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This guide celebrates ten classic motor scooters produced during the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to the famous names of Vespa and Lambretta, this guide covers classic scooters from Heinkel, NSU, Zundapp, BSA and Rumi.
Douglas Vespa ( Rod Model )
The 125cc Douglas Vespa was a British-built version of the original Piaggio Vespa launched in 1946 in Italy. The first Vespa to be sold in Britain, the Douglas Vespa along with the Lambretta LD set the fashion for all future machines. Nicknamed the Rod Model, the 1951 scooter has a linkage of rods and bell cranks between the handlebars and its rear-mounted gearbox. This complicated arrangement was soon dropped in favour of a less expensive twin-cable mechanism. Only available in metallic green, the Douglas Vespa enjoyed huge success, attracting buyers who would never have contemplated buying a motorcycle.
Launched at the Milan Fair in April 1954, the Rumi Formichino ( Little Ant ) created a good deal of excitement with its unorthodox styling and powerful 125cc engine. With a low centre of gravity and excellent weight distribution, the tiny Rumi featured outstanding handling and roadholding, not to mention a top speed of 10-15mph (16-24km/h) above most other 125 scooters from the period.
NSU Prima D
The Prima had evolved from NSUs purchase of a licence to manufacture the Lambretta scooter in 1951. When the licence expired NSU continued to produce their own 150cc scooter and called it the NSU Prima. Launched in 1956, the NSU Prima D model appeared similar at first glance to the Lambretta LC, but was in fact a much improved model with many modifications. Along with the 150cc engine, the standard specification included 12-volt electric starting, a low-fuel waring light and a dashboard mounted choke lever that closed automatically. Also standard were sprung rubber saddles, a prop and main stand and a spare wheel. Price new in 1957, £198 6s 9d.
Vespa Gran Sport
In 1955 one of the most exciting Vespas was introduced, the GS or Grand Sport ( VS1 ). Unlike the British-built 125cc machines, this top model in the Vespa range had a 145cc motor in a different chassis, producing a performance that was considered sensational for the time. The GS evolved through the VS2, VS3 and VS4 until 1959, when the last of the 150 GS Vespas, the VS5 was produced. The 150 Gran sport was always sold in one colour only, metallic silver grey, and is widely regarded as "the" classic Vespa.
BSA Sunbeam/Triumph Tigress
Identical in construction the BSA Sunbeam and the badge-engineered Triumph Tigress scooters were launched in 1958. (BSA, the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer had acquired Triumph in 1951). Two engines sizes were available, a 175cc two-stroke and a 250cc four-stroke twin-cylinder. Probably the best British scooter produced, the Sunbeam/Tigress was designed as a complete entity. It was not made up of modified motor cycle components, as many people had expected and was quiet, powerful and good to ride. Performance was superior to most standard scooters, with a top speed of 70mph (113km/h) for the 250cc version.
In 1958 the LI Series 1 appeared, owing its body style to the Lambretta TV175 (designation TV1) but with a new engine design. The L1 was produced as a 125cc (6.5 horsepower) or 150cc (7.5 horsepower) model and sold in vast quantities. With four gears, larger wheels and much better performance than its predecessor, the LI proved to be ideal for general use. In 1959 Lambretta introduced the L1 Series 2, the most significant modification being the repositioning of the headlamp from the front apron to the handlebars so that it turned with the steering.
Already a manufacturer of motorcycles, Zundapp entered the scooter market in 1953 with the 150cc Bella, a machine which closely resembled the 1952 Italian Parilla scooter. All subsequent Bella scooters were based on this first model, being simply refined and updated throughout the long production life of the model which ended in 1963. In 1959 the Bella R204 model was judged "amongst the best scooters on the market" by Motor Cycling magazine. Its top speed was 58mph (93km/h) and the UK price when new was £199 0s 8d.
Powered by a 174cc overhead-valve, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine, the Heinkel Tourist was one of the finest motor scooters produced during the 1950s and 1960s. A thoroughbred machine, it was quiet, powerful and extremely well engineered. Using a tubular steel chassis to support the pressed steel body panels, the Heinkel was unlike other scooters in that its engine did not move with the rear suspension. Instead, the final drive chain passed through an alloy case, which also formed the swingarm.
Vespa Supersprint 90
The Vespa Supersprint 90, normally referred to as the 90SS was a high performance, four-speed version of the Vespa 90. The leg shields and handlebars were much narrower than on the standard machine and a special high-performance engine was fitted, giving the 90 SS a performance equivalent to some 200cc scooters. In terms of manoeuvrability, the 90SS was superior to all the bigger machines on the market and consequently became highly sought after for competitive use, such as road trials, gymkhanas and racing. Available in Roma Red, Peacock Blue or white (not UK) the Vespa 90SS was priced at £133 14s 3d when new in 1967.
Thank you for reading my guide and I hope you found it interesting!