1964 Lambretta TV 175 Series III
- Engine: 175cc air-cooled 2-stroke horizontal single, 62mm x 58mm bore and stroke, 8:1 compression ratio, 8.75hp @ 5,300rpm (claimed)
- Top speed: 60mph (est.)
“When I was growing up near Milan, Italy, scooters were everywhere.” — Gianluca Baldo, owner, Bello Moto vintage scooter center
The story goes that at the close of World War II, Italian businessman Ferdinando Innocenti looked at the ruins of his bombed-out factory and saw the future of Italian personal transportation.
Going a bit further back, Innocenti had founded a seamless steel tubing factory in 1922 and moved it to Milan in 1931. That factory, like much of Italy’s industrial base, was destroyed by the Allies during World War II. At the same time as Allied aircraft were dropping bombs over Northern Italy, other Allied planes were dropping paratroopers to secure strategic objectives against the Germans. Once they hit the ground, the paratroops needed transportation, so Cushman scooters were dropped with the paratroopers. The Cushmans, ugly but very versatile, gave Innocenti an idea of how to create inexpensive powered transport that could be used by both men and women. Of course, Innocenti’s new scooter, like anything designed in Italy, would be chic and stylish, in addition to being useful. He looked for an engineer to translate his ideas into blueprints.
Design and development
Before World War II, Italy had an extensive airplane industry. After Italy surrendered to the Allies, the Italian aircraft industry was shut down. As a result, many former aircraft engineers went into the burgeoning motorcycle and scooter factories, including aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, who designed the scooter Ferdinando Innocenti had envisioned for him.
D’Ascanio disliked the contemporary oil-slinging motorcycles that needed constant maintenance, and drafted plans for a simple, clean, reliable machine for use as daily transportation, with a step-through frame that would not interfere with a woman’s skirt. The concept was great, but D’Ascanio’s design used stamped metal instead of rolled tubing for the frame. This was unacceptable to Innocenti, who insisted on rolled tubing, so D’Ascanio took the design to Piaggio, who used it for the first Vespa. D’Ascanio’s ideas were reworked for Innocenti by two other aeronautical engineers: Cesare Pallavicino and Pier Luigi Torre.
The Innocenti scooters were trade named Lambretta, after a mythical water sprite that inhabited the Lambro River in Milan. The first Lambretta, the Model A, was introduced in 1947. It had a 123cc 2-stroke engine, a 3-speed gearbox, 7-inch tires and drum brakes, but unfortunately, no suspension. However, the engine was more powerful than that of rival scooter manufacturer Vespa. Innocenti also introduced an American-style assembly line to streamline production. After a slow start, the new Lambretta took off and became popular with a transportation-starved Italian public.
Improvements started the next year with the Model B, a refinement of the Model A with full suspension and an improved frame. This was followed rapidly by the redesigned Model C (1950) and then D (1951), with an elegantly simple single steel-tube frame, better suspension and brakes, and larger tires. Models A, B and C were Europe-only, but the basic Model D and the more upscale Model DL were imported to the United States starting around 1955, where they caught on with college students and urbanites. Both the D and DL came in 125cc and 150cc versions.
The 175cc TV series, intended as a top-of-the-line scooter for the enthusiast and the model for future Lambrettas, was first shown in 1957. The TV featured a completely new engine with a horizontal engine cylinder (previous engines were vertical), a simple chain drive (instead of the prior models’ complex shaft drive driven by bevel gears), a flywheel magneto, and a Dell’Orto carburetor, made by the same company that built carburetors for Ducatis. New 10-inch wheels made for better handling — and had room for larger brakes. The first version of the TV engine had a complex and unreliable kickstart mechanism. Later versions were simpler and more reliable. The engine, increased to 175cc by lengthening the stroke, was good for 60mph.
The faster and more powerful Lambrettas such as the TVs were favored by England’s Mods, followers of an early 1960s movement that promoted continental fashion and modern style. Mods adorned their rides with multiple headlights and other accessories and congregated in English seaside resorts, where they sometimes got into it with the more working-class Rockers, who rode fast Brit bikes, wore black leather and sneered at the Mods.
Lambretta continued to improve its scooters, but sales of even the most stylish started to fall. Italians were becoming affluent enough to buy small cars, and public transportation had improved dramatically. Affluence affected the wages Italian factory workers demanded, and it became harder to profitably manufacture a vehicle increasingly sold in developing nations in Italy. In 1972, an Indian consortium bought the manufacturing rights to the Lambretta and moved the factory machinery to India, where production continued until 1997.
Although scooter ridership isn’t what it was in the postwar period, urbanites worldwide continue to ride scooters, and several motorcycle factories, including Honda and Yamaha, make them, and Piaggio has continued to build scooters in Italy under its Vespa trademark. Interestingly, Honda figured out how to profitably build scooters in Italy and started building its SH scooters there in 1996. Honda’s scooter factory, in Italy’s Abruzzo region, is still merrily pumping out scooters for the European market. In 2017, a new Lambretta, built in Taiwan but designed by the same design team that envisions Husqvarnas and KTMs, appeared at shows. New Lambrettas are now available at several dealers in the U.S., and along with the continued interest in new scooters, many enthusiasts ride and restore the classic Italian scooters of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, and Bello Moto in San Francisco, California, owned by scooter enthusiast Gianluca Baldo, exists to help them.
Like many Italians, Gianluca Baldo grew up riding scooters. While in his 20s, Gianluca left Italy to work overseas, and like many other things, scooters got left behind. He returned to Italy often, however, and on one of his trips home a friend loaned him a vintage scooter. “I rode from Milan to the family summer house on the coast. It gave me the opportunity to do what I had often done as a teenager. It gave me great emotions riding again after so many years,” Gianluca says, so he decided he had to have another scooter. Somehow, one classic scooter became two classic scooters, which, as these things go, then became a garage full of scooters.
“The number of scooters quickly increased. In order to have a working collection, I decided to hire a mechanic,” Gianluca says. “The mechanic could keep my collection running in 15 to 20 hours a week, leaving him 20-25 hours to work on other people’s scooters.” The idea for Bello Moto, a sales and service depot for vintage Vespas and Lambrettas, was born. “It’s a service for friends who share my passion for scooters, but who don’t have the time, the space or the ability to work on their own,” Gianluca says. Bello Moto opened its doors in 2011, and the friends of Bello Moto are now all over the United States and in several foreign countries.
Many of Bello Moto’s customers bear a striking similarity to the young people who would have owned and ridden scooters in postwar Italy. “They are young kids who cannot afford to keep a car in San Francisco. They buy a used scooter, then, as they make more money, a better and more exotic scooter.”
Gianluca never grows tired of his collection. “The beauty behind collections is that you learn a new piece of the industry all the time. Eventually, you are recognized as a specialist, which is the most important reward.” Most of the bikes in Gianluca’s collection or for sale at Bello Moto are restored in Italy or other European countries, then brought to the scuderia for sale, as was the 1964 TV 175 Series III featured here, the top-of-the-line Lambretta during the years it was made.
TV 175 Series III
The TV 175 Series III was, for a scooter, a fast bike. (Speed, as Einstein noted, is relative.) Produced from 1962 to 1965, it boasted a mechanical disc brake (one of the first on a two-wheeler), a new carburetor, an improved magneto, a 4-speed transmission, an excellent exhaust system, and great styling with classy two-tone paint. Most of the Series III machines imported to the U.S. had a battery to boost the lights. The engine was adapted from the 2-stroke pushing the more basic Li series machines, but with a longer stroke and a different barrel and cylinder head.
The chassis was built up from rolled tubing, with pressed steel bodywork. There was a lockable glove box under the dual seat, an actual ignition key (instead of the earlier kill switch) and a fork lock. Unlike the early Lambrettas, the front wheel moves independently of the fender, which is attached to the bodywork.
The 175cc engine was rated at 8.75 horsepower @ 5,300rpm. This meant useable power in lower rpm ranges, where a scooter was likely to spend most of its time. Top speed was about 60mph. A TV 175 Series III was on top of the shopping list for many English Mods and scooter fanatics in other countries, and 37,794 units were sold over the four years the model was produced.
This particular TV Lambretta was restored to concours condition about five years ago in Italy and came from an Italian collector. The white and yellow are a factory color combination, with white and red, blue and white, solid gray and solid white also available. A peppy machine even by today’s standards, it is freeway legal. Gianluca says that this bike is reliable and has “nice pickup,” pulling well from low revs. The suspension was restored, along with the cosmetic components, allowing this TV to zip around curves and through traffic. A TV will actually go offroad, and there are vintage photos of someone jumping a Lambretta TV from a small rise. An experienced scooter rider can get a scooter down a very tight road almost as fast as a dual-sport bike.
The glove compartment is small, but racks are available. “At the time, there were many different accessories for Lambrettas, but these are now very hard to find,” Gianluca says.”Authentic accessories add a lot of value to your scooter.” One accessory, a tire pump, worked off another accessory — a cigarette lighter! In Italy in the 1960s, everyone smoked.
Back in the day, most scooters were used for daily transportation, and they had to be reliable and keep going with a minimum of maintenance. A measuring cup for 2-stroke oil to be added to the gas comes with the scooter. If you fill up the tank, you add one and a half cups. Otherwise, you note the amount of gas you pumped, and add oil according to the helpful markings on the cup. Gear oil gets changed every three years. Otherwise, there is not much to do besides keeping your scooter polished, putting air in the tires, and changing the spark plug occasionally. “If your scooter is not running well, or if it experiences hard starting, change the plug,” says Gianluca simply. “In fact, you should carry a spark plug and a spark plug wrench for good luck.”
Stylish and economical, Gianluca’s Lambretta is a reminder of simpler times. “It’s the perfect wine country scooter,” Gianluca enthuses. “Imagine scootering through beautiful scenery with your special friend, on your way to a picnic in the garden of a winery.” Sign us up. MC
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