1958 Lambretta LD125
One Owner 1979-2013, Runs and Rides Great, Charismatic Example of a Rare Early Lambretta, Original Owner's Manual
The humble start of the Lambretta scooter began earlier than its first design and initial prototype. Much of the knowledge used by its inventor, Ferdinando Innocenti, came from an entirely unrelated product, steel piping. Innocenti started his path with the construction of a steel-tubing production facility based in Rome in the early 1920s. Nine years later Innocenti decided to relocate the fabrication center to the city of Milan. It was here that Innocenti developed a new product of metal tubing without seams or visible joints. The production facility was quite large, with approximately 6,000 employees hired by the company by the 1930s. However, the success of the factory and its related facilities was short-lived; like many other factories, Innocenti’s facilities were valid targets to bombers during World War II. The entire industrial zone was decimated by war’s end.
It was during his review of all the industrial damage and what was left that Ferdinando realized Italians would need some sort of working transportation that could be built quickly and cheaply. Cars and their manufacturing process would take years to get re-established again, but scooters could be fabricated much faster. Additionally, the cost would be low enough that the masses could afford the vehicle, even when compared to a motorcycle.
The actual design of the Lambretta scooter as a concept was borrowed from a similar vehicle that already existed. With the large infrastructure and supply system the Americans had brought over as a military, Cushman scooters from Nebraska had begun to appear in Italy with the U.S. occupation and immediately after the war. Painted in military green for Army use, the vehicles zipped all over the countryside, giving soldiers a quick means to travel and circumnavigate the Germans who expected only military movement in large vehicles.
Studying the body and motor design of the Cushman, Corradino D’Ascanio was assigned with coming up with a suitable Italian version of the same product. It needed to be built fairly strong to take abuse, be low in total cost to be affordable, and could be repaired easily even on the side of a road if there was a breakdown. Further, the scooter needed to be able to carry at least two people and still keep the riders clean rather than soiled from dust and oil as motorcycles were known to do.
D'Ascanio focused on building a vehicle that could compete with a motorcycle but had no relation to it. The first Lambretta design started with a frame that dropped down from the head, back to the rider, and upward into a basket squarish to hold the engine, gas tank, and rider seat. Attached to the top were handlebars with controls for braking, throttle, and gear changing all via steel cables that snaked to their appropriate components.
The name of the scooter line originated from a nearby Milan river, the Lambro, located in the same area as the production facility. Production increased quickly into the 1950s and continued strong until Europe began to recover from the military destruction of the previous decade.
To cut down on road dust and wind, a basic shield bent upward from the scooter floor to create a physical buffer for the lower part of the rider. This was intended to cut down on spray and mud while riding behind someone else. Rather than having an upper frame bar to the headset at the crotch level as seen on a motorcycle, the frame tube bent downward in a bit of a U-shape. This allowed women to enjoy the vehicle as well without compromising their modesty with a raised dress.
The scooter was also designed to be fairly easy to fix on the road if there was a flat tire or breakdown. The front fork assembly utilized an axle design similar to a bicycle, where the axle bolts on the side can be released and the entire front wheel hub dropped off its connecting hooks. In doing so, a tire could be pulled off, replaced, re-inflated and reinstalled with a few basic tools and an air pump.
A second major departure from the general approach of the motorcycle was to use the chain drive design but encase it with an engine cover so that no oil and grease could spray onto the legs of the rider. This enclosed engine approach situated the cylinder and crankshaft assembly in the front of the engine and then connected a sprocket to the crankshaft arm. The sprocket drives the chain which then drives the gears, depending on which one is engaged. The same designed continued with modification through to the last versions of the Lambretta, including the GP200 engines produced by Indian SIL in the late 1990s.
D’Ascanio unfortunately ended up in disagreement with Innocenti. It was D’Ascanio’s hope to use a design that would utilize two components of his previous business ventures prior to World War II, reviving them again. Innocenti didn’t want to head entirely in that direction. This split caused a further fundamental change in the Lambretta design. Innocenti favored the tubing frame approach to be the backbone of the scooter rather than a hollow pressed frame.
In frustration but still looking for a production opportunity, D’Ascanio offered his ideas to Enrico Piaggio who ran with them and created the first Vespa scooter with a monocoque, pressed-steel body frame in 1946. Innocenti didn’t get his tube-core Lambretta approach completed until a year later in 1947.
The first Lambretta kept the rider and passenger focus within the inherent design, including a main seat, a pillion seat for a second person, and a storage container for small personal items. The front legshield was retained as well, fabricated from a pressed and formed sheet of metal. The fuel tank was situated under the main rider but high enough to gravity feed into the engine. The cap was accessed through a hole in the top of the frame right behind the main seat.
Continuing into the late 1950s, the Lambretta scooters became bigger, stronger and more complex in assembly. A clear sign of advancing design was the increased number of specialized tools necessary to work on the scooter during advanced repair. The LD models appeared by 1957 providing a full-body scooter with all the internals fully enclosed, including the engine and fuel tank. The scooters provided either one or two seats with a saddle design on a big spring for cushion from the road (which wasn’t much dampening at all, but it was better than a hard-tail alternative on the rider’s tailbone). Given the low price and easy accessibility to parts and support, the Lambretta quickly became attractive as a means of easy transport for a whole generation of teenagers in Western Europe.
This 1958 Lambretta LD 125 Series III is believed to be a three owner bike from new. We were told the previous owner (from the Midwest USA) owned the bike for the last 34 years, since 1979. The bike has a nice even patina throughout (with scratches and chips on the paint as seen in the photos) that gives it a lot of character. It is the look of a bike that has been ridden and used, not stored. The bike runs and rides great and is a blast to scoot around on. While this is our first vintage scooter and don't have much to compare to, found it to shift well, with precise changes and a good clutch. While we were initially surprised at the lack of power from the front brake, we are told that is par for the course for these old scooters. It does leak a little gas when parked, or perhaps I haven't found the correct position for off on the petcock (there are no stops.) The speedometer is not currently hooked up. It comes with two original manuals, one small booklet in English and a larger, later looking hardcover in German. Lambretta LDs are quite difficult to find and I find them to be much more attractive than their Vespa counterparts. They are beautiful examples of late 50s Italian design, and even more than that, are very fun to ride and be around.
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