The Motor Scooter

[Picture of Vespa Ad]The motor scooter is a design and style icon. It is post-WW2, it is urban, modernist, 1960s. It represented bohemian chic in Paris, and gritty violent realism in Britain — with the Mods (versus the Rockers).

These machines are still popular the world over — from India to Brazil — but it was the Italians who created the market and it was the rivalry between two Italian manufacturers that drove the design forward from the original British Military machine to the Vespas and Lambrettas instantly recognised everywhere.

As a wealthy and successful entrepreneur and businessman, Fernando Innocenti saw the potential in vehicles dropped in Rome by British parachuters. He arranged a meeting at Guidonia with the famous aeronautical engineer, Colonel Corradino D’Ascanio, who was responsible for the design and construction of the first modern helicopter by Agust.

The two did not develop the motor scooter together, but apart — creating two rival brands; Col. D’Ascanio developed the Vespa range with Enrico Piaggio, while Innocenti developed his Lambretta range with Col. Torre.

[Picture of Vespa Poster Ad]The Vespa scooter design was patented in 1946 by Piaggio. It was stylised from the outset, being unveiled to the world’s press at Rome Golf Club in a range of pastel colours. It was considered very modern and even futuristic at the 1946 Milan Fair launch.

The body is an integral part of the chassis (a so-called ‘monocoque’ construction).

It was considerably more manoeuvrable and comfortable to ride than a motor cycle even though it had a rigid rear suspension and the engine (2-stroke and almost a litre in capacity) was horizontally mounted through a 3-speed transmission onto the rear wheel without cooling.

The principle was a large padded seat mounted on an engine that was then mounted on (and drove) a wheel. This arrangement was attached to a wind-shield-cum-steering wheel by a wide floor-plate. The rear pillion was a seat for a passenger, or optionally a storage compartment, and the petrol cap was sited under the hinged seat.

[Picture of white vespa]The pop-riveted sheet steel construction reveals the dependency on wartime aero-technology familiar to Col. D’Ascanio — and the front wheel with lamp was a landing gear with fork on only one side and the engine was the landing gear engine used in aircraft.

The wind-shield panel design developed into a more rigid twin skin affair that allowed additional storage similar to the glove compartment in a car. A fan was later attached to the transmission to blow air over the cylinder’s cooling fins. The mixture of oil in the fuel produced high amounts of smoke, and a high buzzing sound like a wasp — which gave the scooter it’s brand name of wasp (Vespa).
[Picture of a Vespa] The 1948 Vespa 125 had rear suspension and a bigger engine. The headlamp was moved up to the handlebars in 1953, and had more engine power and a restyled rear fairing. A cheaper Spartan version was also available. One of the best-loved models was the Vespa 150 GS introduced in 1955 with a 150cc engine, a long saddle, and the faired handlebar-headlamp unit. Then came the 50cc of 1963, and in 1968 Vespa 125 Primavera became one of the most durable of all.

[Picture of Original Lambretta - Model A]By the end of October 1948, nearly 10 thousand Type A Lambretta motor scooters had been made. The type B design was being developed while the Model M production was increased to cover the USA and Argentina. The Type B looked like the first model and essentially kept the same engine, but a new suspension system was developed for the front and rear wheels and a hand gear instead of the foot gear shift and the wheels enlarged from 175mm to 200mm diameter.

  • — tells the fascinating story of Fernando Innocenti — from his Dad’s shop in Grossetto to designing scaffolding for work on the Sistine chapel and for the Rome World Cup, as well as his development of pipes and tubes with Mannesman etc.

[Picture of a Lambretta]The design should be seen in wider contexts. Primarily, perhaps, as part of the general and concurrent development of transport machines — ships, submarines, aircraft, cars, trains, subways, trams, motor cycles, hovercrafts, lorries and more. Possibly in the context of developing a post-war economy, utilising factories and war-time methods and materials — the Italian and German steel and aluminium partnerships, the new world envisaged by Mussolini and Hitler — draining the Maremma marshes, and so forth.

Back then, Catholic, fascist newly-united Italy had a good reputation for engineering and mechanics while Protestant, Nazi newly-united Germany had a reputation for bad, cheap engineering (Gerry-built), but great design – Bauhaus, Dada etc.

Many have discussed the social impact of the motor scooter on society — particularly on newly-emancipated women, on the liberation of the working class, and on the emergence of the youth market — the teenager. At a time when people were getting used to motorised and mechanised transport in general, the motor scooter offered a personal mode of transport. It has obvious advantages over the motor cycle — especially for skirted women. The freedom to go where you want when you want was incredibly important — but in the post-war baby-boom, and where passengers, goods and the weather are considerations, the motor scooter began to lose out to the new affordable small car – the Mini, the Fiat 500 and so on.

Today, the motor scooter is as much hassle to park as a small car, but a safety helmet is not required in a car, and a car offers air conditioning, a radio, as well as storage and room for passengers. Still very popular in poorer countries, the death of the motor scooter in developed countries is probably down to the laws regarding the wearing of a safety helmet, putting it almost on a par with the motor cycle as a niche market.


15 Responses to The Motor Scooter

  1. thumbsucker says:

    I have bought myself a Honda Jockey 125 scooter to commute to work and back. What a pleasure to scoot past vehicles trapped in peak traffic and what a pleasure when filling the tank! Costs me ten times less in fuel than commuting by car. I will never look back to making this decision!

  2. An Italian colonel designed the first helicoptre? Gosh, thanks for correcting history. The first helicoptre was German and was flown by Hanna Reitsch in the Deutschlandhalle in 1936. As far as motor scooters are concenrned, they are military British and the Italians were inspired by them etc bla,bla,bla? Ya, right. I believe in Santa Claus also. The greatest scooters of all time were built in Germany and were in fact motor-cycle hybrids such as the Heinkel, the Progress, the Zündapp Bella, the Victoria Peggy and a plethora of others, all unbeatable. Gerry Frederics

    • Adolph Hitler's Mother's Window Cleaner says:

      According to Wikipedia,
      “General Corradino D’Ascanio (Popoli, Pescara February 1, 1891 — Pisa, August 6, 1981) was an Italian aeronautical engineer. D’Ascanio designed the first production helicopter, for Agusta, and designed the first motor scooter for Ferdinando Innocenti. After the two fell out, D’Ascanio helped Enrico Piaggio produce the original Vespa.”
      No one said that he INVENTED the Helicopter!

      You say that the “greatest motorscooters of all time” were not motoer scooters, but motor-cycle hybrids!! hahahahah

      Then you list a bunch of names for these hybrids that no-one has ever heard of!

      You have given me the biggest laugh this week, so for that thanks!

      As far as the vespa and the Lambretta are concerned — everyone has heard fo them, they are style and design icons, and they deserve to be celebrated for being historically and culturally significant (unlike the crappy Gerry built blah blahs) LOL!

      • erbie says:

        Don’t be such a skeptic. If you truly were Hitler’s mother’s window cleaner, you probably do not believe in God either! You are obviously speaking out of lack of knowledge. I personally owned a 1959 Progress motor scooter from 1964 to 1968. I commuted almost daily 8 miles back and forth to college, in all but the very coldest weather. It had a Sachs 200cc 2 cycle engine and a four speed gearbox. (Sachs was a German motorcycle manufacturer.) It would do about 65mph and was very reliable. It truly was a hybrid in that it had 16″(or the metric equivalent) motorcycle wheels and a Sachs motorcycle engine. They are indeed very rare, but if you look carefully on the internet you can find some pictures of them. I certainly can attest to the one I owned, but have never seen another one. I only have a few pictures of mine and when I can figure out how to put them on the internet, I will do so. has one listed for $7,900.00 at this time. If I could afford it, I would buy it immediately, because it was such a good scooter and it brings back many good memories.
        A former Progress Motor Scooter owner.

      • erbie says:

        Hey Hitler’s Mother’s window cleaner. I did a little more research for you and just wanted you to know that there is lots of information on Zundapp and Heinkel motor scooters. Just do a search for German motor scooters. Go to the Wikpedia article. Scroll down till you see a beautiful red Zundapp Bella picture on the right side. Click on it to enlarge. In the paragraph just above the Zundapp picture, click on the highlighted word Heinkel and it will give you lots of pictures of Heinkels. You can even just do a search for Heinkel motor scooters and you will find a lot of info on them. Progress motor scooters are another story though. They much rarer and much more difficult to find information about them. I just feel lucky to have owned and ridden one for 4 years.

  3. vespa45 says:

    Hello Vespa Lover.. !

  4. Please go to It is a new site ALMOST completely on the net and is probably the most massive site of motorcycles, side cars, 3-wheelers, scooters and/or Micro cars on the internet.
    Gerry Frederics

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