What’s common between Grace Kelly, James Dean, David Rockefeller and Shammi Kapoor?
They all rode the classic scooter Lambretta.
In a scene in the 1967 film An Evening in Paris, actor Shammi Kapoor tries to woo Sharmila Tagore while singing Hoga Tumse Kal. Both of them, and many others in their posse, ride Lambretta scooters through winding hill roads.
It was during this era that the craze for two-wheelers in Bollywood reached its peak.
Sometime in the 1970s, the scooter became an aspirational purchase for middle-class families, while a large majority of the population still rode bicycles.
The Italian scooter Lambretta first lured the upper middle class and the business class in India. “We have heard stories about billionaire Sunil Mittal travelling to and fro from Lajpat Rai market on his Lambretta during the early days of his telecom business. Owner of R.K. Marble, Ashok Patni, I have heard, used to run his business of grains and pulses while riding on his Lambretta,” said Santosh Sood, former chief operating officer at Rediffusion Y&R, a media and brand agency.
As more and more Indians started buying scooters, Bajaj, Vespa and Lambretta ruled the market and were recognised as ‘family scooters’. “I remember standing in front of my dad on the comfortable stand on the scooter while he was driving. Our Lambretta easily accommodated our family of four when we were kids,” said Rohit Saran, a marketing professional based in Udaipur.
While the youngest child stood in the front braving the wind, the sloping tail of the Lambretta had a spare tyre, which doubled up as an extra seat for the teenager in the family. It was a heavy scooter with a lot of leg space, mostly seen as the ‘dad-scooter’, not meant for the cool youth. For many Indian families, it was their first scooter.
However, the Lambretta was not as popular as the Bajaj Chetak or the Vespa. The LML Vespa was seen as cooler and younger than the Bajaj – it came in trendier colours than the staid traditional palette of Bajaj scooters. In the 1980s, when Japanese automobile companies entered the market, the Lambretta faded out.
From the banks of Lambro to the banks of Ganga
The Lambretta scooters were initially manufactured in Milan, Italy. Around World War II, an Italian man named Ferdinando Innocenti started searching for a small, economical motor scooter for the masses. “He was inspired by the Cushman scooters that the Americans imported into Italy,” says the Innocenti company website.
The name of the scooter was inspired by the Lambretta creek that ran through the grounds of the factory.
In October 1947, the company launched its first model, called ‘A’. However, in 1951, Innocenti granted NSU, a German-based company, a license to produce Lambrettas with an objective of increasing sales in other countries. Soon, the company started offering a “standardized mode of production of their assembly lines along their tried and tested production system” to every industrialised country in the world, including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to promote their sales and add to the brand value.
The brand ruled the world until buyers started shifting to cars. Steadily, the market for scooters dried up which forced Innocenti to pull out of the business. The production line officially shut in April 1971.
It was then that the Indian government extended its hand. Scooter India Limited, a state-run, Uttar Pradesh-based enterprise entirely bought Innocenti’s plant and machinery, design, documentation and copyright. To date, Scooters India Limited (SIL) “possesses the world right of the trade name Lambretta or Lambro,” according to its website.
“SIL, in 1975, started its commercial production of scooters under the brand name of Vijai Super for the domestic market and Lambretta for the overseas market. However, in 1997, strategically, the company discontinued its two-wheeler production and concentrated only on manufacturing and marketing of 3 wheelers.”
Lambretta set to come back for Rs 1 lakh
According to the news reports, Lambretta is planning a return to India with its debut at the Auto Expo 2020 in an electric version and most likely in its popular classic design. The expected price of the scooter is Rs 1 lakh, according to an automotive website, ZigWheels.
It plans to attract the young Indians with its retro-cool “vintage rich look and feel”.
The company has also disclosed its plans to make a steel Super Lambretta in the Indian market.