America is a car culture. It was raised on the road, whether on family road trips to see relatives or through commerce that shuttled from city to city on trucks. The Car of the Week takes a look at one of those vehicles as a way to not only look back at automotive changes but the history that created them.
Published in the Tacoma Weekly
The name Lambretta is legendary in scooter circles, with its heritage of innovation and style dating back to 1922. That is when Ferdinando Innocenti moved to Rome from his native Pescia to make the motorized two-wheelers he named Lambrettas, after the small river Lambro. Innocenti revolutionized the industry with a new feature: steel tubing rather than solid bars as a way to create stronger and lighter frames. That has since become standard in the industry Innocenti moved his operation to Milan, which had become the industrial center of Italy, to expand his operation. The Milan operation employed about 6,000 workers during the 1930s.
When war came to Europe, the factory switched to producing military vehicles. With the coming of peace in 1945, the factory resumed production of what would become known as motor scooters, low-cost, no-frills motorized transportation for the working class. Production boomed. Factories producing Lambretta designs sprung up in Spain, India, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
Lambretta battled with Vespa for the title of “the iconic scooter” in the 1950s and 1960s, when both models became the vehicles of choice for English hipsters. The character Jimmy from the influential scooter movie “Quadrophenia (The Who)” rode a Lambretta Li 150 Series III.
But success was not to last. Compact cars were flooding the market and cutting into the sale of scooters. Innocenti began making cars for BMC and eventually sold the company to the carmaker. The scooter plant closed in 1972 and was sold to Scooters India Ltd., which began production of its own line of two-wheelers two years later. That brand no longer makes scooters and now only makes Lambro three-wheelers.
The Innocenti brand name is owned by the Fiat arm of Chrysler, which showcased its scooters in 2010 at the 125 Grand Prix. These single-cylinder, “twist and go” scooters are assembled in Taiwan, but their frame and side panels are crafted in Italy.