This oddity was first built in 1948 as a cheaper alternative to cars in a country which was still recouping from the destruction and loss of the Second World War. People needed something to move materials around, offer mobile services (from shops to libraries, from dentist to ambulance) and plainly drive around, and the Ape served the purpose perfectly. The current setup is the result of a continuing series of improvements, like adding a closed cab or a small second seat, without really bothering about performance as the vehicle is meant to be used only locally.
The Ape series is among the most successful vehicles ever. Its production never ended, and it was even franchised to India. This is where the tuktuk (motorized rickshaws) so common in southeast Asia come from. Other frequent uses worldwide are mobile advertising, postal service and garbage truck, as its small size coupled with a very respectable torque allow Apes to easily navigate narrow or steep streets where other means of transportations would fail.
Since late 2013 this eminently Italian icon is produced in India only for the worldwide market, including several variants that were never especially popular in its home country, such as the Ape Poker, with four wheels instead of three.