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A Senior Thesis Presented To Prof. Anne Cook Saunders on December 17th, 1998 By Mary Anne Long
From Scooter to Scooterist: A Cultural History of the Italian Motorscooter
Table of Contents:
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chapter One: PreModern Scooters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chapter Two: Modern Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chapter Three: PostModern Scooterists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Conclusion & Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-2 3-5 5-20 21-22 23-27
From Scooter to Scooterist: A Cultural History of the Italian Motorscooter
A Senior Thesis Presented To Prof. Anne Cook Saunders on December 17th, 1998 By Mary Anne Long Introduction Flying through fields and forests, buzzing on the wind, speeding over the flowers, rushing under the trees; I clutch the harness of a giant wild Wasp. I feel the sun, the wind and the earth as the road and the scooter dance together. Twelve years ago I bought a 1964 Vespa scooter and now I am a dedicated scooterist. Follow me on a journey from scooter to scooterist, from manufactured product to individual expression, from surface to symbol, from pre-modern to post. In this paper, we will examine how the Italian motorscooter transcends beyond the object to become a cultural icon and a subcultural identity. It is difficult to follow a linear path when illustrating the cultural significance of an object. The product, the media and the consumer do not exist as constants in an economist’s equation, but they all impact and respond to each other. Manufacturers and marketers respond to changes in the consumer, the consumer responds to the products and advertising. Even though we can not dissect the scooter from the scooterist, we can follow the cultural significance from pre-modern to modern and into the post-modern. Examining these three phases, we will see the focus of the scooter, the media and the consumer shift from the function of the scooter, to its appearance, and finally to its meaning. In the pre-modern era, scooters provided inexpensive and discreet transportation for the Suffragettes. In the modern era, scooters were "dressed" to be more attractive and advertisements featured attractive young ladies. Now the scooterist can only see the scooter through over fifty years of representation; the subject reflects back on the object via the symbol. Scooters have come to mean many different things to many people; it’s the golden post war era, it’s the summer vacation in Rome, it’s 50s,
it’s 60s, it’s Audrey Hepburn, it's Emma Peal, it’s the Ace Face, it’s mod, it’s scooterboy, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s brilliantly engineered, it ’s totally custom, it’s perfectly restored, it’s fast, its chrome, it’s nostalgic, and it’s modern. Every scooter enthusiast has some unique combination of these notions buzzing around in their head. Just as bikers love Harley Davidson Motorcycles not just for the riding or the bike but also for the image that it represents, scooterists love their scooters for what they have come to mean to them. Every Sunday I go out riding with a diverse group that includes punks, mods, skinheads, actors, artists, hairdressers, and computer programmers. We are each driven to ride for a different reason. Sharon Cardell started riding because she loved the ‘retro’ image of the Vespa, inspired by the appearance of scooters in early advertising and classic films. Jim Foley got a Vespa because it reminded him of Italy. Tim Giordano got into scooters when he was dirt biking; he enjoyed fixing up the two -stroke engine and restoring the classic frame. Darren Lopez rides from Richmond, Virginia to Niagara Falls, Ontario every spring on his early ‘60s scooter. Stoney Smith was pulled over in St. Louis for going 110 mph on his nitrous-kitted Lambretta. I wanted a scooter after seeing the film, Quadrophenia - the scooters were cool, different, and represented a historic and rebellious past.
From Scooter to Scooterist: A Cultural History of the Italian Motorscooter
A Senior Thesis Presented To Prof. Anne Cook Saunders on December 17th, 1998 By Mary Anne Long Chapter One: Pre-Modern Scooters When examining the history of the scooter it is easy to see the connection between the popularity of the scooter and economic conditions. From the earliest models, the scooter has always responded to the need for inexpensive transportation. 1800s Horses had become a problem for cities in Europe and America, ""By the 1880’s, New York City was removing 15,000 bodies annually" according to Clay MacShane in Down the Asphalt Path.. Even worse was the amount of manure generated in New York City annually, health officials estimated it would cover one acre 175 feet deep! The Bicycle was invented in 1813, the internal combustion engine in 1860, the motorcycle in 1885 (Dregni 1998:11-12), and the Model T Ford began production in 1913 (Smithsonian Website). After reviewing a brief history of recent transportation innovations, the invention of the motorscooter seems most practical if not inevitable. 1900-1920 The first motorscooters appeared at the turn of the century and were based on the child's push scooter; "an image it was never able to outrun" (Dregni 1993:5-6). This design provided a suitable alternative to the motorcycle for women of the era. The rider did not need to straddle a greasy engine and she would not wrinkle her dress by sitting down; "These early scooters were faddish gimmicks at most ostensibly designed for ladies to travel downtown for afternoon tea without having to hike up their dresses" (Dregni 1993:6). It is unclear who invented the first motorscooter. According to the Dregni brothers, who have written three books on the history of scooters, the first scooter was the Motoped, which was invented in 1915 and was followed by the Autoped in 1917 (Dregni 1993:6). However, Mike Webster has a different account and referred to the patent credits of the Autoped Company of New York on May 19, 1915; "From this patent was derived the American Ever-Ready Autoped which, for many people, represents the beginning of the motorscooter...the Autoped had no seat - the rider had to stand and move the steering column (forwards engaged the drive and rearward disengaged the clutch and applied the front brake)" (Webster 12). The Autoped weighed 96 lb., had a top speed of 10 mph, and a 155 cc engine. It was also known as the Marks Motorscooter (Webster 13). As the Autoped caught on, other manufacturers improved on the initial concept. In 1919, the British- made ABC Skootamota was the first scooter which allowed the rider to sit; "the Skootamota was undoubtedly one of the best products to emerge from the first generation of scooters...It was described as very comfortable to ride, very easy to manage, and requiring no
mechanical knowledge at all to own." (Webster 14). The ABC Skootamota had a top speed of 15 mph and a 125 cc engine (Webster 15). The Unibus featured the first enclosed body in 1920; it had a top speed of 25 mph and a 269 cc engine. Unfortunately, the price for the Unibus was the same as the price of a car and the Unibus did not succeed (Webster 16-17). The initial popularity of motorscooters died out as quickly as the unreliable gadgets did; the early scooters were poorly engineered and manufactured as inexpensive toys. "In 1935, the English magazine, The Motor Cycle , bemoaned the death of scooter and what might have been: "Had the scooter lived and not died stillborn as a result of makers rushing into production with untried and crude machines, we should probably have seen it develop into a most useful type of vehicle" (Dregni 1993:6). The Depression The Depression brought back a new breed of scooters. The Dregnis make an interesting point that the scooter has always been defined by its economic environment; "Motorscooters were born from economic necessity" (Dregni 1993:7). The first scooters were made inexpensive to appeal to women. "The second wave of scooters, sparked in the United States, was a byproduct of the Great Depression; bad times were the fertile breeding ground for scooters. All scooter ads of the 1930s hailed the go-forever-on-a-teaspoon -of-gas fuel consumption, inexpensive operating costs–‘Cheaper than shoe leather,’ shouted one Cushman ad-- and promoted a scooter instead of a car, or as a second car for struggling working families" (Dregni 1993:7). These Depression -Era motorscooters were more reliable, had much better performance overall, and also had "body work that covered the engine and other dirty mechanical bits so drivers never had to soil their hands. The scooter had been civilized." (Dregni 1993:6). The Dregnis attribute the new and improved motorscooter to "a tiny vehicle built in the back of a plumbing and heating shop in Oakland, California, by E. Foster Salsbury and inventor Austin Elmore" in 1936 (Dregni 1993:7 -8). Salsbury's Motor Glide featured an enclosed body and an automatic transmission. The Salsbury scooter inspired the production of motorscooters by "Powell, Moto-scoot, Cushman, Rock-Ola, and others" (Dregni 1993:7-8) and was such a success that in 1938 Salsbury attempted to license his design to several European manufacturers including Piaggio (Dregni 1993:8). The Motor Glide was not only the first of the depression era scooters, but it set the standards for all motorscooters that followed. According to the Dregnis, "the Salsbury Motor Glide defined the Five Commandments of a motorscooter...a small motor placed next to or just in front of the rear wheel; a step-through chassis; bodywork to protect the rider from roadspray and engine grime; small wheels; and an automatic transmission/clutch package" (Dregni 1993:8). Then in the late 1930's Albert Crocker's limited production Scootabout added "the Sixth Commandment of a scooter: styling...with its Art Deco teardrop shape and two-tone paint" (Dregni 1993:8). World War II During World War II, the inexpensive motorscooter was called to action for civilian and military use; "English, German, Italian and American manufacturers all produced simple scooters to mobilize parachute regiments and ground forces...perhaps the most famous being the British Welbike which folded and was dropped by parachute inside a canister alongside the troops" (Webster 8 -9). These military scooters continued to be manufactured after the war; the
Welbike was "modified by Brockhouse to be launched in 1946 as the Corgi" (Webster 20). In the United States, civilians rode scooters during the war to save money and gasoline. Some manufacturers "received dispensations to build scooters as civilian wartime transportation, whereas car makers were converted solely to military contracting. Riding a scooter became a wartime duty, as patriotic as flying the flag. As American motorcycle maven Floyd Clymer prompted while lauding the aptly named Victory Clipper scooter, ‘If you want to conserve Gasoline and Tires...and save money to invest in War Bonds you should consider our Motor Scooters...Remember a ‘D’ Ration book is good for 1 1/2 gallons a week...at 100 miles per gallon that’s better than a ‘B’ Book’" (Dregni 1993:7).
From Scooter to Scooterist: A Cultural History of the Italian Motorscooter
A Senior Thesis Presented To Prof. Anne Cook Saunders on December 17th, 1998 By Mary Anne Long Chapter Two: The Modern Era In the modern era, packaging and marketing become more important for all kinds of products; there was growing "pressure on designers to provide ‘product identity’ and ‘corporate image’ (Hebdige 1988:94). Cultural theorist, Dick Hebdige credits General Motors' initial success over Ford to their styling and marketing (Hebdige 1988:87). Roland Barthes’ essay about the unveiling of the Citroen D.S.19 describes the supernatural qualities suggested by the car’s design and advertising (Barthes 88). With Italian styling, the scooter became the poor man’s Mercedes, respectable yet accessible, as cool as Coca-Cola, yet as practical as a mule. The Birth of the Italian ScootersAfter World War II ended, many Europeans were eager to get moving again and they needed inexpensive transportation. At the same time, manufacturers who had been producing war time products suddenly needed a new product (Webster 8-9). The motorscooter got the factories and the people back to work. In The Cult of Vespa, Omar Calabrese explained the working class appeal of the motorscooter; "The policy of mass motorization, which was developed by Piaggio as well as others, appealed above all to the working class, who were not very rich, and who found in the scooter the initial response to their growing needs of consumption. They found this above all in its selling price and its maintenance costs, which were accessible even for the less fortunate" (Calabrese).
In Italy, the scooter not only helped restore the country after the war, it broke down barriers that had existed long before it. Prior to W.W.II, Italy "was largely agrarian with little communication between villages and even cities". Culture and economy were localized and many people never went far beyond the fields surrounding their village. According to the Dregnis, Il Duce "used this lack of communication in Italy to divide and conquer. Postwar, scooters changed all this. The scooter brought the city to the country and vice versa. It brought people together, spread ideas and culture, and almost overnight carried Italy into the modern world; it was the dawn of a second Italian renaissance" (Dregni 1993:9). The Vespa For over thirty years, motorscooters had provided inexpensive transportation, but the invention of the Vespa gave scooters style. From the design of the product to its marketing, the cheap silly scooter became something that everyone wanted to ride. The introduction of The Cult of Vespa summed up the importance of the Vespa; "Vespa developed from a utility vehicle, whose characteristics had been dictated exclusively by criteria such as function and cost, into an international success, a protagonist of the history of customs and the cinema, a ‘cult object’ which has given rise to the creation of associations and collectors' guilds on a world wide scale. Above all, Vespa has conquered a place in the collective imagination of successive generations" (Calabrese).
Even before producing the Vespa, Piaggio was a major manufacturer. Founded in 1881 by twenty year old Rinaldo Piaggio (1864-1938) as Società Rinaldo Piaggio (Calabrese). They began manufacturing luxury ship outfitting and were producing trains by the turn of the century (Timemachine). Rinaldo ’s son, Enrico (1905 -1965) successfully managed the aeronautical plant during the 1930s (Brockway 12). After Rinaldo Piaggio passed away, Enrico and his brother, Armando, shared the management of the four Piaggio plants (Calabrese). During W.W.II the Piaggio plants were heavily damaged, especially the aeronautical plants at Pontedera and Pisa, which were "important military targets and on August 31, 1943 they were attacked and razed to the ground by Allied bombers, after the retreating Germans had already mined the pillars of the buildings and irrevocably damaged the plants" (Timemachine). The Vespa rose out of these ashes like a Phoenix. In post-war Italy, the Piaggio airplane factory needed to find a new product or shut down, but luckily "Enrico Piaggio had the idea which turned out to be a winner. The country was poor, its infrastructures had been set back by about thirty years, and the level of consumption was very low. It was necessary, therefore, to invent something which would at the same time be suitable for the growth of the domestic market, the recovery of industrialization, and the need felt by citizens for mobility. And just as Henry Ford had created mass individual transport with his Ford ‘T’, so Enrico Piaggio devised its counterpart for underdeveloped Italy: the scooter" (Calabrese). It is unclear whether Enrico saw the need for inexpensive mass transportation and foresaw the potential for success or if he was only looking for a more immediate solution. Brockway suggests that Enrico had asked for a motorscooter to help the workers save on tiresome footwork moving between the buildings and plants through all the rubble. Tomasso Fanfani felt that Enrico's desire to get the factories back to work would not only mobilize his plants again, but would get the whole country moving; his "intuition obeyed the prior productive request of re-establishing the plants, but it also put forward the target of social content: motorizing a country full of debris, scarcity of fuel, without being able to utilize well -known schemes, but at the same time inventing something new, economic and easy to use" (Calabrese).
Whatever his inspiration, Enrico Piaggio asked his engineers for a motorscooter in 1945. Corradino D'Asconia is generally credited with presenting the first prototype, the MP5 (Brockway 6). Although one author suggests that it was Vittorio Casini and Renzo Spolti who designed the first prototype (Calabrese). It was "nicknamed "Paperino" (the Italian name for Donald Duck) because of its strange shape" (Timemachine). Enrico apparently thought this
prototype was rather ugly, and he asked Corradino D'Asconia to redesign it (Calabrese). In just a few days D'Asconia came back with another model. Enrico was pleased with this model and when he "saw the very ample central seating part and the other parts thinner and when he heard the buzz of the engine he exclaimed ‘sembra una vespa’ (it seems like a wasp) and the name Vespa remained." (Calabrese). They began production on the first fifty models immediately and submitted the patent on April 23, 1946 (Calabrese).
The success of the Vespa is credited to D'Asconia's aeronautic background and good judgment. Since he had no experience as a motorcycle engineer he was able to assess many of the problems facing two -wheel transportation from an unbiased viewpoint. He noted that motorcycles presented the rider with a few obstacles such as difficult tire changing, foot operated gear shifting, and uncomfortable riding position (Brockway 7). Drawing on aeronautics he used stressed skin frame and an air-cooled engine; "Through being familiar with chassisless structures he was far ahead of his day in considering them superior to conventional steel box or tube frames. The spot-welded frame used in all Vespas since 1946 is today common automobile practice and, to a lesser extent, that employed in racing motorcycles." (Brockway 7). There is also a noticeable similarity between the stub axle wheels of the Vespa and the wheels of an airplane's landing gear (Calabrese). The result of D'Asconia's work was clean (due to the enclosed body), easy to operate (thanks to the hand shifting gears and the easy to fix stub axle tires), and comfortable to ride (because of the open floorboard and seat) (Brockway 7). Weary journalists were surprised to discover how easy it was to ride; it handled and performed well, was simple to operate and most importantly presented "no problem for dress" (Calabrese). These features also combined to create a sense of safety, which made the scooter appropriate for the entire family. The low enclosed frame and open body allowed women to ride in dresses and even feel safe carrying a child with them (Calabrese). The Vespa was an overnight success; a company report in 1949 proudly announced "more than forty thousand Vespa scooters are now circulating on the roads of Italy and several foreign countries" (Calabrese). Enrico Piaggio quickly set up international licenses to support the growth of the product. The British licensee, Douglas, received 100,000 pounds in orders after premiering the "Douglas" Vespa at a 1949 Motor Cycle Show (Brockway 8). After successfully setting up plants in Europe, Piaggio continued to spread and "in 1953 the number of Piaggio branches in the world exceeded 10,000;" (Calabrese). Sales continued to grow by leaps and bounds; "November 1953, the 500,000th unit left the line, and the one millionth in June 1956...In 1960 the Vespa passed the two million mark; in 1970 it reached four million, and over ten million in 1988, making it a unique phenomenon in the motorized two-wheeler
sector it has now arrived at 15 million units" (Timemachine). While the sales no longer increase every year, they still support a large network of manufacturers around the world.
While the cultural history of scooters includes many manufacturers, it was undoubtedly the success of Enrico Piaggio's Vespa that fueled the global phenomena and endured for over fifty years. Piaggio did not produce the first scooter but the first successful scooter; it was reliable, economical, well engineered and respected. The Vespa was not a toy, it had dignity so that an adult could ride a Vespa with pride (Dregni 1993:8-9). Other manufacturers have contributed to the engineering developments of the motorscooter and an ongoing and heated debate continues over the quality and value of the Vespa versus its leading competitor the Lambretta. Many scooterists have argued and will continue to argue that Innocenti's Lambretta offers better performance and engineering, but Piaggio's scooter led the field in styling and marketing to become the quintessential scooter.
The Lambretta Ferdinando Innocenti began manufacturing steel tubes in 1931 in Milan and had a successfully growing company until his large facilities were damaged during World War II. He was determined to get 6,000 workers back on the line, so he restarted his engineering division and started a motoring division in response to Italy's need for cheap transport. (Cox 8 -9). Named after the Lambrate region of Milan, the first Model A Lambretta was produced in 1947 (Cox 9). The Lambretta arrived on the market one year after the Vespa but featured a second seat and a larger engine making it possible to carry passengers; "Innocenti called its scooter a "social
appliance" in what was perhaps an off-target Italian-to-English translation. Nevertheless, the term social appliance carried a much larger truth" (Dregni 1993:9). The scooter was an instant success in Italy and grew to have factories all over the world. In 1966, Luigi Innocenti inherited the company. In 1972, Innocenti stopped producing Lambrettas in Milan and sold the tooling to a company in India; "Nobody really knows why Innocenti decided to stop producing scooters. However, scooter sales were declining, while Innocenti car sales were increasing, and there were industrial disputes in the factory...The Innocenti factory in Milan closed down completely two years ago" (Cox 120). To compete with Vespa’s popularity, Lambretta competed in speed trials to demonstrate their technical superiority (Cox 30). In the United Kingdom, Lambretta was able to surpass Vespa sales by supporting dealers with training and service stations. A father and son team, James and Peter Agg, imported Lambrettas and enlisted dealerships. Under the guidance of the Aggs, Lambretta dealerships featured trained mechanics to provide maintenance and repairs. "This was a new way to market scooters: giving advice and helping people, always having what they wanted in stock, and being able to tackle any job" (Cox 9 -10). Dealerships had cutaway engines on display and technically trained staff to help educate customers (Cox 53). The British dealers were even able to offer guaranteed used scooters because of the system of service stations they had set up. (Cox 48). Competition between Vespa and Lambretta has been intense from the first year of production; "From this point on, the Lambretta and Vespa vied for market share and developed bigger and better machines...A rivalry grew between these two products that was as intensely felt by their customers as it was by the marketing men. Even today, scooter riders are passionately divided into Vespa or Lambretta camps but rarely both!" (Webster 9-10). According to another author this competition between Lambretta and Vespa developed from an opinionated debate to become a passion that divided scooterists in a battle; "A form of identity was created for any person anywhere, with a very precise common denominator, "fight" to obtain the supremacy of the Vespa over all other two wheeled vehicles, and above all begin the battle with that other national scooter which has just come out, the Lambretta produced by Innocenti. These hostile episodes of competition between supporters of one or another scooter were very frequent in small towns and country villages just as much as in cities" (Calabrese). One author suggests that Vespa's longevity represents its superiority; "the clash was about the supremacy amongst the two products of the time, protagonists of human and social events, only one knew how to defeat them and stay on to reach its fiftieth anniversary" (Calabrese), but to Lambretta collectors the Lambretta is now all the more rare and nostalgic because they are no longer in production (Cox 120). The1950’s: A Scooter Revolution Scooter sales soared in the 1950s and soon manufacturers from all over the world began introducing new scooters. The first Japanese scooter, the Fuji Rabbit, came out the same year as the Vespa. (Dregni 1993:6-7). In Europe, the mid ‘50s saw the debut of the French Motobecane, the Italian-designed, English-produced Piatti, the BSA Sunbeam, the Triumph Contessa, and several German makes, including the Zundapp Bella, the Heinkel, the NSU, and the Maico (Webster). Even Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union produced scooters (Dregni 1993). At the height of scooter sales, a reporter from the New Yorker wrote "This is more than a fad, it’s a revolution and I don’t see how anything can stop it." (Dregni 1993:11).
To compete in the saturated scooter market, manufacturers needed to advertise and market aggressively; "The Vespa was not just a simple industrial product, but also a ‘communications workshop’"(Calabrese). An integral part of the Italian motorscooter’s success was its effective use of advertising and marketing; "both Innocenti and Piaggio invested in aggressive advertising campaigns supervised by their own publicity departments. By the early 1950s, both companies were publishing their own magazines and had formed their own scooter clubs with massive national, later international memberships" (Hebdige 1988:95). The advertising and marketing went hand in hand, marketers developed social clubs and events around the scooters, while advertisements focused on this social aspect.
Renato Tassinari started up the Vespa Magazine and began organizing the scooterists. A ‘silver swarm’ of two thousands Vespisti attended the Milan Fair in 1949, which later lead to the establishment of the Vespisti Clubs (Calabrese). The Italian Union of Vespa-riders was announced in 1949, and included thirty clubs. At a meet held in Stresa, Graziella Bontempo was elected as the first Miss Vespa. Vespa clubs gave Christmas presents to local police departments. Rallies were organized; in 1951, the Genoa Vespa Club organized a Gymkana (Calabrese). In addition to speed and endurance trials, touring became very popular, with organized trips leading 50 scooters through the Alpines (Hebdige 1988:108) and around the Mediteranian (Calabrese). By 1953, there were 50,000 Vespa Club members worldwide (Calabrese).
Alongside the popular activities, some scooterists set out for new frontiers; "in 1952 George Monneret built an amphibious Vespa for the London-Paris rally including the crossing of the English Channel" (Calabrese). Other scooterists set out for the Arctic Circle, the Andes Mountains (Calabrese), and even now, Giorgio Bettinelli is halfway through his "Worldwide Odyssey" on his Vespa (Bettinelli).
The Scooter in the Media and Advertising To back up these brilliant marketing efforts, "the best designers, like the Frenchman Savignac, were summoned, in order to support the vehicle with mass advertising campaigns". In 1956, the "Vespizzatevi" ("Vespa yourselves!") campaign called out like a playmate to join the scooter phenomena. Artists and writers were charged with disseminating "values of freedom, socialization, enjoyment, contact with nature, all contained within Vespas’ basic philosophy" (Calabrese). Scooter advertising often featured an attractive young lady or couple and featured the most contemporary styles and designs; Vespas were surrounded by "the symbols of desire; the pretty young fiancées, precocious girls …stage and film stars" (Calabrese). Jane Mansfield was hired by Lambretta to appear in a series of early ‘sixties advertisements (Cox 11). Hebdige provides a thorough analysis of a Lambretta advertisement, which features a boy peering through a store window at a scooter, while a woman washes the window. It is easy enough to follow the visual cues from the scooter to the woman to the boy looking in and to sense the desire for the scooter and the woman (Hebdige 1988:98). The advertising had effectively established an image of freedom, socialization, and exploration. In fact the image had been so well constructed that soon the scooter appeared in movies, books, and songs ( Timemachine). By 1963, the Vespa had appeared in approximately eighty films. Most notably Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita (Calabrese). In Come September, Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobridgida tour Italy on Lambrettas (Cox 14). "At least forty records contain a reference to the Vespa" (Calabrese). The "Lambretta Twist", was recorded by the Cetra Quartet in 1963 (Cox 16). Scooters even appeared in advertisements for other products, such as Peck and Peck, Samsonite, Algida, Coca Cola, Guerlin, and Pan Am; "Motorization, especially the two-wheeled variety, was described and presented as a means of emancipation…Women and two -wheelers had already become a leitmotiv in the advertising of
this period" (Calabrese).
Whether you call it socialization, sex, or romance, the scooter has it. In 1953, audiences watched Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck fall in love on a scooter. The media picked up on this romantic ideal and articles in the New York Times Magazine, American Mercury and Popular Science noted the "social" aspects of scootering; "she riding side-saddle prettily and revealingly and he heading deliberately for every bump to jounce her into holding him tighter" (Dregni 1993:10). In his essay "Forbidden Fruit", Umberto Eco gloriously retells of his school days crush riding away on the back of another boy’s scooter. The scooter seduced him with images of faraway places and late night rendezvous. He watched her long, flowing skirts "as she clung to her driver on the back seat of a Vespa that swept away, and then disappeared…like the fluttering of an oriflamme…a hymn of glory to femininity through the interposed symbol, the Vespa sailed regally away leaving in its wake a singing foam, and the sporting of mystical dolphins" (Calabrese).
The 1960’s: As the economies strengthened in Europe and the States, the scooters were left behind for cars and motorcycles (Dregni 1993:7). Additionally, the inexpensive "Mini" cars stole the spotlight in the 1960s (Webster 10 -11). Vespa and Lambretta ventured into new markets to include industrial and third world countries. "Today, the scooter makers that survive sell to these two markets: the market of necessity for economical transpiration, primarily in Third World countries today, and the teen market" (Dregni 1993:7). Despite aggressive marketing efforts, most manufacturers were out of the market by the mid - 1960's and we will see that by 1972 Lambretta will have stopped manufacturing in Europe. The Youth Market With the post war prosperity, many adults had ‘outgrown ’ their scooter and had moved on. This post war prosperity also created a teen market, as young people easily found part time jobs and were not yet burden by living expenses (Dregni 1993:12, Osgerby 38). In America, teenagers turned to the old Ford coupes for inexpensive transportation but "in Europe, scooters were the hot rods of a generation" (Dregni 1993:12).
It was time to adjust the product and advertising strategies to fit the new market; "up to the beginning of the 60's, young people had only represented a small percentage of the Piaggio target" (Calabrese). Before Innocenti closed it factory in 1972, the Vespa and Lambretta competed heavily for the youth market releasing new bikes every year; the Lambretta TV175 Series 2 inspired the Vespa GS160 in 1962, Lambretta then released the TV200, followed by Piaggio’s SS120 and the ultimate Lambretta, the SX200 (Dregni 1998:81). The Vespa advertising began to appear in teen magazines and sports press and revealed a social point of view; "the eighteenth birthday, the girlfriend, the gift of a Vespa…all of them had in common the presence of a girl (a climate element) and a red graphic frame uniting the images. There weren’t any slogans" (Calabrese). Entertainment and leisure industries responded to the teen market too. Music, movies, and magazines catered to the teenager (Osgerby 40). The teens responded, devouring everything
new and exciting; "Popularized by such films as Roman Holiday (dir. William Wyler, 1953) and La Dolce Vita (dir. Frederico Fellini, 1960) the chic, smoothly tailored lines of Italian fashion were first sported in Britain in about 1958 by the modernists" (Osgerby 43). These modernists, or mods, became the champions of the Italian motorscooter. The Mods Many cultural theorists have inappropriately assumed that the mods had originated from the working class (Brake 74, Hebdige 1988:110, Osgerby 42). It is easy to see how theorist of this era could assume this; as the Mod culture became popularized it moved out into the working class, and this assumption fit their structural ideology. First hand accounts and contemporary theorists point to the Jewish upper-working or middle-class of London’s East End and suburbs (Brown 19, Chamberlain 14, Green 28). This background seems very appropriate for teens who had plenty of disposable income in part because of their early entry to the workforce. Steve Sparks explains in an interview: "I was a mod. I was one of the original mods, one of the real Wardour Street mods. Not the post-commercialized mods. But back then when it was all existentialism and rhythm and blues...Mod has been much misunderstood. Mod is always seen as this working-class, scooter-riding precursor of skinheads, and that’s a false point of view. Mod before it was commercialized was essentially an extension of the beatniks. It comes from ‘modernist ’, it was to do with modern jazz and to do with Sartre." (Green 35-38) The Mod movement did not erupt violently into existence, but slowly and secretly evolved. Dick Hebdige described a secret "noonday underground" of record stores, hairdressers, tailors, and discotheques that catered to the Mod culture; "they lived in between the leaves of the commercial calendar, as it were, in the pockets of free time which alone made work meaningful. During these leisure periods (painfully extended, in some cases, through amphetamines) there was real ‘work’ to be done: scooters to be polished, records to be bought, trousers to be pressed, tapered or fetched from the cleaners" (Hebdige 1979:53). One mod recalls the noonday underground; "I went to the lunchtime sessions at Tiles. You could disappear down there at 1 o’clock, bright sunshine outside and suddenly you ’re in pitch darkness with Jeff Dexter being a mod" (Green 84). Mod style was also "quietly" subversive; "the mods undermined the conventional meaning of ‘collar, suit and tie ’, pushing neatness to the point of absurdity…they were a little too smart, somewhat too alert" (Hebdige 1979:52). An original mod explains "the modernist thing was very much not ostentatious. Somebody else might notice how you had your tie, someone who knew about things like that, but it wasn’t ostentatious. But we did want to function as a parallel world" (Green 28). Despite their ‘undercover’ style, Mods became more visible as their numbers and the frequency of their gatherings increased (Hebdige 1979:101). As the mod secret got out, they were easily accepted and soon embraced by the media; "Superficially clean-cut and well dressed…the mods were treated as the trend-setters of the sixties’ stylishness and mobility and the press eagerly charted changes in the minutiae of mod dress and music" (Osgerby 43). Teens all over Britain joined the Mod phenomena; "When the Daily Mirror interviewed young mod, Theresa Gordon, in 1964, she said it like it was ‘You’ve got to be either a Mod or a
Rocker to mean anything. Mods are neat and clean. Rockers look like Elvis Presley, only worse.’" (Dregni 1993:12). Unlike the original modernists, the new mods were united by what they bought; "Mod was largely a matter of commodity selection…using goods as ‘weapons of exclusion’ to avoid contamination from the other alien worlds of teenaged tastes" (Hebdige 1979:110). Mods also defined themselves by what they don’t buy; "the rejection of commodities is part of the signification process. To say "I wouldn’t wear that if you paid me" is at least as strong a statement as "this is what I wear"" (Chamberlain 38). According to one mod, "you were part of a certain sort of culture and group because of the possession of so many suits, how much chrome there was o your scooter, how many girls you’d had knee-tremblers with against the back wall of various West End clubs. It was understandable: where you stood, who you were, what you were was all fairly clearly defined" (Green 38). By buying the outfits and attending mod events, one could construct their own identity outside their ascribed one. The mod scene continued to grow and change, and despite the appearance in the media of a unified youth culture whose fanatics strictly adhered to the style dictated by the moment, there were at least four mod ‘types’; the art school mod, the mainstream mod, the scooterboy, and the hard mod (Brake 75). Each group had developed their own distinct style and beared uneasy resentments against the other groups; "the mods had an intricate system of classification whereby the ‘faces’ and ‘stylists’ who made up the original coterie were defined against the unimaginative majority — the pedestrian ‘kids’ and ‘scooterboys’ who were accused of trivializing and coarsening the precious mod style" (Hebdige 1979:122). It is interesting to note that these groups seemed to express mod style differently as defined by their class. The art school mods were obviously fortunate enough to afford college and "were elaborately dressed". The mainstream mods spent their money on fashion and nightlife "to fill a dreary work life with the memories of hedonistic consumption during the leisure hours". The scooterboy invested his money in a scooter but adhered to a casual look of "anoraks, wide jeans and canvas shoes, replaced by suits and Crombie coats at night when they could be afforded". The hard mod, who later became the skinhead, maintained a very neat workman’s uniform (Brake 75).
Mods and Scooters Mod shops and events were not available in every neighborhood, so the early mods needed a way to get around; "Cars were too expensive and motorcycles too dirty. The scooter, however, offered the perfect alternative — cheap to run, clean, and — importantly — it added to the all important continental image" (Brown 19). As early as 1958, mods were seen riding Italian scooters (Hebdige 1988:111). Lambrettas became the scooter of preference amongst the mods; Vespas were built under license by the Douglas Motorcycle Company, but the Lambrettas were imported from Italy by the Aggs. In order to keep the scooter looking new each year, it became important to customize. Excessive chrome accessories and special paint jobs became a way to stay a step ahead of the crowd; "mods focused their attention on the attachment of any accessory they could screw onto their scooters… ‘all these extras would slow the bike down considerably, although this didn’t bother the mods as speed wasn’t their priority, the slower you go, the more people see you’" (Dregni 1998:82). Scooter shops opened up to service the mod scooters, most notably Eddie Grimstead opened up two London shops in the mid 60s, specializing in customized scooters (Hebdige 1988:111). Mods donned parkas to protect their expensive clothing while riding and there was even a correct way of riding; "you stuck your feet out at an angle of forty-five degrees and the guy on the pillion seat held his hands behind his back and leant back". The hooded green army parka, levis, and hushpuppies became the scooterboy’s uniform (Hebdige 1988:111). The similarity of
dress and the groups of scooter riders, made mod seem more organized, more mobile, and more threatening; "the motorscooter, originally an ultra-respectable means of transport, was turned into a menacing symbol of group solidarity" (Hebdige 1979:104). This sense of solidarity eventually led to acts of group violence and vandalism. An interview with Steve Mann reveals the perspective of the scooterboy: "I was a mod in Aldershot, where we lived, which wasn’t much fun because you used to get beaten up by squaddies every night. I had an endless succession of scooters: LD125, LI 150, SX200, TV175 — all Lambrettas. All very clapped out and highly unroadworthy. I went on a couple of runs to Brighton, I threw a deckchair through various people ’s windows, ganged up on rockers, if I could ever fine one or two of them when there were at least 100 or us. I didn’t really earn enough to be that into clothes, it was more mirrors for the scooter, extra bits of chrome. I left school at the end of ’66. I’d started an A -level course and then decided to jack it in cos I got a job on the local paper. So I was working on the local paper, taking a lot of pills, staying up all weekend and falling asleep in Aldershot court on Monday morning, when I was supposed to be sitting there reporting" (Green 84). In 1964, the scooter lead the mods into infamy on the beaches of Southern England; "Italian scooters became wedded, at least as far as the British press and television were concerned, to the image of the mods…to the image of "riotous assembly" at the coastal resorts of Southern England" (Hebdige 1988:109). During an Innocenti-sponsored event at Clacton during bank holiday weekend in the spring of 1964, reports appeared in the news about episodes of violence and vandalism from the media darlings, the mods. Vespa and Lambretta Clubs immediately expressed their disapproval to the press (Cohen 41). Each bank holiday weekend seem to get more and more violent until the Battle of Briton in August of 1964: "The words "social scootering’ had formerly summoned up the image of orderly mass rallies. Now it was suddenly linked to a more sinister collective: an army of youth ostensibly conformist — barely distinguishable as individuals from each other or the crowd — and yet capable of concerted acts of vandalism. The mods and the scooter clubs, the "Battle of Brighton", 1964, and the Brighton runs of the 1950s were connected and yet mutually opposed …After the "social aspects", the antisocial"; after Summer Holiday, My Generation…" (Hebdige 1988:109).
As disturbing as these beach clashes may have seemed at the time, most theorist agree that the media coverage of these events actually fanned the flames of subsequent encounters between the mods and rockers, as first determined by Stanley Cohen in Folk Devils and Moral Panics. Compared to the news reports, the actual damage seemed minimal; "The total amount of violence and vandalism was not great, but the events were given front-page prominence by an outraged national press. Newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express were especially voluble in their fury, reporters regaling their readers with stories of a ‘day of terror ’ in which a whole town had been overrun by a marauding mob ‘hell-bent on destruction’" (Osgerby 44).
The Decline of the Mods The publicity which had filled the mod ranks during its heyday was now destroying them. Unable to withstand the bad publicity, mainstream mods had to give up or go underground (Hebdige 1979:54). Additionally, the bad publicity had also "attracted unsavory characters who further soiled what mod had once symbolized" (Marshall 8). In the mid 60s, it became apparent that the ‘golden years’ were over. The dream of a classless society was still a dream and the kids of the 50s had not moved beyond their class. Mod split into two primary groups, those who moved into psychedelia and the hippie movement and those who became hard mods (Hebdige 1979:45, Brown 25, Moore 7, Marshall 9). The hard mods listened to much of the same music as the mainstream mods and still paid meticulous attention to their appearance, but had distanced themselves from the popular movement by abandoning the fancy clothing and accessories; "fixed in the public gaze, Mod turned, finally, against itself. After baroque, minimalism: the image of the scooter was deconstructed, the object ‘re-materialized’" (Hebdige 1988:111). These hard mods "reveled in the violent and aggressive image of post ’64 modernism and began to dress accordingly" (Marshall 9) until the press coined them "skinheads" in 1969 (Osgerby 65). The skinheads continued to listen to the soul music popularized by the mods and were also fond of Jamaican ska. They also continued to ride scooters, although they "tended to keep them bog standard or cut them right down to the bare frame, more for go than show" (Marshall 12). Scooters quietly continued to carry on the mod tradition: "the true spirit of mod had never really died in the North of England, thanks to the soul all-nighters and the scooter clubs…and central to the northern soul scene were the scooter clubs. Virtually every town in Lancashire and Yorkshire boasted a scooter club, with anything up to 200 members a piece. Throughout the Seventies, clubs would go on regular weekend runs to the coast, and by the end of the decade they had grown into massive rallies courtesy of the mod revival" (Marshall 145).
From Scooter to Scooterist: A Cultural History of the Italian Motorscooter
A Senior Thesis Presented To Prof. Anne Cook Saunders on December 17th, 1998 By Mary Anne Long Chapter Three: The Post-Modern Era The post-war ‘modern era’ youth cultures had used visual style to create a sense of solidarity. They were forward looking, seeking to achieve better living through ambition, hard work or political activism (Polhemus 43). To join a youth culture, one only needed to adopt the defined style. In his graduate thesis, Eric Chamberlain argued that the post-war youth cultures had been a reaction to postmodern society, where the old moral system had been replaced by the consumer market. Rather than be manipulated by their desires, these youth cultures had joined together to create their own value systems. On the other hand, the punk, embraced the lonely anomie of the individual and reflected back on society. "the aftermath of punk saw a transition from the more or less orderly linear history of Modernism ( a ‘history’ perceived of as such) to the simultaneity of parallel universes… that characterizes the post modern age. While up to and including punk a ‘story’ unfolds, post-punk it becomes harder and harder to discern an intelligible dramatic ‘narrative’. While previously the options were limited, the choices simple (hipster/square, mod/rocker, hippy/punk), now — post punk- a veritable Supermarket of Style came into being, with ‘tribal’ options lined up like tins of soup on a supermarket shelf" (Polhemus 55). Punk placed primary importance on individuals and unique identities were created by combining a myriad of symbols; "behind punk’s favored ‘cut ups’ lay hints of disorder, of breakdown and category confusion: a desire not only to erode racial and gender boundaries but also to confuse chronological sequence by mixing up details from different periods" (Hebdige 1979:123). The Mod Revival As noted earlier, the mod scene had quietly endured. Kids like Paul Weller, (who later became the lead singer of mod revival band, The Jam) followed bands like The Who and The Kinks through the 70s (Chamberlain 41). In seemingly isolated pockets, teens picked up the mod style again, no doubt following punk’s cue to adopt rebellious symbols of the past. Gareth Brown, author of Scooterboys recalls his early days in the mod revival: " I first became involved in the summer of ‘78… punk and disco had limited appeal…so it was with great enthusiasm that a group of contemporaries and I acquired some Sixties suites, a selection of Sixties records, and for the princely sum of l3, an American army-issue parka. I will also forever remember the purchase of my first scooter — a Vespa, which arrived on the back of an open truck
looking very sorry for itself" (Brown 28).
After the media surrounding the punks had been exhausted, the media turned its attention to the mods and features on the early mod movement appeared on television and in the news (Brown 32). In 1979, the mod revival solidified around the release of The Who’s film, Quadrophenia:: "When I first went to see Quadrophenia — with a fellow Mod revivalist and a blonde-haired young Modette — all dressed in our Sixties finery and Parkas, we got the strangest looks from the rest of the audience as we filtered into the cinema. But on the way out, well that was a different story… Never before, and never since have I felt so elated. The audience’s recognition of myself and my friends as mods was fantastic" (Brown 32). Scooters were dug out of the sheds and fixed up by these new mods; "the shortage of spare parts and the collapse of the support structure of garages mean that more scooterists are forced to service and maintain their own machines" (Hebdige 1988:114). Many teens inherited their father's old scooter or could afford to buy a used scooter; "they became a youth vehicle, providing economical transportation to youths, offering freedom and mobility, and playing a supporting role in the development of an international youth culture-- and counterculture." (Dregni 1993:7).
The Scooter Scene The mod revival had saved the Italian motorscooter and scooter rallies reached new attendance records. The Isle of Wight August Bank Holiday of 1984 was estimated to have drawn 15,000 scooter enthusiasts; "throughout the Seventies, clubs would go on regular weekend runs to the coast, and by the end of the decade they had grown into massive rallies courtesy of the mod revival" (Marshall 145). The mod revival of the early 80s came and went. As the economy tightened during the recession, there was less money for scooters and accessories. During the late 80s, scooters became cutdown again as they had been in the early 70s, but the scooter scene continued; "Lots of scooterists gave up the mod look, but didn’t want to trade in their Lammy for a second hand Skoda, and so the runs became the home of genuine enthusiasts rather than not so dedicated followers of fashion. Soon numbers were growing again, with clubs springing up all over the Britain. What one year had been a run to bucket and spade land with your mates, quickly grew into a weekend of high jinx and revelry for thousands of kids, and kids at heart. What’s more, the rallies quickly became a rainbow alliance of youth cults rather than a mod preserve, and campsites became the temporary homes for skinheads, psychobillies, mods, assorted scruffs and plain old scooterists" (Marshall 145). As Polhemus had said about the punks, the scooter scene had also become a "supermarket of style". When I attend the Isle of Wight rally this summer, I was pleased to meet mods, punks, skins, scooterboys, and to see scooters of all styles in relative, only slightly awkward, harmony.
From Scooter to Scooterist: A Cultural History of the Italian Motorscooter
A Senior Thesis Presented To Prof. Anne Cook Saunders on December 17th, 1998 By Mary Anne Long Conclusion
The scooter as an object has hardly changed at all, and in its singularity of form, has gained universal recognizability. What the scooter means to the viewer, however, could be a multitude of ideas. To complete the circle, we now see advertising that makes references to all these moments in the history of the scooter. Its image has multiplied and scooters now appear in advertisements for anything from donuts to diamonds.
"In 1995, the Independent, a daily English newspaper, declared that a ‘British Mod wave’ had hit the runways from Milan to London. Fashion designer Anna Sui placed Linda Evangelista on a vintage Lambretta and pushed her out onto the runway….In spite of what fickle designers say is "in" this minute, Mod style, music and especially scooters has never been so widespread…the scooter renaissance and subculture boasts more aficionados than during the dawn of Mod culture on Carnaby Street" (Dregni 1998:86)
Not only has the image of the scooter, and the numbers of scooterists multiplied, but these factors have now impacted the scooter industry. In fact, when Piaggio threatened to discontinue the Vespa in the late 80s due to the dwindling market, scooter enthusiasts from around the world cried out in protest; "Outcry came from all sides inspiring many a former scooter riders to dig the old machine out of the shed, restore it to better-than-new condition, and parade about town while all passersby waxed poetic about the good old days. Membership in vintage and Mod scooter clubs skyrocketed worldwide, and suddenly everyone was wiping a nostalgic tear from the corner of their eyes and daydreaming about scooters…So Piaggio gave in to the demand and brought back the Vespa" (Dregni
1993:14). In the last few years, several manufacturers have rushed into the market with "retro" style scooters. The Suzuki’s Verde, the Yamaha’s Joker, and Italjet’s Velocefiro compete with the Piaggio’s new retro ET4. While many scooterists are suspicious of the new models, there is no doubt that we will have scooters to ride for the rest of our lives.
"Road Transportation" The Smithsonian Institution Website, http://www.si.edu/nmah/youmus/ex27road.htm12/5/98 "Timemachine", The Official Vespa.com Web Site. Timemachine/Timemachine .html> October 17th, 1998. Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill & Wang, 1957. Bettinelli, Giorgio. "Worldwide Odessey" The Official Vespa.com Website. http://www.vespa.com/odyssey/odyssey.html 12/6/98.
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