Milan, Italy - Vespa, the world-famous scooter synonymous with youth and style, has just celebrated its 60th birthday with the release of three new models and the announcement of plans for a Vespa museum.

Its maker, Piaggio Group, announced the museum project during a ceremony at its plant near Pisa. The Vespa became as much a fashion statement as a means of getting around after its birth in 1946.

It will open in 2007 to house Piaggio's entire collection of the two-wheeler, including the first model, the Vespa 98, which putted along at a mere 60km/h.

It was an affordable and sturdy means of transport for Italians recovering from the ravages of the Second World War but was immortalised in 1953 by carryig Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck around the eternal city in the film "Roman Holiday".

The Vespa quickly became an international phenomenon, with lovers of its design and practicality forming clubs and becoming collectors.

Demand was so strong that it took only 10 years for the millionth Vespa to be sold and that was way back in 1956.

Piaggio estimates that nearly 17-million Vespas have been sold.

The two-wheelers were designed by aeronautical engineer Corradino D'Ascanio and called Vespa (wasp in Italian) not only for the buzzing sound of its small engine but also because of its unusual appearance.

It had a "head" with headlight and handlebars, narrow waist and flared back tapering to a point - a design to which Piaggio has remained faithful.

The three new models - the GTV, LXV, and GT 60 - are perhaps the most reverential by reverting to the original design. The headlight is back on the front mudguard and all three are finished in the original aeronautical grey.

Their engines, of course, are stronger and cleaner. The GT 60, which pays homage to the first model, the Vespa 98 from 1946, is a limited series; only 999 will be assembled.

"The orders are already coming in," a Piaggio spokesman said.

Piaggio has also remained faithful to the original aim of its scooter as an inexpensive means of transport.

It recently came out with the LX 50 HyS, a hybrid prototype that is being tested in a number of cities before reaching showrooms sometime in 2007.

The holding company Immsi also owns the Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, and Derbi motorcycle brands. - Reuters