Lambretta’s 70 years
The scooter that revolutionized movement and redesigned the Italian image around the world
This is a 70-year history that began in 1931, when Ferdinando Innocenti, founder of a steel pipe factory in Rome, moved his entire business to Milan, making Lambretta the largest of the era. During the Second World War, the factory was bombed and completely destroyed.
The founder, however, was not broken by the events. Instead, an award-winning idea rose from the ashes: convert the factory and produce affordable transportation for the working class. The entrepreneur, inspired by the Cushman scooter - imported by Americans - asked a Roman engineer to design a small and cheap scooter. So the prototype ‘Experiment 0’ was born, with a robust design.
The project was then abandoned, probably due to the chaos caused by the war.
The name Lambretta honors Italy, coming from the Lambro River that runs near Milan where the factory was founded
Then in 1945 Ferdinando Lambretta began to develop the scooter’s design, entrusting the dream of this achievement to a young aeronautic general, Pier Luigi Torre. The Torre prototype - ‘Experiment O’ - was not particularly avant-garde aesthetically, but was much more mechanically solid. A 125cc cylinder, two-piston engine was first proposed. A cooling system was also created, incorporating a large fan that could ventilate the engine.
But one of the technical features was an interesting novelty: the gearbox had only two gears. A chassis consisting of a single, central cast iron, designed to support the weight and torque that the scooter had to bear on the road was proposed for this future legend. An exquisite outer body covering the reservoir, storage compartment and engine encased this structure, creating an exquisite aesthetic. The structure of the front wheel carriage, similar to the wheels of light aircraft, is the aeronautical general’s masterwork signature. Ferdinando Innocenti’s dream came to life only a year after the Vespa’s release: the name was ‘Experiment 2’ which entered the market with the name ‘Lambretta M’ in October 1947, at an affordable price for all - 135,000 Lire - which today would be the equivalent of 70 US dollars. In 1948 production went into full operation with a construction of 50 scooters a day, just enough to cover the huge amount of orders that stormed the factory. WHAT DID THE VERY FIRST LAMBRETTA LOOK LIKE?
‘Experiment 0’ was not entirely abandoned, but was developed by improving it mechanically. The rear body was removed to highlight the tubular frame that supported the tank and the storage compartment placed behind, under the seat. In the front, a small twist left a large space for the driver’s feet while the engine was completely redesigned and the complicated twopiston version replaced by the single-cylinder version.
The transmission provided a complex, conical torque system, a twisting shaft and a three-speed gear lever operated by a pedal lever positioned on the platform. The muffler was in line with the frame near the front of the platform slats, and then turned, making the exhaust gas escape below the engine stand.
The Innocenti team paid great attention to the chassis line and to the mechanical aspects before large-scale production started, compared to the other mopeds of the time - given the
extremely modern look and aesthetics - Lambretta belonged to an entirely different category: every feature of the Lambretta was integrated aesthetically, creating a brilliant line still unmatched. A slight over-production in the summer of 1948 led the Innocenti team to make a major decision to sell scooters in the Argentinian market, where thousands of Italian emigrants, and others, would be thrilled to put their hands on an Italian-made product.
LAMBRETTA B 125: “LAMBRETTISMO” IS BORN
An update and restyling came in 1948. After a few months of rethinking design, the ‘Lambretta B’ model was launched, introducing improvements to the rear suspension and an evolution of the gearbox, making it manual instead of pedal-driven. In that year Innocenti reached the top of the Italian industrialists, placing himself as the second leading manufacturer of motor vehicles in Italy. On the roads of Italy the only scooters that circulated were Piaggio’s Vespa and Innocenti’s Lambretta. The vision became legend, and the creation of the two scooter Sunday tours in the country by both manufacturers organized and advised about maintenance and use of their vehicles. So a lifestyle was born called “Lambrettismo”, which in the spring of 1949 led to the publication of the Lambretta newsletter, translated into many languages.
FOREIGN AID FOR A MORE RELIABLE SCOOTER
Not content with the Italian market alone, in 1951 the Innocenti team granted the German company NSU renowned for the production of mopeds - the license to produce Lambrettas. Between the 1950s and 1960s, other factory openings were authorized in India, Argentina, Brazil, Congo, Spain, Colombia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Formosa, Pakistan, Turkey and France. Through a standardized system of construction, factories dedicated to Lambretta production opened in many industrialized countries. In those years numerous models were presented, updated year after year, always focusing on the price-quality-quantity aspect of the product.
The Innocenti team was absolutely confident of its product, so much so that it decided to promote an advertising campaign with the slogan ‘More than 100,000 kilometers by Lambretta’, offering high cash rewards and prizes. Dr. Cesare Battaglini managed to travel 160,000 kilometers on his Lambretta 150 D on this tour, and thousands of fans dreamt of following in the tire tracks of the iconic world tour.
In 1958 factories managed to “squeeze out” a Lambretta every 50 seconds, for a monthly production of 15,000 scooters
A LAMBRETTA EVERY 50 SECONDS
The factories spread all over the world reached incredible production heights and by 1958 managed to “squeeze out” a Lambretta every 50 seconds, for a monthly production of 15,000 scooters.
In those years Piaggio and Innocenti became the two Italian production leaders of scooters and the best examples of ‘Made in Italy’ known in the world. The great success did not stop the Innocenti team’s desire for innovation. At the end of 1961, the “Scooter Line” was introduced with the LI III model, available in the 125 and 150cc versions. Innocenti decided to mount a more powerful engine, the 175cc, on the new model of the Fast Line - TV III series - which was the first large-scale production scooter to mount a disc brake on the front wheel, previously only used by the most sophisticated racing vehicles. The easily modifiable aspect led to the tremendous success of the Vespa and Lambretta: many scooters were customized with additional mirrors, engine elaborations, or special body colors. All in the light of a historical period characterized by youth movements, especially the English Mods, which made Italian scooters the symbol of the cultural revolution.
Piaggio and Innocenti became the two Italian production leaders of scooters and the best examples of ‘Made in Italy’ known in the world
BORN FROM THE ASHES FOR ITS 70-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Towards the end of the 1960s, all Italian car engine manufacturers were affected by the market crisis. In order to remain competitive, Innocenti’s marketing managers presented a strategic plan to attract new customers. In 1967, vehicle production was therefore focused on a very young target. So the new Lambretta 50, named “Lui” (He), was born. The company had great hopes in its marketing strategy, but in the meantime many companies went bankrupt and bought from competing homes: Moto Guzzi was discovered by the Italian Government, the Gilera Moto from Piaggio, while closing their activities Bianchi, Parilla, Mival and Sterzi. Unfortunately, the “Lui” model failed to have the desired success, despite its features and its advantageous price, Innocenti was forced to stop production in 1969 and despite all attempts to improve, the economic crisis led Luigi Innocenti to the decision to Sell the industrial complex. The Indian Government showed interest and surprised Innocenti with a bid of 3,000,000,000 Lire (about 2 million USD) for the purchase of all the machinery. The negotiations were concluded and Lambretta began the next phase of its existence on the banks of the Ganges. Within a few years the Indian government produced Lambretta exporting it to several European countries, but everything turned out to be a failure.
To date, Lambretta Gmbh is the result of the collaboration between the Lambretta Consortium and the Austrian Ksr Group, a group interested in the relaunch of the historic V-special version of the scooter, available with three different engines, presented - most likely - at the next edition of EICMA, the Milanese Motor Show, in December.
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