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A brief history of
the Lambretta
Italy, more than any other country, is known for its motor scooters. In the movies, on postcards or in stories of this sunbathed country, the motor scooter is instrinsic to the Italian way of life. The name most often mentioned when scooters are discussed is Lambretta, and the story of this marque is a study of the post-war industrialisation of Italy. The Lambretta, like many of its European brothers, is locked up and interwoven with a parent company that produces many other products in addition to its two-wheeled vehicles.

The story of this legendary scooter actually began in 1922, when Ferdinando Innocenti moved to Rome from his native Pescia for the purpose of building a factory. The product of this enterprising industrialist was steel tubing, and such ingenuity was involved that Innocenti's wares became renowned throughout Europe. In 1931, Ferdinando moved to Milan, which had become the industrial centre of Italy. A new factory was built, employing 6,000 people, and split into a heavy equipment division and a motor division. The motor division was further divided in two, the scooter section and the car section.

When Ferdinando viewed war-damaged Italy in 1946, like Enrico Piaggio, he reasoned that the scooter would ease transportation problems; more specifically one that would have low production costs, be inexpensive to operate, and would offer greater weather protection than the motorcycle.

The production of Model 'A' began in 1947, after one year spent developing and testing prototypes. The first Lambretta featured a tubular panel frame into which the engine was mounted with a floorboard on which the rider put his feet; two seats were provided and a leg shield at the front of the floorboard provided protection in the event of rain.Comfort was cared for by leading-link front and torsion bar rear suspension. A point to make here is that, in 1947, about 90 percent of the world's motorcycles still featured a rigid frame, and probably a half still employed the girder front fork. The 72 kg Lambretta, therefore, was a very advanced little vehicle. The following year, the Innocenti Corporation began production of several three wheeled scooter-truck combinations and in 1949, the Model B was introduced - the first to be exported in great numbers.

During the early 1950s, several of the Latin motorcycle companies began an aggressive effort to dramatically increase their export sales. Several other Italian concerns had turned to racing or record setting for publicity and prestige, and it was only natural that Moto Lambretta would give some thought to this approach. Innocenti decided that road racing was too far removed from scooter practice for them to fully benefit from the publicity so the challenge was to break some speed and endurance records,the goal to do it with basic scooter design. During 1951, the factory kept up its furious quest for records, nailing down many marks for various distances including the 50 km at 162.4 km/h, 100 miles at 158.52 km/h. and the l-hour record at 158.52 km/h.

For several years the Innocenti Corp. continued to improve its product, introducing model after model and in 1957, the company made its most noteable improvement with the TV175 model. Other than the sleek styling, major improvements were the 170-cc engine and the four-speed gearbox, providing brisk acceleration as well as a speed of 103 km/h

There is one other interesting chapter in the story of Lambretta, and that is the tale of their would-be racer. Designed in 1951, by Ing. Salmaggi, the 250cc Moto Lambretta had a five-speed unit and typically Latin heel-and-toe shift lever. This exotic scooter never did make it to the race track though, probably because the record attempts with the streamliner had succeeded so admirably in bringing the company the desired publicity.

In 1966, Ferdinando Innocenti died and his son Ing. Luigi took over as head of the company. This change took place in a particularly unstable period of political and social history in Italy. Political administrations, conditioned by the left, were unable to exploit the growing capacities offered by industry and trade unions were capable of mobilising labourers in just a few hours. Almost every week, the firm was to endure strikes.

With the death of the charismatic founder, co-operators stopped working together and started trying to gain leadership in the company’s management. As a consequence Innocenti did not develop production as the situation demanded until as far on as 1967 when Nuccio Bertone was assigned the task of improving the scooter design. Yet, despite this last attempt to renew the Lambretta’s overall design, by 1968 the company was becoming increasingly aware that halting scooter production completely was only a matter of time.

In 1971 Luigi Innocenti left the head of the company and the last models ceased to be made in 1972. The company was sold to Leyland, plants were emptied and the assembly lines of the last models were sold to India (Scooter India).


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