a Vespa.

"It is only easy to restore the two-wheel Vespa. It took my friends and myself one to two years to turn scrap iron into a beautiful roadworthy vehicle. The scrap iron was first priced at 10 to 30 million VND, and is worth 100 million VND after rebuilding," he adds.

Not only attract among Vietnamese, the Vespa also is popular among expats. Patrick Joynt, a British man who paid a visit to Ho Chi Minh City in 1997 and eventually found his reason to stay here, which was collecting and restoring vintage Vespas.

As the director of Sai Gon Scooter Centre, Joynt has been working on the Vespa, exporting them to other countries. However, when the supply ran low, he decided to being restoring them. He has been successful in selling 200 Vespas and Lambrettas overseas.

Moreover, Joynt has finished his latest creation, a, electric powered vintage Vespa, which he named Vtronic.

"With a large amount of motorbikes and the current pollution, electric cars are a possible solution. The Vietnamese often refer to electric cars as being those cheap Chinese cars, unstable and not good-looking. Meanwhile, the vintage Vespa may look cool, but costs a lot for gas. So why not use high quality electric ones?" asks Joynt.

"It does not cost too much to have an old Vespa, but to look for spare parts is extremely hard, as most of the parts are high priced and some are not even available," says Nguyen Tri Dung, head of the Sai Gon Vespa Club.

He adds that the Vespa is not only a means of transportation, but also bears a classic beauty, combining elegance and romance for its owners. "When I drive a Vespa, I have a feeling of travelling in the past, and it really helps balance my life," adds Dung.

Vespa and backpacking seems to have nothing in common, since this kind of scooter gains fame for not being easy to control on long trips. However, there is a different kind of thrilling challenge for Vespaholics. Recently, a member of Sai Gon Vespa Friends, Lu Thanh Hoang, drove from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi in 48 hours with her 50-year-old Vespa Super 150cc. "Although she is 50 and she ran for 2,000km, she only broke a light bulb," says Hoang.

Vu Duc Chien, a former member of Sai Gon Classic Motor, says the Vespa obsession can take over a person's life. "The first Vespa I used to have is the 1958 version, with a distinctive shape. I bought it from a friend in 2,000 for the surprising price of 2 million VND. I guess you can say we collectors see Vespas as a lifetime fate, so the price does not matter.

Yet, people in the southern hub now seem busy with their own business, and less people spend time for this hobby. I myself once had 13 vintage vespa of all kinds in my garage, but through time, there are only two of version 62 and 94 left," says Chien.

Currently, in the domestic market, the long-standing Vespa LX has been replaced by the modern Primavera label, which is believed to be more efficient than the old model, with a new engine and design. This change can be a new breeze that will stir up the intrinsically busy world of Vespa in Vietnam.-VNA