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Milan toasts iconic scooter Lambretta’s 70th anniversary with an exibition

by Andrea Carli

It is the story of a country that managed to get back on track and find a fresh start after the tragedy of World War II. Today, February 17, a new exhibition opens at the Parco Esposizioni Novegro, near Milan, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Lambretta, the still world-famous scooter.

It was conceived in 1947 by the industrialist Ferdinando Innocenti and manufactured for the first time in Milan, in a plant near the Lambro river (hence the name).

In its nearly 25-year production history, this legendary scooter was built under license in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India and Spain.

The exhibition, which will be open for just three days (it closes on February 19), is an opportunity to learn about a part of Italy's industrial history, but also about the social phenomenon of mass motorization that developed after the war and that, in a sense, still persists.

The different Lambretta models, carefully preserved, are exhibited alongside Vespa models.

The almost philosophical contraposition between the two mopeds is thus revived, after polarizing in the years of the economic boom the world of motorcycle lovers (but not only).

Like the Vespa, the Lambretta also had a 2-stroke engine running on a mixture of oil and gasoline, with 3 or 4 gears. Both could be easily modified...

In the end, the market delivered its verdict: while the Vespa, invented in 1946 by Corradino D'Ascanio, continues to live to this day, albeit with a design that is very different from that of the models produced in the 1950s, the Lambretta lost the race.

In 1972, the Indian government bought the assembly line. SIL (Scooters of India Limited), a state-owned company based in Lucknow in the Uttar Pradesh state, started production two years after the purchase and continued building the original Lambretta until 1997.

The Lambretta can find consolation in the fact that in the 1950s and 1960s, in its golden years, in Milan and surroundings its popular and commercial predominance was undisputed: the “Lambretta riders” had the better of the “Vespa riders.”

This was also because the latter were considered the most fashionable, well-off ones, or “spoiled kids,” while the Lambretta presented itself as a means of transportation for all, starting from the working-class families who couldn't yet afford a car and chose a two-wheeled vehicle instead (on which they often placed a bulky luggage rack).

The Vespa was more common in Central and Southern Italy, especially in Rome, where on sunny days it was used for trips outside the city or to the seaside, the Lambretta was typical of Milan: in the popular imagination, it cut through the fog of Northern Italy.

It is a challenge between two icons and between two no longer existing versions of Italy. With a poetic feel to it.

(Lambretta story. The Milan scooter's 70-year-old history. February 17, 18 and 19, Parco Esposizioni Novegro, Milan)