A Scooter on Steroids: The Vespa 150 TAP
For most people, the terms “kickass firepower” and “motor scooter” don’t belong together. Then again, most people have never seen the Vespa 150 TAP that served with French airborne troops in the 1950s. Made by Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles, France’s official builder of Vespa scooters at the time, it combined mobility with one helluva big gun. The late 40s and 50s were tough years for most of Europe. Many nations were still putting themselves together after the devastation of World War II. France was no exception. But the French military still needed weapons to serve its interests in Indochina and Algiers. Enter the Vespa 150 TAP. It combined a scooter with a 146 cm³ single cylinder, two-stroke engine, and a US-made M20 75mm recoilless rifle. The result was one of the oddest mismatches in the history of warfare. RELATED: The Vespa 400 Was the Cutest Little Car You Never Knew Existed
Looking at the contraption, it’s hard for us today to understand what the French were thinking. Surprisingly, however, the Vespa 150 TAP was an effective weapon. The scooters were modified for combat use and included reinforced frames and lowered gear ratios that enabled speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
Aircrews dropped the Vespas into hot zones two at a time, accompanied by a pair of paratroopers. One scooter carried the gun, while the other carried the rounds. The setup also included a tripod on which soldiers could mount the recoilless rifle, though sometimes it was fired while still attached to the cycle.
Economically, the Vespa 150 TAP was a true bargain. The cycles cost around $500 at the time, and M20s were common military surplus items. The weapon vented propellant gases out the back, which tamed what would otherwise be fearsome recoil. It fired rounds that could pierce up to 100 mm of armor, although the usual targets were makeshift shelters erected by guerrilla fighters. While it looks like a moped on steroids, the Vespa 150 TAP was an able weapon in a time when budget constraints demanded true out-of-the-box thinking.
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