Lambretta is Back, but Who are the New Lambretta?

As we posted earlier, Lambretta is making a comeback to Malaysia and it has since showed lots of interest, not to mention sparking nostalgia among ex-Lambretta owners and fans. In fact, my late-Dad rode a Lambretta in the 60’s and he was like a rock star among his peers!

However, one comment had us thinking too. “Is the engine made in China?” one of our followers asked.

So, we decided to do some digging.

The beginning and peak of Lambretta

Let us start with the history of Lambretta, because we do not know where we are and where we are going if we do not know where we have been. 

Italy was in ruins after World War 2, and her people were looking more affordable forms of transportation. Vespa was the first to recognise the opportunity and began in 1946. A year later, Dr. Ferdinando Innocenti who owns an iron and machinery works in Milan which made steel tubings, realised that it was indeed a great time for his firm to profit. He ordered his technical staff to design a two-wheeled vehicle to be produced at a low cost.

Instead of going the Vespa route, the Innocenti staff drew inspiration from the Cushman Model 53 foldable scooters used by American and British airborne troops when they landed in Italy during the war. Hence the single downtube frame to which  everything else is connected to.

Now they needed a name and in the age-old Roman/Italian fashion, they chose one after the mythical water sprite that lived in the Lambro river near where the company was located. Lambretta was born.

This was the age of pioneering engineering and manufacturers looked for distinguishing features rather than copying and pasting them like they do these days. Again, Lambretta did not want to follow Vespa’s methods, such as connecting the engine directly to the rear wheel. Instead, they sent the engine’s power through a three-speed gearbox and a sealed oil-bath chain. The engine and gearbox were placed along the frame’s axis.

This designed was what started Lambretta’s success and their fan’s fierce rivalry with Vespa. Lambretta riders mocked Vespa’s off-centre construction (the engine’s to one side) which made them “look like sailboats.”

So, to make the story short, Lambretta released several groundbreaking models such as the LD in 1950, followed up by an evolved LD in 1951, and the LI series which began in 1958 until 1973.

Other great Lambrettas include the 175 TV Series 3 which became the first scooter equipped with a disc brake in 1962.

The peak of the Innocenti company was the 1969 with the 200 SX 200/200 DL Electronic, which featured electronic ignition, disc brakes, and an 11 hp 200cc two-stroke single. It was the most powerful engine in a scooter at the time. Heck, even the current 2024 Ysuku (Yamaha Y15ZR) does just 15 hp.

The decline of Lambretta

The brand actually outsold Vespa for many years but ran into a crisis when cheap cars such as the Fiat 500 started becoming more prominent.

Vespa, on the other hand, weathered this critical juncture partly due to aggressive marketing and unchanging image. Lambretta sought to market their bikes as more sophisticated and upscale products and even hired Italian designers such as Bertone (who designed Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Lancia, Citroën, amongst other famous marques) to refine their bikes. However, this only added costs, while the majority of buyers were still seeking cheap modes of transportation.

Innocenti sells Lambretta

The production lines to the Indian government, who in turn created Scooters India Limited (SIL), who used the Lambretta name until 1998. SIL produced the LI 150’s derivatives, Lamby and GP150 for export. We have seen many Lamby in classic Bollywood movies.

SIL then sold Innocenti to BMC (British Leyland), who began producing the Mini in Italy, shortly after. The Italian market responded positively, and BMC planned huge investments to increase manufacturing capabilities.

But it did not occur to BMC that Fiat is the taikor (big brother) in Italy, which had the Italian government blocking BMC’s projects. As such, BMC Innocenti went bankrupt.

The company’s assets were transferred to one Alessandro de Tomaso who had connections in the Italian government. Yes, the very same Tomaso of the legendary De Tomaso Pantera. However, just as other de Tomaso firms, Lambretta suffered and was shut down for good.

Lambretta has a new owner

The following years saw the Innocenti and Lambretta brands going around from one court to another embroiled in the fight for ownership.

Finally, a longtime Ductch Lambretta owner and investor Walter Scheffrahn got hold of both brands. He went on to establish a new operative headquarters called Innocenti SA in Lugano, Switzerland. Innocenti SA finally launched three Lambrettas, the V50, V125, and V200 in 2017 that received success in Far East markets.

This led to a partnership with Thailand’s Gaoking company. So, to answer our readers: the current Lambretta’s headquarters in Switzerland is home to their R&D department under Scheffrahn’s personal control and leadership. The Thai partners are in charge of manufacturing.

Lambretta Returns to Malaysia

Wahid's lust for motorcycles was spurred on by his late-Dad's love for his Lambretta on which he courted, married his mother, and took baby Wahid riding on it. He has since worked in the motorcycle and automotive industry for many years, before taking up riding courses and testing many, many motorcycles since becoming a motojournalist. Wahid likes to see things differently. What can you say about a guy who sees a road safety message in AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."

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