When Innocenti of Milan decided to sell its ‘motor division’ it was soon split in two. British Leyland (formerly British Motor Corporation), whose cars the Italian company had produced under licence for over a decade, took over the four-wheeled production line. But what about the scooters and three-wheelers?
The fact that the scooter market was in poor condition compared the heydays of the late 1950s meant BL didn’t want anything to do with Lambretta. However, over in India the waiting list for such vehicles was high enough for the Indian Government to approach Innocenti with an offer to take their ailing scooter production line off their hands. Scooters India Ltd (SIL) was set up in 1972 to restart Lambretta production of the very latest Lambretta and Lambro models. SIL bought the tooling for some of the final models produced by Innocenti including the dl/GP and J50 Lambrettas, and the late square cab Lambro. SIL also purchased the Lambretta and Lambro brand names which meant the then current Indian Lambretta licencee, Auto Products India (API), had to rebrand their Series 2-based scooters, which they did to Lamby.
SIL’s production of the Lambretta did not begin until 1975 when the first of the GP150 scooters rolled off the production line. Soon the Vijai brand name was introduced for home market scooters with the Lambretta brand mostly used on export-only models.
Their three-wheeler Lambro models (later to be branded the Vikram locally) entered production around 1977/8 followed by the GP200 later in 1978 (some versions still badged the dl in Italy and the European markets) and then in the early 1980s a version of the Lambretta Cento too.
Over the last few years various articles have appeared in ScooterNova magazines about SIL production, based on facts and first hand information passed on by those involved with Lambretta. We celebrated 70 years of the Lambretta worldwide in edition 3 of ScooterNova magazine…
…looked at the Sunny in edition 5…
…celebrated the GP in edition 16…
…and published an introduction to the Lambretta J-range in edition 20).
Mind you there are still many on social media claiming they have Indian Lambrettas that pre-date when production actually began and/or are made of entirely Italian parts. Simply considering the logistics of building cheap transport for the local Indian market should help fathom that one out.
Despite their best intentions, production numbers never really matched those of the rival Bajaj produced scooter (the former Vespa licencee in India that continued to produce Vespa-like scooters long after the agreement ended), and being a Government owned business allegedly meant the workers in the public sector had an easier time, compared to those working in the private sector with regards to how much graft they may or may not have had to put in. The Indian Government did authorise numerous regional satellite factories to produce scooters sent in kit form from SIL for their respective local markets, but things simply didn’t work out as well as they could have.
As the 90s arrived SIL three-wheeled production continued at a steady, if less than impressive rate (again Bajaj ruled the market with a Vespa Ape derived model both locally and in various global markets too), while the Lambretta slowly plodded along beside it until SIL ended two-wheeled production in 1997. Speaking to the UK’s main importers of scooters and parts from SIL over the years, AF Rayspeed and Scooter Restorations, has given me a great insight on what they have been through while dealing with the company and what the potential could have been.
Sadly the Indian Government have for a long time realised SIL wasn’t working and on numerous occasions its name has cropped up on Indian news stories about ‘sick companies’ which is what those owned by the government that don’t earn they keep are referred too.
Various attempts have been made to sell SIL as a going concern to businesses such as Piaggio and TVS Suzuki, but nothing came of those, partly I believe due to conditions relating to the land on which the factory is located. Also I suspect because by then the vehicles they produced were outdated.
SIL have been producing their Vikram three-wheeler in both CNG and electric versions for a while now, but in numbers that are likely to be greatly overshadowed by the numerous other three-wheeler manufacturers in India, which now includes Piaggio who decided to go elsewhere in the country for their return to that local market.
SIL also suggested they may have had an electric Lambretta on the drawing board, as reported by SLUK a while back here, but if you’ve been following the SIL saga for as long as I have, sadly I took that with a pinch of salt.
So despite threatened closure for quite a few years now, and the hopes of many I’m sure that someone would buy it, news reached us courtesy of the Economic Times in India that the Government have finally had enough. According to their story, “the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) is believed to have given consent to shutting down of Lucknow-based Scooters India Ltd at its meeting on Wednesday, sources said.”
The last 100 or so employees will be offered redundancy, the company de-listed from the stock exchange and, “147.49 acres of the company’s land shall be returned to the Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Authority at mutually agreed upon rates.”
Apparently the brand names owned by SIL (and therefore presumably the Indian Government) are to be sold off separately, which means they are likely to be snapped up by someone to legitimately brand a modern retro scooter (and maybe a three-wheeler too) with the classic Italian names from the past.
There is a saying that all good things come to an end, and in my opinion once SIL has gone that is probably the time to end the legacy of the Lambretta and Lambro once and for all. Sadly, that is unlikely to happen.
Of course this could simply be another story about a ‘sick’ Government-owned company in India, but somehow this one feels a little more final than those I’ve read before…
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