Lambretta Li 125

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Before WWII, Ferdinando Innocenti owned a steel-tubing factory in Rome. After the war he didn’t. Standing in the rubble, wondering what to do next, watching the many American-made Cushman scooters buzzing around he thought, ‘I’ll make those’. He employed an aeronautical engineer called Corradino D’Ascanio who had been designing helicopters but wasn’t allowed to any more, and set him to task designing a simple, robust and affordable vehicle. It had to be easy to drive for both men and women, be able to carry a passenger and not get its driver’s clothes soiled. D’Ascanio hated motorcycles, so designed the motorcycle you design when you’re not designing a motorcycle. It was built on a stamped spar frame with a handlebar gear change and the engine mounted directly onto the rear wheel. The front shield kept the rider clean and dry and the pass-through leg area made it rideable for women wearing dresses or skirts. All seemed to be going well. However, D’Ascanio fell out with Innocenti who, rather than a stamped spar frame wanted to produce his frame from steel tubing (old dog, new tricks and all that). D’Ascanio stamped his foot and, slamming the door behind him, took his ideas to Enrico Piaggio who said ‘Si, molto bene!’ and started producing the spar-framed Vespa in 1946. Through the 1950s, Lambretta thrived, but by the end of the 60s, the humble scooter gave way to small, affordable cars. Innocenti was struggling and sold out to the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Yup, BLMC, and there’s no prize for guessing what happened next. So they don’t make ’em any more, but here’s your chance to own one, any colour you want so long as it’s orange.

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Fuji Rabbit motor scooter

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The first Fuji Rabbit appeared in 1946, six month before the world had heard of a Vespa or Lambretta. They were built by Fuji Heavy Industries (which feels like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut) from 1946 to 1968. Like the Italians, the Japanese were inspired by the scooters the American servicemen were cruising around on and saw the scooter as an answer to their post-war transportation woes. Fuji were an enterprising bunch, introducing electric starters, automatic transmissions and pneumatic suspension systems. The Rabbit scooters were even rumoured to crack 100kph. Possibly not something one would choose to do, but nice to know you could, I guess. Rabbit faced competition from Mitsubishi with their Silver Pigeon and Honda with Juno, but it was the growing economy of Japan that finally shot the last Rabbit dead. The demand for scooters decreased in favour of more comfortable four wheel vehicles and Fuji followed suit, launching the Subaru 360 in 1958. The last Fuji scooter rolled off the production line in June 1968. So if you fancy a wee Rabbit of your own, this one doesn’t poo or dig up the lawn.

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Vespa GS150

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The Vespa motor scooter was a positive that fell out of Italy’s WWII years. Having had a smack on the hand by the Allies and told to stop making war planes, Enrico Piaggio did the next most obvious thing – he built a motorcycle, fully enclosed it in sheet metal (as one did an aeroplane) and called it a scooter. Well that’s not strictly true, the enclosed bodywork actually came about by employing a designer called Corradino D’Ascanio who hated motorcycles. A seemingly odd decision from Piaggio, but conveniently, D’Ascanio already had a scooter design in his back pocket – something he had whipped up for Ferdinando Innocenti at Lambretta, but it had been rejected. D’Ascanio’s design was revolutionary: he wanted the frame to be stamped steel, Innocenti had wanted rolled tube. ‘Stamped.’ ‘Rolled.’ ‘Stamped.’ ‘Rolled.’ went the argument and D’Ascanio left in a huff. Ensconced down the road at Piaggio, D’Ascanio set to work. Eventually, he revealed his new creation to Piaggio who exclaimed ‘Sembra una vespa!’ (which translates to something like ‘It would seem to be a wasp!). Thus, the Vespa was born. Sales grew steadily through the late 40s and then, in 1952, as luck would have it, Audrey Hepburn side-saddled Gregory Peck’s Vespa in the movie Roman Holiday for a spin through Rome – and the rest, as they say, is history.

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