Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lambrettas, racing and speed records

The Lambretta is so well conceived that it starts setting world records the year after it is launched. These Italian scooters challenge the French-made light motorcycles that have been dominating the four-speed 125cc class up until now. In its first experiment to turn two Lambretta As into racing machines, Innocenti reduces the structure of the frame to the bare essentials, replacing the rear section with sections of light tubing.

A large fuel tank is placed between the rider’s legs in true motorcycle fashion to enable the scooter to cover long distances without having to stop to refuel. There is a larger carburettor, the muffler is reduced to a straight tube, and the engine has a higher compression ratio. The engineers also install a dynamic aluminium conveyor to help improve the engine cooling. At this point the engine is capable of a maximum of just 5300 RPM, which is relatively low for a racing motor scooter.
The engineer entrusted with the task of organising the first trial of the racing scooter is Luigino Innocenti, the son of the illustrious founder. On the morning of 11 February 1949 the Lambretta prepares to set a new world record on the road from Rome to Ostia. Ridden for nine hours at a stretch, it breaks thirteen world records: nine of them in the four-speed 125cc class, and four in the class up to 175cc.
Despite this remarkable success, the head engineer Pier Luigi Torre is still not satisfied and makes some further modifications in an attempt to shave off precious seconds.

The setting of one record immediately calls for a second, so just two months after these first victories, Innocenti packs the Lambretta’s bags and ships it off to the famous Montlhéry motor racing track in France in the hope that it will be able to break the records that it has just set in Italy. This time Innocenti also wants to break the 24-hour marathon scooter race record. To prepare the scooter for this next challenge, the engineers make further alterations to the body. An aerodynamic box is placed on the front for the headlamp, and the scooter is fitted with a new carburettor designed to produce an adjustable mix to compensate for the difference in temperature during the day and during the night.
Masetti, Brunori and Rizzi are invited to compete in the race. Angonoa is replaced by Masserini who is seen as the rising star, and Doctor Scotti (the very active manager at Innocenti) also takes part.
On 23 and 24 March 1949, the little Lambretta spins around the Montlhéry circuit for 24 hours at a stretch and manages to set 33 world records.

Convinced that the scooter will not make it, the French timekeepers have not planned to have timekeepers on duty at night, so they have to call in reinforcements from Paris. The only problem the scooter, has to contend with is the continual burnout of the front headlamp which forces the driver to stop again and again.
Greedy for even more international success the Lambretta shows up at Montlhéry again on 17 February 1949, less than a month after its debut on foreign soil. This time Innocenti aims to break the 48-hour marathon scooter race record. The same drivers regroup to challenge the world record on the same Lambretta. A short time ago this scooter was regarded as little more than a toy that could be used to get around the city. Now, it is preparing to challenge the world.

A dozen of the most internationally-accredited motorcycle journalists and a huge group of leading technicians and engineers are present to witness the event. The Lambretta zips around in front of their incredulous eyes, lap after lap, for 48 hours at a stretch, without showing any sign of losing power or slowing down. Having completed the marathon race, the young Masserini shows that the Lambretta is still performing at its best by taking it for another ten laps at its maximum speed of 110 to 113 km/h. The public is in awe. These results are enough to convince even the most hardened sceptics of the power of Innocenti’s Lambretta. The high-level design and engineering of the engine makes it virtually indestructible and the stamped metal frame is equally resilient.
At the end of its highly successful run, the Lambretta has earned a much-needed break, and for the rest of 1949 it remains within the walls of the Innocenti factory whether is undergoes further improvements in preparation for even more trials.

At the dawn of a new decade, Innocenti shows up at the track with a completely streamlined scooter that allows the driver to manoeuvre. This scooter is expected to be even faster and will hopefully beat some of the world records set by the French rider Jonghi that the Lambretta failed to break the year before.
During the trial runs the three drivers, Masserini, Masetti, and Ambrosini find it difficult to hold to the track when the new fairing is confronted with violent crosswinds on the high-bank turns. With just two hours to go to the start, the trial is called off on account of the weather conditions. The Lambretta has to be content with just setting six world records. Nevertheless the Innocenti technicians are pleased with the improvements they have been able to make in just a few months.

Needless to say, Piaggio does not fail to notice the outstanding results being achieved by its arch rival. In March 1950 Piaggio unveils its covered Vespa on the Montlhéry racetrack. But the Vespa riders Castiglioni and Spadoni also have to wait until April to complete their time trials due to bad weather. The commendable results the Vespa finally achieves simply fuels the famous rivalry between Piaggio and Innocenti.
To meet the speed challenge, Innocenti endeavours to develop a new Lambretta that is completely encased in a protective fairing. The oval profile of the aerodynamic scooter flattens out at the sides, and there is an ample front windscreen and an extended rear tail to assist with the steering. The aesthetics of the design might be somewhat questionable, but the new fairing proves to be very effective in numerous time trials. From 27 September to 5 October 1950, this Lambretta ridden by Ambrosini, Ferri, and Masetti conquers the Montlhéry racetrack yet again. It breaks no less than 22 world records and completely rules out any progress the Vespa has made in the meantime.

Having shown the world that the Lambretta’s mechanical system is robust enough to excel in endurance races, Innocenti turns its attention to speed in the 125cc category. By this stage the Vespa has already set a few records with Mazzoncini reaching an incredible speed of 171 km/h.
The head engineer Pier Luigi Torre designs an extremely streamlined fairing inspired by the lines of a fish. The scooter has a tail at the rear and air ducts in front (which look like gills). The engine is supercharged with a volumetric compressor that increases the power to a good 16hp at 9000 RPMS.

On 14 April Romolo Ferri hits the road near Terracina on this new and improved racing machine, reaching the fantastic speed of 190 km/h, beating the Vespa by a good 20 km/h. But this trial is also plagued by bad weather which affects the final results. The technicians had originally predicted that the scooter could easily reach a speed of 200 km/h. At the end of May 1951, the Lambretta goes to Montlhéry for the last time in an attempt to improve on its one-hour speed record. The scooter used in the trial is the same as the scooter that was used in Terracina but without the special volumetric compressor.
Ferri and Poggi, the two drivers entrusted with the task of showing what the scooter can do, use their incredible skill to set new record of 195.8 (?) km/h for one hour.
Any other motorcycle manufacturer would have been satisfied with these exceptional results, but Innocenti is still determined to improve on these triumphs. Just two months after this victory on French soil, the members of the Innocenti team are sent to Monaco where they will attempt to set another record. Above all they hope to surpass the 200 km/h speed limit.
For this trial, the Lambretta is modified further still. It is fitted with a new volumetric compressor, and the redesigned fairing makes for a drag coefficient of just over .09.

After a few runs to get used to the new scooter, Romolo Ferri test drives it on the highway between Monaco and Inglostadt on 8 August. After a few warm-up runs, he is ready to attempt to break the 200 km/h barrier. The Lambretta shows that it is easily up to the task and sets new world records for both the fastest kilometre and the fastest mile.
In addition to this feat, Ferri also sets six other world records, once again showing – if any further proof is needed at this point – the high level of technical expertise that Innocenti’s Centro Studi has reached in the field of motorcycling in the four short years since its debut. With these formidable results, Innocenti decides to call it a day in the world of motor racing. No other motorcycle manufacturer, not even Piaggio, dared to challenge the speed record set by the super fast Lambretta. Even today, the Lambretta is still associated with the speed record in the 125 class having only been relegated to second place all these years later.



  1. I am thoroughly convinced in this said post. I am currently searching for ways in which I could enhance my knowledge in this said topic you have posted here. It does help me a lot knowing that you have shared this information here freely.

  2. The 8th picture is actually the Vespa with most probably Mazzoncini attempting a speed record.

  3. Aren't pre 1979 records frozen by the FIM so cannot be beaten ?
    The 1951 Ferri machine could not be classified by the FIM as a scooter today and would require major structural changes even to enter as a streamliner motorcycle.