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National Treasures
A look at the vintage motorcycles on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.

Scooters invade the National Motorcycle Museum

The exhibit features scooters as early as the American-made Salsbury and Moto-Scoot, plus German, Italian and Japanese designs, even two scooters made in the state of Iowa. 

A new exhibit at the National Motorcycle Museum tells the story of the early evolution of scooters and mini-bikes.

Scooters as we know them today were created out of necessity after World War II. Practical, but stylish and fun, they continue to play a key role in personal transportation worldwide. A new exhibit at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, features a wide range of designs spanning about 75 years.

Even though motorcycles could have served as cheap transportation, in the 1940's a war torn Western Europe needed even cheaper more convenient transportation to get people back to work. Many train and trolley systems were destroyed, but most roads could be quickly repaired to become navigable. The scooter was a perfect fit for the circumstances. In fact governments encouraged damaged manufacturing companies to rebuild as scooter makers first, and some like Piaggio in Italy and Gogo, built by Glas in Germany, figured it out on their own. The circumstances gave designers and engineers a challenge; make a friendly two-wheeler anyone could ride and make it quick to tool up for and manufacture in a matter of months, and not be too demanding on natural resources.

True, there were pre-World War II scooters like the amazing Salsbury, also included in the exhibit, and Salsbury innovated much that is standard in scooter design many decades later. But in addition to compact engine/transmission drive units, early post-World War II designs from Vespa and Lambretta are even more innovative. Twist-grip shifting, storage, easy kick starting, good lighting and smooth enclosed body work for people used to the contours of Fiats, and later, Fords and Chevies, made them continually popular.

A requirement of the earliest scooter designs, step-through layouts with flat floorboards, accommodated women, who at the time wore skirts and dresses even to manufacturing jobs. And scooter drive systems that are simple to operate and compact were innovated. This era brought us Italian designs in which the engine, primary and final drives are a "unit" all beneath the seat, at the rear. Manufacturers gave these machines a distinctive look; styled and painted them in a fresh way to move hearts and imaginations out of the pains of war and into the modern era.

Long and sleek, the Salsbury, which was launched in 1936, featured a unique constant velocity transmission, the first used on a scooter.  

Cushman scooters took a non-traditional path. Rather than being step-through designs, they were built more like motorcycles, in a smaller scale. 

The exhibit also includes some interesting mini-bikes including the Iowa-made Doodle Bug and all-aluminum folding Argyle. And there's great contemporary artwork, scooter toys and even some video footage to watch. It's all on display for a year, through May 2014, at the National Motorcycle Museum plus over 400 other motorcycles, several thousand pieces of motorcycle art and memorabilia. The National Motorcycle Museum is open daily year-around 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Make plans to visit, or call (614) 551-0960 for more information.

If you need more information about the National Motorcycle Museum, check out or call (319) 462-3925.


1952 Vincent Black Shadow

 1952 Vincent Black Shadow 

The Black Shadow was introduced at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Show as a turned version of the Rapide and was built until the production of Vincent motorcycles ceased in 1955. A 988cc 50-degree V-twin, it got its improved performance from a higher compression ratio, a larger bore carburetor and greater attention to detail. For instance, the Shadow was fitted with specially tested Lucas magnetos. The engine was painted black to improve heat dissipation, and the machine was provided with finned brakes to handle the higher cruising speed. When new, the Black Shadow was found to reach 60mph in 6.5 seconds. To this day, the Black Shadow continues to fascinate Vincent aficionados and the general public alike.

1952 Vincent Black Shadow (1) 

1913 Sears

1913 Sears (3) 

Engine: 9hp, Spacke V-twin, chain-drive, Bosch magneto, free engine and changeable gear clutch
Displacement: 70.62ci, develops more than 13hp at maximum rpm
Tires: 2-3/4in studded tires
Weight: 250lb
Brakes: Rear coaster brake, latest Musselman, air cooled, largest braking surface of any motorcycle brake made
Carburetor: Latest improved Schebler Model H
Bore x Stroke: 3.5in x 3.67in

1913 Sears (2) 

1913 Sears 


1930 Douglas T6 600cc

 1930 Douglas T6 600cc 

The Douglas Engineering Co. was founded by two Scottish brothers, William and Edward, in 1882 in Bristol. Originally a general engineering company, they hired Joseph Barter whose own firm, Light Motors, had failed financially. Barter brought with him his own motorcycle design with a technically advanced horizontally opposed engine of such smoothness, Barter had dubbed it the “Fairy.” The first Douglas in 1907 was based on the Fairy, but with direct drive.

By the end of World War I, Douglas had provided the army with 23,000 superb machines and had won respect on the race circuit. 1932 found Douglas sold to a finance group that managed to continue manufacturing until 1956.

1930 Douglas T6 600cc 2 

1930 Douglas T6 600cc 3 

1955 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead

 1955 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead 

1955 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead

The Harley-Davidson "look" was established once and for all in the mid-Fifties.The big twin 1200cc FL would be a permanent fixture in the Milwaukee lineup, with only minor variations and changes over the coming decades. New cast tank and front fender "badges" arrived for 1955, boasting a high degree of detail and a prominent "V" in the background.

This completely restored classic motorcycle is on loan tot he National Motorcycle Museum by John W. Parham, Anamosa, Iowa.

1955 Harley-Davidson FL 

1954 Zundapp Motorcycle

 1954 Zundapp 1 

1954 Zundapp, Germany 1921-1935

1954 Zundapp 2 

Nuremberg armaments company, ZUNDer und APParatebau, copied the design of the British Levi for their first motorcycle. At one time Europe's largest motorcycle manufacturer, Zundapp became famous for its advanced technology. Zundapp motorcycles were also assembled in Britain under the Newmount name. By 1986, the company was sold to the People's Republic of China.

1954 Zundapp 3 

1953 NSU Sportmax

 1953 NSU Sportmax 

1953 NSU Max 250

Engine: 246.8cc air-cooled OHC single
Bore x Stroke: 69 x 66mm
Power: 29hp @ 9,600rpm
Transmission: 4-speed
Suspension: Leading link front fork, mono-shock rear
Weight: 240lb (dry)

1953 NSU Sportmax 

During the 1930s and the 1950s NSU of Neckarsulm, Germany was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. Founded in 1873 to make knitting machines, NSU became a revered manufacturer of bicycles (in 1886 under the Germania brand), motorcycles (in 1901) and cars (in 1905) that was eventually gobbled up in 1969 by today's behemoth Volkswagen Group.

In 1953 NSU launched their remarkably successful series of street (Max) and production race bikes (Sportmax) with its innovative, air-cooled 250cc overhead cam single. The cam drive was unique, using a pair of "connecting rods" from crankshaft to camshaft. Its cylinder is angled forward in a monobloque (unibody) pressed steel frame with a leading link front fork, all of which was created under the guidance of engineering genius Albert Roder. For the Supermax, an aluminum fuel tank and all-enveloping fairing - often known as a dusbin - was fitted to complete this fast, lightweight road racer.

1953 NSU Sportmax 

NSU won several speed records in the 1950s, being no stranger to the Bonneville Salt Flats. However, perhaps their best-known machine of all is the NSU Quickly moped, of which more than 1 million were sold. By 1969 it was all over; NSU's newly found obsession with the Wankel rotary engine had ruined the company.

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