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Manuel Árbol poses with Rayo Celeste in the garage of his house along with his other Vespas. Ramón L. Pérez
Marking World Vespa Day, is this 87-year-old from Granada the oldest enthusiast in Spain?
World Vespa Day

Marking World Vespa Day, is this 87-year-old from Granada the oldest enthusiast in Spain?

In 1961 Manuel Árbol bought his first model from the famous Italian scooter and moped brand and he is now an honorary member of every Vespa Club in the country

José E. Cabrero

Granada

Tuesday, 23 April 2024, 17:48

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Manuel Árbol crosses Avenida de la Fuente, in Peligros, Granada province on his light blue 1961 Vespa, which he calls 'Rayo Celeste' (sky-blue lightning). He wears a yellow T-shirt, a printed waistcoat, jeans and a light blue scarf neatly tied around his neck, which matches the colour of his moped.

As he enters the town's Plaza de los Patos, he honks a comedy horn to which the square seems to respond with an 'Ole!' At 87, Árbol says that his daughters often ask him if riding the Vespa causes him any pain. But he tells them: "On my Vespa I don't feel any pain at all, I can do as many kilometres as they ask me. And believe it or not, I'm 87 years old".

1946

Enrico Piaggio registered his Vespa scooter on 23 April 1946, which is why World Vespa Day is celebrated on this day and this year there are official events in Pontevedra.

Since 2009 Manuel has been known throughout Spain by his Vespa rider nickname, 'Mayor', which he has printed on his helmet. "Because I'm the oldest of them all, of course," he laughs out loud. "They love me everywhere just because I'm the oldest and I'm an honorary member of all the clubs in the country."

Manuel in Plaza de los Patos, Peligros, where everyone knows him.
Manuel in Plaza de los Patos, Peligros, where everyone knows him. Ramón L. Pérez

Mayor joined the Albolote Vespa Club in 2009 shortly after discovering its existence. "Since then I've been to the Covadonga lakes three times, four times to Llanes, seven rallies in Almería, as many in the Axarquía and I've even raced on the Antequera circuit. I was last, but they applauded me more than anyone else and my Vespa was the most beautiful".

16,863 pesetas

His Vespa, which he strokes as if it were a living being, is not just a moped. "She's part of my heart," he says as he plants a kiss on the scooter and shows that despite his age, there is no problem with his memory. "She's a Vespa 125N. I bought her on 7 July 1961 for 16,863 pesetas. As I didn't have more than 16,000 pesetas, I made two payments of 431.50," Manuel recalls.

At the time Manuel was working at the Ruiz de Alda hospital and was used to travelling around by bicycle. "When I got on the Vespa she went so fast that I thought it was like lightning. So I called her Rayo Celeste".

Suddenly Manuel's voice starts to tremble. "I bought her when I was my girlfriend's boyfriend, my Rosarito.... She was an angel, the most beautiful in the world, the queen of the village festivals. She loved me madly and I loved her madly... I've written so many poems for her."

Manuel and Rosario married, had two daughters and were "immensely happy" Manuel says. "The four of us would go for rides on the scooter. Rayo Celeste has been part of my life, my confidant and my help. When I feel sad, I go down to the garage and I stroke her like this, on her little head, and I console myself. Oh, Rosarito," he says, clenching his fist. Mayor gathers himself and points his finger in the air. "If they have to sell any of my Vespas, let them sell them. But I will never sell Rayo Celeste," he says.

- Any of your Vespas?

-I have seven. And I bought them all for a reason. Let's say I buy Vespas with a pedigree. Do you want to come back and I'll introduce you?

The Countess of Monte Vélez

Enrico Piaggio registered the first Vespa on 23 April 1946; 78 years ago. Since then, World Vespa Day has taken place every year to coincide with the anniversary. Manuel Árbol has seven models, all with their own particular history.

'Vespacine', for example, was the scooter on which the film reels were brought to the Peligros cinema (cine in Spanish). "When that scooter arrived in the town we went crazy with joy," recalls Mayor, who has also made his debut as an actor.

Then there is Quasimodo, La Hidalga Vespanegra, El Octavo Capricho, El Tanque Rojo and La Condesa de Monte Vélez. "The manager of the Ruiz de Alda Juan Reyes told me he had seen a Vespa lying in a farm and took me to see it, in Huétor Vega. It turned out that it belonged to the owner of the Monte Vélez restaurant, who had died".

At first the family did not want to sell it, but Manuel's passion was so great that they ended up giving it to him. "Years later I went back and it took them a while to recognise me. I rode the scooter for one of the grandsons and it is one of the most beautiful things I keep in my heart."

Manuel has a lot of stories to tell, for example there was the time when the mayor came to have her photo taken with him and the police tried to fine him; his eternal friendship with Antonio Viciana, the first person who went around the world on a Vespa in 79 days; or the photo he took in Gijón, which is "probably" why World Vespa Day will be held there in 2025.

All the Vespas live together in Manuel's garage, but the queen is Rayo Celeste. Among the vehicles, however, there is a white van that he explains is "adapted" from when he was caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer's for 18 years.

"For the last six years I had to change her position every three hours. On her last day I took her in the van to the hospital. There I sang her the song we used to sing to the girls when they were little and we travelled on Rayo Celeste. She opened her eyes." Mayor rests his hands on the scooter and smiles: "It was the most beautiful thing that could have happened to me. Rosarito and the Vespa.

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