From the classic Vespas to the more contemporary Kymcos and Hondas, scooters are a common sight in European, Asian, and even some American cities.

But as common as they are, there are some lesser-known facts about scooters.

For example, do you know what the first “scooter” was? (hint – it wasn’t the Vespa)

That’s what you’re about to discover in this article – along with 6 more things you didn’t know about scooters.

We won’t focus too much on a specific brand or model. Instead, the focus is on scooters as a whole.

#1. How Old Is The Scooter, Really?

As famous and iconic as the Piaggio Vespa might have been, it wasn’t the first scooter – far from it.

The first production motorcycle, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, first saw the light of day in 1894. Then, in 1902,  the French built the Auto-Fauteuil.

What’s interesting, though, is that with step-through frames, you could argue that these two are actually scooters rather than motorcycles.

Either way, the first mass-produced vehicle that could be considered a “scooter” goes back to 1914.

Meet the “Autoped:”

As you can see, it’s a far cry from the Vespa or any other modern-day motor scooter. If anything, it looks more like one of those e-scooters.

Made by the Long Island City, New York-based Autoped Company, the Autoped had a 155cc air-cooled 4-stroke engine and 10″ tires. 

Its top speed was 32 km/h (20 miles per hour) – a frighteningly high speed considering that you had to stand up while riding it.

And if you thought that was strange – wait until you see how you’d steer it.

To engage the clutch, you’d pull the whole handlebar assembly away from you. If you wanted or had to stop, you’d pull the handlebars towards you.

Let’s be grateful this design didn’t catch on. Despite this, the Autoped Company continued to make Autoped until 1921.

The same year in Britain, ABC Motorcycles introduced the ABC Skootamota (try saying that name with a straight face).

The Skootamota had a single-cylinder, 125cc engine, and unlike the Autoped, it actually had a seat for you to sit on:1

 

Regardless of whether you consider the Skootamota more of a “scooter” than the Autoped that came out before it, these two designs show that the scooter goes back further than post-WWII.

#2. Some Police Departments In The UK Have Used Scooters

Would you laugh at the thought of a cop chasing you down on a Kymco Movie 150 with a “POLICE” sticker slapped on it?

Despite this, one police department in the British West Midlands used scooters like Kymco I mentioned above as law enforcement vehicles.

To find out more about it, check out this video from the Men and Motors YouTube channel:

#3. Scooters Have Been Used In Warfare

As if the police department using scooters to enforce the law wasn’t strange enough, how about using them as war vehicles?

The most well-known scooter to get called up for military service was the Vespa 150 T.A.Pwhich really stands out with its 75mm anti-tank cannon.

But the T.A.P wasn’t the only scooter that saw use in battle – there were other designs as well – one of them being the British-made Welbike (seen below:)

Built between 1942-1945 (while Piaggio was still making fighter planes), the Welbike was powered by a 98cc two-stroke engine and was used by British forces, mainly the 1st and 6th Airborne divisions.

As such, the bike was designed to be dropped inside a large canister, which the paratroopers would assemble once in the field.

At least, that was the idea. In reality, the bike’s container weighed so much that it would often land too far away from the intended drop zone.

And even when the bike was assembled and good to go, its small engine wasn’t powerful enough to cope with the mud and rough battlefield conditions.

But although the Welbike wasn’t quite the war hero, other manufacturers experimented with the idea of a foldable scooter even after WWII ended.

In 1946, ironically the same year the very first Vespa scooter rolled off the factory floor at Piaggio, another motor scooter called the “Corgi” saw the light of day:

Like the Welbike, the Corgi had a 98cc two-stroke engine and initially had to be started by pushing it, although later models included a kickstart mechanism.

Between 1946 and 1953, over 27,050 Corgis were made, some of which the U.S. Air Force used during the Korean War to transport technicians and maintenance staff.

#4. Some Scooter Manufacturers Had a Previous Background in Making Fighter Planes 

It’s well-known that Piaggio built fighter aircraft before rebranding itself as a scooter manufacturer post-WWII (I even mentioned this earlier in this article).

But Piaggio wasn’t alone in going from planes to scooters. In Germany, there was a company called “Heinkel,” which had a remarkably similar story.

During the war, Heinkel built several fighter and heavy bombing aircraft for the Luftwaffe, but after the war, they had to make bicycles, microcars, and scooters.

And in 1953, they introduced their most noted scooter – the “Tourist:”

Although its design wasn’t as stylish as the Vespa, the Heinkel Tourist was considered a scooter of pure luxury, with its more comfortable seat and cleaner 4-stroke engine.

It’s no wonder it was referred to as the “Rolls Royce of Scooters” in the UK and the “Caddilac of Scooters” in the U.S.

Today, the Heinkel Tourist is one of the most noteworthy 1960s scooters that are not Vespas or Lambrettas.

#5. Around the UK on Two 50cc Scooters

Whenever 50cc scooters are brought up, some people say they’re too slow and impractical for anyone over 15.

But that didn’t stop two men named Robin Hill and Rob Kitchen from Lancaster, UK, from going around their home country on two 50cc Aprilia scooters.

The story of how and certainly why they did it is nothing short of remarkable, and most of it is in this video from Men and Motors:

#6. The 1979 Movie “Quadrophenia” Kickstarted A Scooter Renaissance in the 1980s

Although the streets of Swinging Sixties Britain were full of scooters, many of which were ridden by Mods, by the 1970s, things took a different turn.

The wish of “I hope I die before I get old,” shouted by The Who’s lead sign Roger Daltrey in the song My Generation, didn’t come true – for him or the Mods.

Instead, many of them did grow old. And when they did, the Vespas and Lambrettas were swapped for cars like Minis and Rovers.

Scooters became obsolete for the most part – until November 2nd, 1979.

On that day, the movie Quadrophenia, based on the 1973 album by The Who of the same name, premiered in cinemas all over the UK.

And by the time the 1980s rolled in, that movie had triggered a Mod-revival movement and a renewed interest in scooters.2

Curious to find out more about the scooters and motorcycles of Quadrophenia? Check out the article about them over here.

#7. Which Was The First CVT Scooter?

Today, CVT transmissions are standard for most scooters – they give them that easy-to-ride “twist & go” appeal to many people.

But which scooter company got the ball rolling?

The honor goes to an American-made scooter called “Salsbury Motor Glide” that was made as early as 1938 ( the 1948 version is pictured below, in the middle):

References:

  1. NationalMotorMuseum.co.uk
  2. OWEN, S. (2022). Scootering in The 1980s. Banovallum Books.