|Company logo||The World's Finest Scooter|
|Fate||bought and closed by BLMC|
|Successor||Scooters India Limited|
|Key people||Ferdinando Innocenti|
|Products||Lambretta and Lambro|
The Lambretta was a line of motor scooters originally manufactured in Milan, Italy, by Innocenti but also manufactured, under license by Société Industrielle de Troyes" (S.I.T.) in France, NSU in Germany, Serveta in Spain, API in India, Pasco in Brazil, Auteca in Colombia, and Siambretta in Argentina. In 1972, the Indian government bought the Milanese factory and the rights to the Lambretta name, creating Scooters India Limited, or SIL. Today, the Innocenti brand name rights are owned by Fiat, where as the Lambretta, and Lambro, brand names are owned by SIL and are licensed to many companies who want association with the iconic brand, including: Taiwanese manufactured scooters; Indian light vehicle engines; British fashion clothing; and Chinese produced watches.
In 1922, Ferdinando Innocenti of Pescia built a steel tubing factory in Rome. In 1931, he took the business to Milan where he built a larger factory producing seamless steel tubing and employing about 6,000. During the Second World War the factory was heavily bombed and destroyed. It is said that surveying the ruins, Innocenti saw the future of cheap, private transport and decided to produce a motor scooter – competing on cost and weather protection against the ubiquitous motorcycle.
The main stimulus for the design style of the Lambretta and Vespa dates back to Pre-WWII Cushman scooters made in Nebraska, USA. These olive green scooters were in Italy in large numbers, ordered originally by Washington as field transport for the Paratroops and Marines. The US military had used them to get around Nazi defence tactics of destroying roads and bridges in the Dolomites (a section of the Alps) and the Austrian border areas.
Aeronautical engineer General Corradino D'Ascanio, responsible for the design and construction of the first modern helicopter by Agusta, was given the job of designing a simple, robust and affordable vehicle for Ferdinando Innocenti. The vehicle had to be easy to drive for both men and women, be able to carry a passenger, and not get its driver's clothes dirty.
D'Ascanio, who hated motorbikes, designed a revolutionary vehicle. It was built on a spar-frame with a handlebar gear change, and the engine mounted directly on to the rear wheel. The front protection "shield" kept the rider dry and clean in comparison to the open front end on motorcycles. The pass-through leg area design was geared towards all user groups, including women, as wearing dresses or skirts made riding a motorcycle a challenge. The front fork, like an aircraft's landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing. The internal mesh transmission eliminated the standard motorcycle chain, a source of oil, dirt, and aesthetic misery. This basic design allowed a series of features to be deployed on the frame, which would later allow quick development of new models.
However, General D'Ascanio fell out with Innocenti, who rather than a moulded and beaten spar frame wanted to produce his frame from rolled tubing, there by allowing him to revive both parts of his pre-War company. General D'Ascanio disassociated himself with Innocenti, and took his design to Enrico Piaggio who produced the spar framed Vespa from 1946.
Taking one year longer to produce, the 1947 Lambretta featured a rear pillion seat for a passenger, or optionally a storage compartment. The original front protection "shield" was a flat piece of aero metal; later this developed in to a twin skin to allow additional storage on the 'back of'/behind the front shield, similar to the glove compartment in a car. The fuel cap was located underneath the (hinged) seat, which saved the cost of an additional lock on the fuel cap or need for additional metal work on the smooth skin.
Deriving the name Lambretta from the small river Lambro in Milan, which ran near to the factory; Innocenti started production of Lambretta scooters in 1947 - the year after Piaggio started production of its Vespa models. Lambrettas were manufactured under licence in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India and Spain, sometimes under other names but always to a recognizable design (e.g. Siambretta in South America and Serveta in Spain).
BLMC closure of Innocenti
As wealth increased in Western Europe in the late 60s, the demand for motorscooters fell as the small car became available to more people, and Lambretta started to struggle financially as did parent Innocenti. The British Leyland Motor Corporation took advantage of Innocenti's financial difficulties as well as their production and engineering expertise and contracted Innocenti to produce cars under license from BLMC. The Innocenti Mini used the mechanical components of the original but was in many ways superior to it.
Innocenti/Lambretta was eventually sold to BLMC. With BLMC's lack of foresight, they had cottoned on to a fashion trend that was ending rapidly. Long industrial strikes in BMC ensued; motor scooter sales took a nosedive and both Innocenti and Lambretta shut up shop 1972.
|Scooters India Ltd|
|Products||Vijay, Lambretta, Vikram, Lambro|
The Indian government bought the factory for essentially the same reasons that Ferdinando Innocenti had built it after the War. India was a country with poor infrastructure, economically not ready for small private cars yet with a demand for private transport. "Automobile Products of India" or "API", set up at Bombay (now Mumbai), began assembling Innocenti-built Lambretta scooters in India post Independence. They eventually acquired licence of the Li150 series 2 model, of which they began a full-fledged manufacture in India from the early sixties onwards, eventually redesigning and renaming the same model as the "Lamby 150", complemented by a short-lived indigenous version of the TV 175 series 2, badged as "MAC 175", following their loss of the licence over the 'Lambretta' brand name that was acquired by “Scooters India Ltd.,” or S.I.L. a state-run enterprise based in Lucknow, capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, who had just then also bought the entire manufacturing rights of the last Innocenti Lambretta model, the GP 150, in 1972. Production began a couple of years later, the Indian GP versions however, renamed as the 'Vijai Super' despite S.I.L's rights over the Lambretta brand name. They stopped producing scooters in 1998. Scooters India Ltd. production now centers on a 3-wheeler pick-up truck powered by the Lambretta engine, named as 'Vikram'. Bajaj Auto is a major Indian automobile manufacturer that had also produced scooters similar to the Vespa.
Scooters India forward sold the Innocenti/BMC derived patents, brand and maufacturing rights to an Indian businessman, who planned to start production again in Korea with BMW engines for the European market, but 2-stroke Vespa engines for the American market. In light of environmental legislation, this was simplified to an all new line up of BMW powered machines in the 50cc to 150cc range.
Scooters India in 2003 licensed Khurana Group USA LLC to manufacture and distribute scooters in the United States under the Lambretta brand. The first release in 2008 includes a contemporary design 49cc DUE50, a 49cc UNO50 and a 150cc UNO150.
The small village of Rodano, near Milan, hosts the biggest Lambretta museum in Europe and the Innocenti archives. In the collection are also several non-Lambretta scooters, including some first models from the 1910's and US Army scooters parachuted over Normandy in 1944. In Weston-super-Mare, England, there is a Lambretta Scooter Museum which houses a total of 61 Lambretta models - at least one from each year between October 1947 through to May 1971. It also houses a large amount of Lambretta memorabilia. This collection was sold in early 2007 and is now in the hands of another company with no current plans to dispaly the collection
Construction and Models
Like Vespas, Lambrettas have 3 or 4 gears and two stroke motors with capacities ranging from 49cc to 198cc. Most two-stroke engines require a mixture of oil with the gasoline in order to lubricate the piston and cylinder.
Unlike the Vespa, which was built with a unibody chassis pressed from sheets of steel, Lambrettas were based around a more rigid tubular frame, although the 'J' series model produced from 1964 through 1966 did have a monocoque body. Early versions were available in 'closed', with fully covered mechanicals or 'open', with minimal panels and thus looking like an unusual motorcycle. The model A and model B were only available in 'open' style. The C and D models were noted for their torsion bar rear suspension, the D model outsold every other 2 wheeled vehicle combined at its peak. (For the latter, see Ruth Orkin's famous photograph American Girl in Italy´.) The much greater success of the 'closed' version confirmed that riders wanted protection from the weather and a clean looking machine.
Along with the Vespa, Lambretta was an iconic vehicle of the 1950s and 1960s when they became the adopted vehicle of choice for the UK youth-culture known as Mods. The character Jimmy from the influential scooter movie Quadrophenia rode a Lambretta Li 125 Series 3. Of the 1960s models, the TV (Turismo Veloce), the Special (125 and 150), the SX (Special X) and the GP Grand Prix are generally considered the most desirable due to their increased performance and refined look, the 'matt black' fittings on the GP model are said to have influenced European car designs throughout the 1970s. These three models came with a front disc brake made by Campagnolo. The TV was the first production two-wheeled vehicle with a front disc brake in the world.
As the race to be the first person on the moon gathered pace, Innocenti's new model was launched, the Luna range (Luna meaning "moon", in Italian). The machines looked very advanced for their day, reverting back to the open frame style of the much admired 'D' types, and although sales were slow to start with, racing success from grass tracking to circuit racing, soon made them a sales success. Designed by Bertone Innocenti wanted a small frame and engine Lambretta that could be sold alongside the larger models. The frame was tubular steel front end, with bolt on leg shields, and a monocoque pressed steel rear frame.
Lambrettas have attracted an eclectic following of "revival" mods, collectors, scooterists, and even racers. Vespa and Lambrettas both can be converted to fun and relatively fast machines with little (but relatively expensive) modification. Many owners customize these scooters with elaborate customizations and paintwork. The Lambretta has benefitted from advances in technology in the motorcycle world. Common modifications include a Nikasil plated aluminium barrel with radical porting, large Dell'Orto or Mikuni carburettors and bespoke expansion chambers. Hydraulic disc brakes in the front are becoming common on the more tuned ones as are hydraulic clutches and rear brakes. Modern low profile tyres greatly improve handling as do uprated front and rear suspension units.
- Casa Lambretta Museum
- S.L.C.F.(Eurolambretta 2006 Issoire) : Scooter Lambretta Club de France
- Lambretta Club of the UK
- Guide to decoding Lambretta VIN #'s
- Repair manual for Lambretta 'Slimstyle' Scooters
- Site for new Lambretta Scooters
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