" What does the scooter mean to you? It depends of course on your perspective. For some, the small displacement, step through scooter (with a skirt) is redolent of mid-century modernism, evoking the smells of Soho coffee bars and the texture "
Scooter Designer: Corradino D’Ascanio
The Abruzzan genius of industrial design who created the modern scooter
Whatever your scooter preference – the long, sleek slimness of the Lambretta or the relatively substantial, reliable and zippy Vespa profile – the same artist-designer can be credited with coming up with the scooter formula.
It was the end of the war. Italian society had suffered from a couple of decades of home-grown fascism, followed by a couple of short years of Nazi occupation – and then an even shorter, terribly destructive Allied campaign to kick out both these imposters.
The country was suffering – but Italy’s genius for mechanical flair and that stylishly energetic urge to get things done with scarce resources went to the heart of the creation of the scooter. The Cushman scooter had been a lasting success, not only with the American troops who occupied Italy once the Nazis were defeated – but with the Italian population itself.
The seed of an idea had been sown.
Ferdinando Innocenti, so the story goes, commissioned designer Corradino D’Ascanio (above) to create a cheap, robust, practical small bike like the Cushman, but for the Italian masses whose task it would be to drag the country out of the mire.
The brief was simple, but difficult to fulfil. The bike had to be easy to ride for both men and women, should be able to carry a passenger, and not get its driver’s clothes dirty.
D’Ascanio, who was born in 1891 in Pescara on the Adriatic coast, had been one of the designers of the earliest rotor-bladed flying machines for the Agusta corporation. He apparently hated motorcycles regarding them as heavy, ugly icons of brutalism.
The machine D’Ascanio built for Innocenti was built on a traditional motorcycle-type spar frame, with gear shift located on the left handlebar, the engine mounted directly onto the rear wheel. The front leg shields kept the rider dry and clean and the step-through design was there.
Problem was that Innocenti had wanted it mass-produced from rolled tubing, rather than a stamped spar frame D’Ascanio specified. This would allow the industrialist to utilise his existing factories – thereby cutting set-up costs drastically.
This was a deal breaker for D’Ascanio, who took his design directly to Enrico Piaggio. They pair took the ‘98cc’ scooter to patent in 1946.
The rest, as they say, is history.
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