70 YEARS OF LAM­BRETTA

Change isn’t al­ways a good thing or is it? Stu Owen takes a look at the rea­son­ing be­hind Lam­bretta model changes and up­grades...

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When the Li 150 se­ries 1 was launched in 1958 it had vir­tu­ally the same tech­nol­ogy as the GP 200 which ar­rived some 11 years later.

Over the years of pro­duc­tion In­no­centi grad­u­ally crafted the Lam­bretta into what many peo­ple re­gard as the world’s finest scooter. De­vel­op­ment was con­stant as the firm strove to per­fect its prod­uct.

When In­no­centi first in­tro­duced the Model A in 1947 it was in­evitable that there would be changes to im­prove not only the en­gine but the whole chas­sis. A quick suc­ces­sion of mod­els ap­peared, aptly named the B,C, D, E and F and not for­get­ting the LD Mk.1 over a six to seven year pe­riod. By the time the LD Mk.2 was in­tro­duced the Lam­bretta was re­li­able, ro­bust and was the first ma­chine to re­ally take hold in the UK.

It sold in its thou­sands, prob­a­bly due to those facts alone but maybe also be­cause there were no up­grades through­out pro­duc­tion. A cus­tomer buy­ing a new model when it was launched would be get­ting vir­tu­ally the same spec­i­fi­ca­tion as one at the end of its pro­duc­tion. This gave con­fi­dence that what you were buy­ing wouldn’t be out­dated within a few months – a far cry from to­day’s con­sumer world.

With­out doubt when In­no­centi launched new mod­els they were ob­vi­ously an im­prove­ment over their pre­de­ces­sor; that’s progress. What they didn’t do was make whole­sale changes dur­ing any spe­cific model pro­duc­tion. Once the Slim­style range or Se­ries III as it’s more com­monly known was in­tro­duced, this prac­tise con­tin­ued even more so. The Li se­ries III first be­came avail­able in late 1961 and stayed the same through­out its six year life un­til its demise in 1967. Be­tween the 125cc and 150cc vari­ants over 300,000 were pro­duced and sold – it was by far In­no­centi’s big­gest ever sell­ing Lam­bretta.

It was also re­as­sur­ing for the of­fi­cial deal­ers who sold the Lam­bretta to the pub­lic. They could or­der large quan­ti­ties of ma­chines con­fi­dent in the fact that they wouldn’t get stuck with any spe­cific model be­cause it had just been up­graded. Like­wise it was the same with spares, not just on the me­chan­i­cal side but also cos­met­i­cally. There was the odd ex­cep­tion like the short-lived TV 175 se­ries 1 fi­asco but in gen­eral the dealer would never have to worry about the prob­lem of get­ting stuck with out­dated stock.

Though this pol­icy stood In­no­centi in good stead, it pos­si­bly cre­ated an un­der­ly­ing prob­lem. By striv­ing for con­sis­tency, did they sti­fle de­vel­op­ment? When the Li 150 se­ries 1 was launched in 1958 it had vir­tu­ally the same tech­nol­ogy as the GP 200 which ar­rived some 11 years later. Of course there were changes in de­sign style and the over­all look, but no real ad­vance­ment in en­gi­neer­ing. You could ar­gue that the de­sign was so good in the first place that it only ever needed tweak­ing here and there. Which­ever model was in­tro­duced it sold well, proof alone that the buy­ing pub­lic were happy with what was on of­fer.

The sad demise of the GP range in 1971 brought down the cur­tain on Lam­bretta as we know it. Though pro­duc­tion con­tin­ued in Spain and In­dia they were only us­ing al­ready avail­able en­gi­neer­ing on the mod­els they built. For the Lam­bretta to have sur­vived into the 1970s and be­yond it would have needed to de­velop sig­nif­i­cantly. You only have to look how the Vespa has evolved in the last 50 years to see why con­stant de­vel­op­ment is re­quired.

Un­for­tu­nately the new man­age­ment who took over In­no­centi in 1971 didn’t see it that way, as they in­vested else­where in the com­pany. The ques­tion has to re­main, did they do so be­cause it would have meant sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing and re­sources would be needed to move the Lam­bretta for­ward… due to the lack of progress in pre­vi­ous years? That is some­thing we will never know, but had they de­cided to in­vest in the Lam­bretta I won­der what it would have looked like to­day?

The Lam­bretta GP 200 and GP 200 elec­tronic, the fi­nal mod­els built by In­no­centi–but was their tech­nol­ogy out of date even by 1971?

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