Outside Caffé Sant’Eustachio students and cabbies, bankers and brokers, pundits and senators sip espresso and mock the news. Starbucks, the US coffee...
Audrey Hepburn. Gregory Peck. Rome. A Vespa. Nobody can forget the funny and entertaining scene of one of Italian most popular movies, Vacanze Romane, and this is mainly because the characters, the location, the style perfectly represented Italy and the Italians. When thinking about lifestyle, the green Vespa driven by Audrey Hepburn is now seen in many posters and photos and represents a symbol, able to connect generations and people with the same, old passion. Stylish and comfortable, the Vespa is very easy to drive and loved especially by young people in their 20s and 30s.
A similar story also belongs to Gianluca Baldo, an Italian entrepreneur in San Francisco, whose rediscovered love for the Italian scooter has turned lately into something bigger than a hobby. His company - BelloMoto - has bloomed in the last few years, becoming one of the most recognized Vespa stores in the Bay Area. Started in early 2012 with a small collection of vintage Vespas, BelloMoto has just celebrated its fifth year anniversary, as it moved from its original garage in the Mission to the heart of the Dogpatch district, hosting more than 100 scooters. Bello Moto now offers Vespa enthusiasts worldwide a vast selection of restored and preserved vintage Vespas, full restoration services and routine maintenance and repair of customer’s scooters.
A great combination of enthusiasm and know-how brought by a passionate team has marked Bello Moto’s history so far and has contributed to transforming it from a small, private collection into a business able to feed the spirit of many other “scooterists” in the Bay Area. We talked to Gianluca and took a tour around the “Gianluca Baldo Collection” at Bello Moto.
Gianluca, tell us a bit about your passion for the Vespa scooter…
Seven or eight years ago, I was in Italy, traveling in the Lombardy region when I met an old friend who convinced me to buy a vintage Vespa. Back then, when I was still in High School, I used to ride a Vespa from Milan to Lago di Garda. Repeating that trip some thirty years later, magically brought back all the memories from my ‘20s at once. I eventually rediscovered that the passion for the Vespas, that I had developed as a young man, had never left me.
What happened after that trip?
Although I decided to not bring that Vespa to the US and preferred to keep it in Italy for my future trips, once back in San Francisco I immediately bought a modern Vespa. I started to ride it around the city and found out how easily you can find parking: given the nature of my main business (residential construction in marble & granite) that change has improved my daily routine a lot. While I enjoyed the better mobility, I also got to know a quite big community of Vespa-lovers. Meeting those passionate people is the real turning-point of my approach towards the Vespa. I spent some money on a few other vintage Vespas that became part of my small, private collection.
Where do the vespas at Bello Moto come from?
It is known in 1970 alone Piaggio sold four million Vespas, and over ten millions were sold in 1988. Vespa is a phenomenon with 16 million scooters worldwide. The “original vintage” launched in 1977 has sold over two million units. Now, the appeal of the Vespa is back, since it is one of the favorite among those with a sense of nostalgia and also within the younger market. My team is able to find these scooters usually owned by private museums or collectors all over the World. Our ability consists in convincing the owners to sell these “jewels” to us: they would never give up their Vespas but, once they get to meet us at BelloMoto, they know they can trust us and that we want to keep and tell the story of that particular Vespa belonging to them.
Who is behind BelloMoto?
I’d say that BelloMoto is made of people with the perfect mix of passion and knowledge. That’s what our competitors are most jealous of. Joe is the man that makes it all happen: he takes Vespas back to their second life through his technical experience and skills. Xavier is the organizational backbone of the shop and keeps us on track both functionally and financially. Paul can talk about scooters for hours: his understanding of Vespas is a precious asset that surprises all our clients.
What does the Gianluca Baldo Collection represent today?
The collection helps expose Americans and Italian-Americans to a lifestyle that is almost unique, giving them the opportunity to understand the collectability of these vehicles. Each Vespa you find here has its own story: maybe it comes from a private collection or maybe it was found and restored back to its original beauty through our hard work.
Which Vespa do you consider the Queen of the Collection?
It’s hard to say but I believe that the Vespa “Roman Holidays” Model, dating back to 1951, is the queen of the Gianluca Baldo Collection. The story of this scooter is not only interesting but also special, in the way its owner, Mario Beggi, is now Bello Moto’s point of contact in Italy. He is the person who can make things happen, finding Vespas that are unique because of where they come from and what they represent in history.
Lucky me, Mario was at BelloMoto the day I’ve met Gianluca: during his first visit to San Francisco since he started collaborating with BelloMoto over three years ago. Mario took some time to tell me about the Vespa his dad owned for almost thirty years, leaving it to him after his death. Stay tuned to know more about that Vespa in the second part of this story.