Milan Lambretta Club celebrates scooter’s 70th birthday

The eternal rival of the Vespa.

Enthusiasts and the simply curious can enjoy some nostalgic time travel at the exhibition mounted by the Lambretta Club Milano, opening on 19 May at the clubhouse in Via 25 Aprile in Milan’s eastern Segrate suburb.

An icon of Milan, and named after the Lambro river which marks the eastern boundary of the city, the scooter was considered for decades the only rival to the more popular Vespa, and milanesi made a point of buying and riding the home-grown Lambretta.

Motor-scooters were born in the enthusiastic post-war year 1947, when Italians were rediscovering mobility after the depressed period of the German occupation and the final years of bitter fighting. The Lambretta A was designed and built by the Innocenti company, best known for its patented tubular system for building scaffolding, still today a market leader, and was launched a year after Piaggio’s Vespa hit the streets.

The original model was a triumph of simplicity. The chassis was a grille of Innocenti tubing of a very small diameter, with no covering coachwork until the late 1950s, and the original engine had a capacity of just under 125 cc. It became known as “a tube with a motor and two wheels.” The three gears were shifted by pedal, although later the Lambretta copied Vespa’s handlebar twist shift.

Some 15 models were produced, with annual sales sometimes exceeding 100,000 in the boom years of the 1950s. At the height of its popularity, the Lambretta was adopted by the “Mods” in Britain as a status symbol, and often customised with such fittings as extra rear-view mirrors and headlights.

As sales slackened with youngsters beginning to be able to afford a car, Innocenti turned to building Austins and Mini Coopers under licence, and eventually sold the Lambretta production to Scooters India Ltd. of Lucknow in 1971. Production continued in India until 1997, and many Lambrettas can still be seen on the streets of the sub-continent. They were also built in Spain and South America.

Enthusiasts of the Lambretta Club Milano will keep their exhibition of familiar and unfamiliar versions open free until 11 June.