Now that we have arrived in the year of 1988, we feel that it is time to review the development of the scooter over the past 50 years. Since the scooter has been with us for so many years now, many scooter drivers are unaware of the forces that went into the creation and evolution of The Scooter, a true friend of Man. The scooter has been with us in many forms for ages, but we have chosen to trace the flowering of this splendid vehicle from the year 1938.
Fig. 1. An early foot powered machine usually constructed by hand from available materials. It cornered badly, was quite slow, but it made up for these deficiencies by being reliable and inexpensive. Replacement parts were easily obtainable. Not many of these vintage machines are seen today outside of a few fortunate antique scooter museums. The one pictured is the property of the Smithsonian Institute and was built by an unknown designer around 1938. It is believed to be the machine that placed second in the historic Akron to Columbus Scooter Race of that year. These thrilling contests were discontinued with the advent of World War II and unfortunately have never been revived. They were a dangerous and colorful spectacle of the period and were responsible for many technical advances in the design of the scooter. We owe much to these brave and intrepid adventurers who daily risked their lives propelling with their own feet these flimsy deadly crates, as they were sometimes called.
Fig. 2. The close of World War II saw a great spurt in civilian scootering. This was especially true in Italy where secretly during the early days of the war, the motor driven scooter was developed as a weapon. In fact, some historians say that several scooter battalions were trained and used in battle in the North African campaign. They proved to be somewhat ineffectual against Allied Spitfires and P-38's as well as the Sherman Tank, but this was largely due to inferior fuels used at the time. After hostilities had come to a close, the civilian uses of the motor driven scooter immediately became apparent. The model shown was built in Italy around 1946 and is the property of the Rosenwald Museum of Science in Chicago. Single cylinder, noisy, unreliable, the machine proved an instant hit with the American tourist of the day.
Fig. 3. The obvious advantages of scootering drew thousands of Americans to showrooms in the '50's. Ease of parking in the crowded streets, low fuel consumption, a sense of freedom not inherent in the automobile, and above all, simplicity, insured the place of scootering among the mass of Americans. Note this model built in Italy in the late '50's still has the early foot starter as well as only two wheels. Crude and noisy, this machine provided a breezy ride since this was before the advent of the closed scooter. They must have been a hardy lot of pioneers! The model shown has manual operated gear shift and a single cylinder engine of tiny horsepower. It is the property of the James Melton Museum of Antique Vehicles.
Fig. 4. By 1967, the first closed scooters were being seen on the highways and scootering had outgrown the haywire and tinker stage! That year saw the first six cylinder, automatic shift models which were the hit of the Annual Scooter Show. The model pictured, has the early plastic cabin enclosure as well as two wheels in the rear. This daring (for the time) innovation enraged many of the so-called purists of the earlier days of scootering but there is no stopping progress!! The machine in Fig. 4 sat three, 6 cylinder ohv powerplant, 170 hp, weighed 1250 lbs and had a top speed of around 90 mph which was considered high in those days. The actual machine shown is an excellently preserved Ford Model 170 T. Affectionately known as The "T" millions of these were seen on American highways. Property of the Ford Museum in Detroit.
It is easy to see that the path of scooter development has been rocky, but a rewarding one. As we in 1988 zoom along in our big powerful machines we should occasionally give silent thanks to those scooters who over the years refused to settle for tiny, noisy two wheeled contraptions, but who had vision and courage and who spearheaded the march of PROGRESS. Even today there are rumors of scooters capable of 250 mph, with atomic fuel powerplants, radar control, and entirely self-operated!! We have no doubts that such rumors will soon be reality and the 22 foot turbine models of today will seem as ancient and outmoded as these early machines we have seen in this brief history of scootering.
Fig. 5. 1978, an historic year in scootering! This year saw the first entirely closed four-wheel production models become a reality. Long a dream of engineers, the scooter had at last come of age, in every sense of the word. Improvements crowded the scene as manufacturers vied for public favor. Wrap-around shatterproof windshields, V-8 high compression powerplants, modern steering wheels instead of the ancient but colorful handlebars!! The old timers grumbled, but they were in the tiny minority as the public wisely acclaimed each new advance. Fig. 5 shows the Italia Model 300S built by General Motors in 1978. Thousands of these are still seen on the nation's tube-ways. Three hundred hp, V-8 ohv engine, autosync drive, weight: 3150 lbs. The restored model shown is in a private collection.