If you were going to compete directly with the traditional motorcycle market by producing a motor scooter, would you hire someone who hated motorcycles as your chief designer? Probably not! When Ferdinando Innocenti decided to build scooters after WWII he appointed an aeronautical engineer, General D’Ascanio to make his dream of economical, reliable transport for the individual a reality. D’Ascanio saw motorcycles as inefficient, dirty and unreliable transport. He was the perfect choice as his revolutionary design addressed all these issues.
The leg-shields, all enclosed mechanicals and large front mudguard helped address the weather protection problem. Having the economical small capacity two stroke engine mounted directly onto the rear wheel eliminated the oily chain and allowed for easy mounting, even for lady riders wearing dresses. The first Lambretta scooter became available in 1947. Lambretta factories were established in various countries around the world.
Our featured scooter won Best Motorcycle on Show at the recently held inaugural Retrofest. It was manufactured in Brazil where Braam, its present owner, bought it and here is the story…in his words….
“First time I ever saw a real Lambretta in the flesh was in 2003 in Durban. It was a prop in an italian restaurant and I immediately decided that I needed to get my hands on one of these. Sadly, classic Vespas and Lambrettas often end up in trendy restaurants and fashion stores as these stylish, beautifully designed little bikes represent Italy in its purest form. I vowed to one day rescue one of these bikes from a dusty, slow death in a shop.”
“Fast forward 5 years and my career had led me to Sao Paulo, Brazil for a three year contract. Lambrettas were the furthest thing from my mind as I was trying to come to grips with living in a city of 22 million people all hell bent on driving to work every day , learning to speak Portuguese and eating the most bland food on earth.””I decided to get a small bike to commute to work and back and that is when I discovered that Lambrettas were manufactured in Brazil until the 70s and that they had a huge following. This was good news and this also meant the spares were widely available. I found a pretty good looking bike just outside of the city and bought it on the spot , clearly suffering what I call hot bike blindness. No amount of reasoning would have kept me from buying that scooter that day and I arranged to have it dropped off at my apartment. So began my affair with this lovely 1962 Lambretta Series 2 Li 150. It did not take long for me to realise that despite the strong engine, this bike was in a lot worse condition than anticipated. The brakes hardly worked, the wiring was shot and it was loaded with additional chrome bars and trim which was all the rage in Brazil. I had to find a mechanic because the rules in the Sao Paul apartment blocks are so strict that I received a R 900 fine for having a petrol can in my parking lot down stairs. You are not allowed to perform any work on your car / bike in the parking lot so soon the bike started visiting a bike shop up the road. They new nothing about Lambrettas but they gladly helped me out over the next 18 months in getting the bike into a mechanically solid condition. I Imported parts from the UK , from Italy and from The USA. Everything was available and the Italian parts were much better quality than the stuff from Brazil.”
“I was fortunate enough to get the chance to visit the famous Casa Lambretta museum in Milan where I went a bit crazy in the store getting bits for the bike. I upgraded the electrical system to 12v and added a battery and electronic ignition which went a long way to improving the lights and the reliability of the bike. I replaced all the bearings on the bike, both the seats and all the trim parts. I was quite happy with how she was going and was using her as daily transport.”
“I then got the call to return home to South Africa in 6 months. Having grown so fond of the old girl, I decided to take her for a major rebuild at Lambretta dÉpoca in Sao Paul to get her into good shape to bring her back in the container with our furniture. This guy Osmani is an absolute global legend when it comes to Lambrettas. He used to ride one in the notorious Sao Paulo bike courier industry for 5 years , averaging 200-300 k’s per day on a 50 year old Lambretta LD , so he knows them inside out. He then started rebuilding them professionally and today is well known for his rebuilds. Anyway, I rode my Scooter out towards his workshop quite confident that he would credit me for all the work I had done over the last 18 months. He quickly burst my bubble. What Osmani does is a 4 month extensive rebuild from scratch to leave the bike better than new using his courier days experience to ensure the bike rides as well as she looks. He guarantees 20 000 kilos after the rebuild and genuinely replaces every nut and bolt and spring , every part in the motor , the carbs, fork, electrical system , lenses rubbers, literally everything.””What this means is that he has a flat rate for rebuilds. It does not matter what the condition is of the bike you bring in, he does the same amount of work to it, so he charges the same. I left a bit shell shocked but once she was complete it was all worth it.”
“I got her back 3 days before moving back to South Africa and so, typically of Brazil, the paper work to get the bike to SA was a nightmare. Eventually she was on her way to SA. She arrived in South Africa 6 weeks later and I was bloody nervous when the container door swung open to reveal the bike lying at 45 degrees in the crate it was shipped in. I was horrified that the brand new paint job would be ruined but luckily for me the bike had fallen over onto the kick stand which protected the bike from major damage.”
“It took 8 months to get her on the road legally in South Africa but she is now fully legal and licensed and has been running trouble free for the last year. She is not fast and she has brakes that leave a lot to to be desired but she is just one of those smile inducing bikes that I think means more than speed.”
Braam, who lives in Durban, has really spoilt us at Retro Write Up by writing his scooter’s story and also by supplying us with the stunning photos. All of the photos of the Lambretta were taken by Dylan Laubscher from Durban. His work is exceptionally good and you can contact him at www.dylantog.com to discuss photos of your special motorcycle or car. During the 70s the CNA and most pharmacies used Vespa and Lambretta scooters almost exclusively for their deliveries. I am sure many of you will remember the CNA’S red scooters delivering newspapers in the suburbs. These scooters could not have evaporated and they must be out there somewhere. Please start searching….