In the UK, we tend to think of the Lambretta as a fashionable, aspirational brand, associated with youth culture. Arguably, the hey-day of the scooter was before the days of the mod – when post-war austerity and a fuel shortage exacerbated by the Suez Crisis prompted the trend away from cars – well, big, thirsty ones anyway – and onto scooters. But the one era most people identify with Lambrettas is, of course, the Mod days of the 60’s. At least in the UK.
It’s very different in other parts of the world. In the late 60’s and into the 70’s the Lambretta was very much a workhorse scooter. Although glamourized to some extent by Bollywood, and initially appealing to the growing middle class – the appeal to the masses was very much more practical than prestigious.
For a lot of Indians, the Lambretta was seen as family transport – able to transport four(!) in relative comfort – ” It could accommodate 4 people easily. A family of four including two children. One would stand in the front portion ahead of the seat and face the wind. The two elders would sit on the seat and the second child on the spare tyre at the rear of the Lambretta scooter.”
Lambretta’s were produced in India from the 1950’s by API – initially assembling parts shipped from Italy, and then manufacturing them from scratch in their own factories. They produced a variant of the Series 1 LI150, and then moved on to produce the Series 2. For most Indians, the Series 2 is the Lambretta. In 1972, however, the State-owned SIL (Scooters India Limited) acquired the rights to the Lambretta name, and all API Lambrettas after that were sold under the name “Lamby”. These continued in production for many years, and in vast numbers – but, as mentioned, there was a new player in SIL.
SIL didn’t mess around with old models. After making a few 100cc Centos, they swiftly moved on to the model they are known best for – The GP. Although, rather confusingly, after acquiring the sole rights to the Lambretta name in India, the GP was sold under a number of different names, including the Vijai Super, Vijai Vulcan, Vijai Deluxe and the Allwyn Pushpak. There’s some great vintage footage (starting about 04:56) of these ‘Super Scooters’ in the video below.
As time went on, and with less and less access to original Italian GP’s the export market for ‘made in India’ Lambrettas grew. Initially slagged off as second-rate ‘curry burners’ (sorry if that sounds racist, but that’s what everybody called them, back in the day), their reputation grew to that close to their Italian forefathers. Ok. Not quite, but you certainly wouldn’t be embarrassed to ride an Indian GP these days.
Domestically, the Lambretta was far from the only game in town. Where there’s a Lambretta, there’s usually a Vespa a little way behind. Or in front. It depends on your preference – you know mine. Anyway, an Indian company called Bajaj had been importing Vespa’s since the late 40’s – and in 1958, started manufacturing under their own steam both two-wheelers and rickshaws, both based (I think) on the Vespa Sprint.
It wasn’t all over for API though… and their trusty Lamby 150 (based on a Series 2, remember), had one last throw of the dice in the late ’80s. Although a very dated (or should we say ‘classic’) design next to the GP based offerings of SIL, it had still sold pretty well domestically. With optimism you’ve got to admire, and a fresh new design out of Miyazu, Japan, they launched their final Lamby model – The Polo. With redesigned legshields, headset and headlight, sidepanels, a horrible PX style horn casing it came with 12 volt electrics and mod cons such as indicators. Although it was basically a Series 2 under the skin, there was a lot of late 80’s Vespa about it – and it was none the better for it. The last one rolled off the API production line in 1992… although with a nod to it’s Series 2 toughness, and the Indian owners creative ability to keep them running, they stayed a staple of Indian transportation for many years after that.
I wrote about the Polo, rather disparagingly back in 2013 https://lambrettista.net/2013/06/09/does-your-scooter-smell-of-mint/ – perhaps I’ve mellowed a little. Perhaps not.
The Lambretta still has a strong following in India, and a lot of people still remember their dad’s, or uncle’s Lambretta fondly as the key means of transport for the family. India, with it’s vast population, may just be the most important market for the new models being produced by Lambretta today.
Anyway, if you’re reading this in India, or you’ve got a better knowledge of the story of Lambrettas in India, please get in touch or leave a comment below. And if you’ve got pictures of your Lambretta – wherever you are in the world, and would like to share it with the world – I’d be more than happy to feature it on the blog.