The Reitwagen/Hildebrand & Wolfmueller
The history of motor scooters dates back to the 1800s. Gottlieb Daimler’s Reitwagen of 1885 was one of the earliest scooter models but only served as an experimental application for the engine. It was not manufactured in a series or developed any further. The first well-documented and successful example of motor scooters that was available for purchase was the Hildebrand & Wolfmueller. This scooter was patented in Munich, Bavaria. The Hildebrand & Wolfmueller was one with a step-through hollow tube frame which used a twin cylinder water-cooled engine, both of which were well advanced for that day and age. The rear wheel was driven by pistons similar to those of a train, and used heavy rubber bands to provide a return impulse rather than rotational inertia. Only a few hundred of this model were ever built. This scooter though not a significant commercial success, did pave the way for power driven transportation. Apart from the high purchase price, there were some technical issues with the model such as absence of a clutch. This venture ended up as a financial failure for both Wolfmuller and Hildebrand, and no further improvements were made until post WWII.
Following our second world war when technological advancements and development were at an all-time low in Italy, financial support was granted by the Italian government to companies which were engaging in producing innovated vehicles. Ferdinado Innocenti of Milan brought forth the modern scooter. Along with the designer Corrandino D’ascanio, Piaggio’s engineer designed, constructed, and flew the first modern helicopter, and based on the earlier military motorcycles, the first blueprint designs were produced of a motor scooter resembling the one that we know today.
D’Ascanio couldn’t stand motorcycles, so he set out to design a simple, sturdy, and economical vehicle that was comfortable yet elegant. The first Vespa was produced in 1946, and had a 98cc engine and a top speed of 47mph. In 1948, the first 125cc Vespa was manufactured. Upon seeing the vehicle, Enrico Piaggio remarked “Sembra una Vespa!” (“It looks like a wasp!”), because it did not at all resemble an uncomfortable and noisy motorcycle. The steel frame’s shape protected the rider from road dirt and debris and the shape was elegant. By 1949, 35,000 motor scooter units had been produced and a million by 1960. By that time they were also manufactured in Germany, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, and of course, Italy.
Vespa has had several images. It was first the two-wheeler of the post war economic boom, then, during the anti-Vietnam war years, a symbol for revolutionary ideas and social alienation.
Back to early scooter beginnings, Innocenti, in collaboration with Pierluigi Torre, went on to produce the Lambretta, which made its first appearance at the 1947 Paris Motor Show. When gasoline was strictly rationed, the new Lambretta was highly economical getting better than 160 mpg. With a 123cc engine and achieving a maximum speed of 45 mph, the new scooter was extremely successful.
Scooters in Asia
In Japan, Taiwan, Tailand, and much of the Orient, motor scooters rule the roads. Taiwan has a population of 23 million, of these 23 million 11 of them own registered motor scooters.
Scooters in America
Following Cushman in the 1950s, many manufacturers all over the world have come out with fascinating designs for the American scooter market. The Italian scooters Vespa, Lambretta, Benelli, Piaggio, Gilera, and Malaguti followed a grand tradition but were later joined by China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Spain, England, and Germany who produced such scooters as Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Phantom, Aprilia, Annata, Roketa, Peugeot, Tank Bandit, and many more.
What to Buy Now
The is a current battle between the revival of the classic motor scooters ; the somewhat cheaper established brands of Japan and Taiwan: Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kycmo, with their dealers and worldwide support; and several inexpensive lines of Korean and Chinese scooters. Support with some imports can be irregular and sometimes non-existent, so it is essential for one to do business with a reputable dealer who will handle registration and other details. The Chinese models, Roadrunner, Tank, Phantom, Annata, Roketa, Rascal range in price from 1/3 to 1/2 those of equivalent Japanese models. Roadrunner, Tank, Annata, Roketa, Chaunl, and Phantom come from reputable companies.