Top 10 Strangest Scooters Ever Manufactured
Small, compact, practical, but definitely strange!by Harry Fisher, on LISTEN 10:42
Ever since Piaggio produced the first Vespa after the Second World War, the scooter has provided cheap transport for the masses. Most of them have managed to combine practicality with a large slice of style but others have just been plain weird.
Čezeta 501 - 1957-1964, 2018-Present
Produced from 1957 to 1964 in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the Čezeta 501 was manufactured by Česká Zbrojovka Strakonice, alternatively known as ČZ.
ČZ was a typical Communist-era product, being cheaply produced and never at all stylish: they were basic transport for a population that never knew personal wealth or even freedom.
The Čezeta 501 had bizarre styling, typical of the time. At over six-and-a-half feet long, it had a distinctive torpedo-shaped body, with the fuel tank above the front wheel and a large storage compartment under the seat, which was long enough to carry two people.
The 501 was the first model produced and was powered by a 175cc, two-stroke single cylinder engine, driving through a foot-operated four-speed gearbox. The rear suspension on the first models was by a rubber block supporting the single-sided engine/drive/rear wheel structure, while later models had coil-over shock absorbers.
As of 2018, Čezeta is back in production with an electric scooter, retaining the unique styling.
Salisbury Motor Glide - 1937-1948
Pioneering scootering in America - and, indeed, the world - was Foster Salsbury, a businessman based in California. Despite the odd looks, the Motor Glide was a hit, adopted by celebrities, and with features that were way ahead of their time.
The Motor Glide featured a revolutionary variable speed transmission that solved many of the problems suffered by such transmissions and worked better even than that of the Vespa, which only appeared much later, after World War 2. Also, it pre-dated both the Vespa and the Honda Super Cub with its step-through design.
Initially powered by a two-stroke Evinrude engine, this was later swapped for a Johnson four-stroke. The first Motor Glides had exposed mechanicals, which were enclosed for the Aero model and beyond. Foster’s problem was that he was undercapitalized and rivals such as Cushman stole the market from under his feet.
Nevertheless, development and production continued through the war, leading up to the ultra-stylish Model 85 with its aerodynamic space-age bodywork.
Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon C-10 - 1946-1963
The aftermath of the second world war was the real catalyst for the rise of the scooter, as war-ravaged countries struggled to get back on their feet and populations needed cheap transport. Vespa and Honda are the best-known of these, but another Japanese manufacturer also got in on the act.
The Mitsubishi Silver pigeon C-10 bore a striking similarity to the Salsbury Motor Glide, which is no surprise as Koujiro Maruyama imported one to Japan after the end of the war and it was put into production by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Along with Honda, the C-10 represented one of the main contributions to Japan’s post-war transportation boom.
Scooters were so important to Japan’s industry that a Silver Pigeon C-10 was presented to the Emperor of Japan! The Silver Pigeon was developed steadily over the next 17 years, with more than 463,000 produced.
Honda Cub EZ90 - 1991-1996
The Honda Super Cub has long since passed the milestone of 100 million units produced, although it is likely that the EZ90 forms a minute portion of that number!
This was pure 1990s styling, featuring fully-enclosing plastic bodywork. It was also easy to ride, featuring a fully automatic gearbox and electric start.
Where the EZ90 broke new ground was that it was designed as an off-road scooter, complete with knobbly tires. Even more bizarrely, there was a version called the EZ-Snow, which came with a tracked rear set-up with a ski in place of the front wheel!
Honda Zook - 1990
The perception that the Italians lead the way in scootering is actually wide of the mark. Certainly, the Vespa continues to define scooters in the 2020s, but it follows the same design rules as the very first examples in the 1940s.
For real scooter innovation, we have to look to Japan and, as might be becoming clear in this list, Honda. There is no lack of wacky vision in the design halls of Honda, as the Zook shows.
A top speed of 25mph was plenty for the tiny 8-inch tires, which actually came with footprints as part of the tread design! Also, looking at that seat, you might not want to go very far, either: it was designed not for comfort - as might be obvious! - but so it would act as a helmet holder!
Actually, you couldn’t go very far as the petrol tank holds only half a gallon. There was no battery so it was kick start only and the rest of the bike was stark simplicity itself: a tiny speedo, lights and mirrors, and the simplest bodywork imaginable.
Honda Juno - 1954-1955
While the Super Cub put Honda on the map, the success of the Vespa in Europe prompted Honda to initially produce a small-wheel scooter of its own. The Juno was a deliberately luxurious scooter, modeled along the lines of the Vespa.
It featured the first electric start on any motorcycle, a full windscreen with tilting sun shade and turn signals built into the fairing, which was fabricated out of fiber reinforced plastic, another first for Japan.
In the words of Honda executive vice-president Kihachiro Kawashima, the Juno was a ‘splendid failure’, with only 5,980 produced in a year and a half of production. It was expensive, the engine overheated, it was too heavy thanks to the bodywork which meant it was underpowered and unwieldy, the suspension was problematic and customers didn’t take to having to operate the clutch via a hand lever.
Honda clearly learned from the mistakes, as the Super Cub, which was introduced in 1958, proved.
Lambretta Record - 1951
Before Piaggio came to dominate the Italian scooter market, it had a serious rival in the Lambretta, produced by Innocenti. Both manufacturers spent huge sums of money to promote their products, not least in the field of record-breaking.
The title of fastest production scooter engine was important to both manufacturers and they poured resources into beating each other. There were many speed records to be broken but the one that mattered was the outright top speed record.
On the 8th August, 1951, this Lambretta streamliner managed to break the 200km/h barrier with a speed of 201km/h (120.6mph) using a 125cc engine.
With that record, Lambretta held every 125cc record and Vespa decided enough was enough which was maybe the right decision as Vespa flourished while Lambretta faded by 1972.
Piaggio Ape Calessino - 1953
Proving that the basic Vespa idea was hugely practical and able to be molded into different rôles, the Piaggio Ape was designed as a cheap, practical vehicle for tradesmen, deliveries, farmers, and anyone who needed a load-carrying vehicle.
‘Vespa’ means ‘wasp’ in Italian, and is a reference to the side profile of the scooter with its bulbous tail, narrow waist, and antenna-like handlebars. ‘Ape’ is Italian for ‘bee’, a play on words given that it is based on the Vespa.
At the front, the Ape is a pure Vespa, with the engine mounted under the seat. At the back, however, there is a solid axle carrying wide-spaced wheels which could support a large body in a variety of configurations.
Quite how fast this Ape Calessino could travel with a 150cc two-stroke motor pulling along a ‘woody’ rear passenger compartment, not to mention two people (three with the rider) is not recorded but, as a way of getting into the taxi business in the crowded streets of Rome or Milan, it was perfect.
Vespa 150 TAP
Is that driver in front bothering you? Never mind: just light the blue touch paper of the bazooka sitting underneath the seat and he’s history!
The Vespa 150 TAP was an anti-tank (seriously!) scooter made in the 1950s for use with French paratroops. It was created by the licensed assembler of Vespas in France and featured a reinforced frame designed to handle the weight of a recoilless M20 75mm rifle. Light it might have been, but it could still penetrate up to 100mm of armor with the right warhead.
It was designed to be parachuted into war zones in pairs, accompanied by a two-man team. The gun was carried on one scooter, and the ammunition on the second (and I know which I would rather be riding!) The gun wasn’t fired from the scooter, more’s the pity, but was mounted on a tripod before firing. However, in the event of an emergency, it could be fired while mounted on the scooter.
600 were produced between 1956 and 1959.
Honda Motocompo - 1981-1983
The Honda Motocompo was designed to be a ‘trunk bike’, intended to fit inside what was then the smallest Honda automobile, the City Turbo 2. The Motocompo folded into a box shape that fitted perfectly into the trunk of the City 2, which seems strange as the City 2 was small enough to get into even the narrowest of alleys. Of course, it would fit into larger car trunks but Honda chose to launch it at the same time as the diminutive City 2, whose trunk space was designed around the scooter.
It featured a 49cc single cylinder engine and had a top speed of 35mph. History doesn’t record how long you would need to leave it to cool down before trying to manhandle it into the boot without burning either yourself or melting the car’s interior!