It's a small utility vehicle that perhaps conjures up images of small-scale, short-distance goods transportation in rural areas of southern Europe, but Piaggio's Ape 3-wheeler range is coming to the UK with a starting price of just GBP3,595.

Perodua UK Limited, the importer of Piaggio Commercial Vehicles, says it is now adding the Ape range of 3-wheel vehicles to their existing line up of light commercial vehicles in order to appeal to a wider market.

Ape recently celebrated its 60th birthday in Italy as the first Ape was launched in 1948 based on the Vespa scooter.

Corradino D'Ascanio, the designer of both the Vespa and the Ape, designed Ape when he realised there was demand for a compact light commercial vehicle in Italy.

Since the first Ape was introduced, there have been refinements. The first important evolution came in 1952 when the displacement of the Ape engine increased from 125cc to 150cc resulting in a higher load capacity. Then in 1954 the Ape C was launched, which was a small truck able to carry up to 350kg. In 1958, the Ape D came along which was bigger than previous models with a displacement of 170cc and the D also saw the introduction of the cab complete with doors.

The Ape TM, still in production today, was launched in 1982 and was a completely new concept as the dimensions of the vehicle and cab were bigger resulting in a larger payload, plus the option of a steering wheel made it more comparable to a traditional 4-wheel commercial vehicle. In 1984, the 422cc diesel engine with 5 speed gearbox was introduced further broadening the range.

In 2007, Piaggio reintroduced a limited edition version (999 will be produced) of the Ape Calessino. The Calessino was popular during the 1950s when Hollywood stars used them as a runabout at exclusive holiday resorts on sunny Mediterranean islands. The latest version is an ideal reinterpretation of the design that was admired in the 1960s with its blue body, wood inserts, cream upholstery and chrome finishes.

Today, Ape is available for the UK market in the 50cc petrol, TM 218cc petrol, TM 422cc diesel and the special Calessino versions.

Perudua UK says the use of Ape is no longer limited to the world of work and is becoming more popular as a method of personal transport.

Ape 50 is available as a Panel Van, Pick Up or Cross and is described as 'ideal for deliveries in busy towns as it can travel down narrow streets and park in the smallest of spaces'. The most functional use for Ape 50 is as a marketing tool for businesses, as its unique design is guaranteed to attract attention from passers by whether stationary outside a shop or on the move, the firm says.
 
Ape TM is available as a Panel Van, Pick Up or Tipper and has a choice of either a 218cc petrol or a 422cc diesel engine. The Tipper and Pick Up also have the - and how often do you see this? - option of a steering wheel or handle bars.

Calessino is described as 'ideal for leisurely drives in the country or by the coast with its fold down hood'. It may not be quick up the hills, but it is undeniably stylish and heavily evocative of 1950s era European chic. A Robin Reliant it ain't.

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