Lambretta Lui: The Making Of A Cult Machine

Images: Archivio centrale dello Stato/Stile Bertone, Gautam Sen, Piero Stroppa

In the second half of the 1960s, Italian scooter manufacturer Innocenti, who made the Lambretta range of scooters and was the main competitor to the legendary Vespa from Piaggio, decided to diversify their model range and introduce an inexpensive scooterette (or scooterino, as the Italians termed them) to take on the likes of the increasingly popular mopeds.

Launched in 1968, the Lambretta Lui was a scooterette ahead of its time

The first prototype, built in 1967, by Innocenti’s in-house engineering team, managed to get the technical aspects right in terms of light and efficient 50cc (49.8cc) and 75cc two-stroke single-cylinder motors, but from the aesthetic point of view the design was classified as ‘unsellable’.

The press release images showed a pre-production prototype

Innocenti decided to approach the design house de jour—Bertone—to style their little scooterino. The brief was clear: Bertone had to come up with a design that was trendy, yet light, uncomplicated, and functional, a sort of back-to-basics scooter that was simplistic, but appealing.

The same pre-production prototype seen from rear three-quarters

“The idea of designing a lightweight scooter was completely new, yet most interesting,” remembers Bertone’s design chief Marcello Gandini, “and in some ways a challenge as we had to think very differently from the way we designed a car.”

An early prototype being tried out by Marcello Gandini's design assistant Piera Stroppa

“As the scooter had to be light and simple to make, the frame had to become a part of the overall design of the scooter,” explained the designer, and so the new scooterino from Lambretta reverted to the open frame style of the much-admired Lambretta ‘D’ type from the 1950s, but in a sweeping, rakish style, which was very advanced for even the swinging Sixties.

A simple sketch that captures the essence of the design of this cult machine

The frame had a tubular steel front end, with a bolt-on leg shield, and a monocoque pressed steel rear, under which hung the exposed engine.

The period press release image featured young ladies who were the target audience of this scooterette

Minimalist, functional, yet very stylish, the icing on the cake, in design terms, was the nicely sporty touch in the form of the die-cast aluminium handlebar spouting out of the chic headlamp nacelle.

Gandini and his team at Bertone completed the design and the prototype in just three months!

A brochure of the series production model

Innocenti management immediately approved the design and the scooter entered production unchanged.

The launch of the Lambretta Lui 50 took place on 28th May 1968, with the 75cc version following by the end of the year. For the export market, the Vega and Cometa branding was used for the 75cc model.

Despite the good reviews that Lambretta’s baby received at its launch, the scooterette was not much of a success for Innocenti, as sales of two-wheelers in Europe tanked thanks to the greater availability of cheap small cars, with Innocenti stopping production of the Lui/Vega range in June 1969, after some 37,000 units had been produced.

The little Lambretta was available in the very typical 1970s shades of bright orange, sublime blue, and a striking lime green

With the rather funky styling way too ahead of its time (even today the Lui/Vega range could still pass as a modern machine), Lambretta’s little baby is today highly valued by collectors of two-wheelers, commanding unusually high prices.

This is the one example that survives in the Bertone Collection, featuring several important Bertone vehicles, which used to be on display at their private museum at Stile Bertone

Even though the government of India bought up the entire toolings and factory of Innocenti so that Scooters India Ltd (SIL) could be established in Lucknow, the latter never seems to have considered introducing the Lui/Vega/Cometa for the Indian marketplace, thereby missing out an opportunity to add to the initial single-model range made up of the Vijai Super.

One Lambretta Lui was on display at the special exhibition on the designs of Marcello Gandini at the Italian national museum MAUTO alongside a Moto Guzzi V7 sport, another two-wheeler conceived by the design genius

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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