In 1922, Ferdinando Innocenti of Pescia built a steel-tubing factory in Rome. In 1931, he took the business to Milan where he built a larger factory producing seamless steel tubing and employing about 6,000. The factory was heavily bombed and destroyed during World War II. It is said that surveying the ruins, Innocenti saw the future of cheap, private transport and decided to produce a motor scooter, competing on cost and weather protection against the ubiquitous motorcycle.
The main stimulus for the design style of the Lambretta and Vespa dates back to pre-World War II Cushman scooters made in Nebraska, United States. These olive green scooters were in Italy in large numbers, ordered originally by the United States military as field transport for the paratroops and marines. The United States military had used them to get around German defence tactics of destroying roads and bridges in the Dolomites (a section of the Alps) and the Austrian border areas.
Aeronautical engineer General Corradino D’Ascanio, responsible for the design and construction of the first modern helicopter by Agusta, was given the job by Ferdinando Innocenti of designing a simple, robust and affordable vehicle. It had to be easy to drive for both men and women, be able to carry a passenger and not get its driver’s clothes soiled.
D’Ascanio, who hated motorbikes, designed a revolutionary vehicle. It was built on a spar frame with a handlebar gear change and the engine mounted directly onto the rear wheel. The front protection “shield” kept the rider dry and clean in comparison to the open front end on motorcycles. The pass-through leg area design was geared towards women, as wearing dresses or skirts made riding conventional motorcycles a challenge. The front fork, like an aircraft’s landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing. The internal mesh transmission eliminated the standard motorcycle chain, a source of oil and dirt. This basic design allowed a series of features to be deployed on the frame which would later allow quick development of new models.
However, General D’Ascanio fell out with Innocenti, who rather than a stamped spar frame wanted to produce his frame from rolled tubing, allowing him to revive both parts of his prewar company. General D’Ascanio disassociated himself from Innocenti and took his design to Enrico Piaggio who produced the spar-framed Vespa from 1946 on. The final design of the Lambretta was done by aeronautical engineers Cesare Pallavicino and Pier Luigi Torre. Pallavicino had been Technical Director at the Caproni airplane factory during World War II before working on the Lambretta design. Torre was an engine designer at Italo Balbo’s Idros; he designed the engine and organized Innocenti’s factory for mass production.