A Tender for your car
"Release the clutch lever gently when you take off in first," said the salesman from the Sydney Lambretta distributors. "Your gear change works like this: There's your throttle, and the anchors are there. Away you go ... it's as easy as falling off a log."
We thought that was a morbid allusion, because we were trying out a Lambretta motor scooter - a vehicle far removed from those described in ordinary "Wheels" articles.
We gingerly got on board and puttered gently down the road. At the end of a block we knew that the salesman was right - anybody from a ten-year-old child to an elderly woman can ride one of these little machines.
In case you thinks it's odd that "Wheels" staff should be riding motor scooters, this was the angle:
For many jobs a motor car is just plain impractical and much too expensive. Again, the average family often have occasional when they need two transports at once - and a brace of cars are out of the question for most of us.
Parking a car in the city is prohibited. Another point is that it's too much trouble, for instance, to get out the car to go up to the shops for a couple of grocery items.
What stimulated these thoughts were the advertisements by motor scooter distributors. So we called on the representatives of one make, the Lambretta and asked if we could try out a machine for a day or so.
We told them we wanted to test it as a second vehicle, a stand-by; call it a tender for the family car.
So that was why we were riding around on a Lambretta.
We were left with this impression: Tha a motor scooter is a practical, down-to-earth and thoroughly useful unit.
It carries one or two people at speeds up to 45 or 50m.p.h., is dirt cheap to maintain and goes a long way on one gallon of petrol. One hundred and thirty miles, in fact.
With this scooter we temporarily solved the problems of city parking, how to get to an important meeting when our car wasn't available, and how to park a transport at night if you haven't a garage.
What appealed to us was the way we beat the no-parking business. instead of leaving it at the kerb, we lumbered the scooter into the lift, whisked up to our sixth-floor office, stared down the amused glances of our secretary, and parked the Lambretta in the care of the girl on the switch.
A mid-morning up-town appointment saw us reverse the entrance with no trouble at all.
Coming back through the city took about five minutes less than it takes a car.... we drove straight through snarled-up traffic and found the scooter easier to handle than a four-wheeled vehicle.
By that time we were used to riding it, found the controls came automatically. Balance is easy - you sit on it and go. Going around corners is nothing more than a sub conscious lean.
Then it came on to rain, and we had no cure for that - we ran for shelter. Later, when the streets were slushy, the big splash guards kept our clothes free from mud and water spots.
On one set of greasy tramlines the scooter skittered sideways. We just sat. The machine went on, stable and still upright, so we decided that the inexperienced need have no fear of falling off.
Later in the day we took the machine out to Centennial Park to see what it was like on rough roads.
It was good. The Springing on both wheels damps out all but the biggest bumps, and you even ride the machine up and down low kerbs. Open grass and natural hillsides are smooth underfoot.
Driving it is a.lot different from a car. The Engine is a single-cylinder two-stroke of 125 c.c. and develops about four or five b.h.p. It's started with a gentle push on the kickstart pedal mounted on one side. After riding in a car the engine seems noisy and makes a peculiar pop-popping sound, but you can thrash it along as hard as you like and it won't back down.
Lubrication is simple. You pour a measure of oil into the tank with the petrol and it's automatic from then on.
Power is taken to the 400 x 8 balloon wheels by shaft drive. Suspension is by a torsion bar at the back, matched by swinging arms and helical springs in front.
To fix a flat you take either wheel off, just like a Carla nd put on a spare. If you want to repair the puncture then and there, the rims are split to make it easy.
Ignition is by flywheel magneto, which means there's no generator or battery system to look after. On the other hand it has disadvantages.
We found that the headlights are dependant on engine speed, and unless you're doing a fair clip you do't get much light. It's a little disconcerting in traffic at night.
At speed the light is adequate for the job. You can't expect car illumination, after all.
All the controls are different, too. There are two brake controls, one for each wheel. The front is worked from a level on the right handle-bar, and a foot pedal operates the back.
On the score of braking the scooter rated well. Hard stops are quite devastatingly sudden.
There are three speeds forward, naturally none backwards.
The handle-bar grip on the left is the gear shift, with a hand clutch lever attached. To change you pull the clutch lever, twist the handle-bar grip around to the next stop and let out the clutch.
It's as easy to use as the most fool-proof of synchromesh gearboxes, but on the machine we tried the mechanism was out of adjustment on the change into top. Picking up this gear was chancy and often we hit the neutral in-between instead.
The twist grip throttle is on the right handle-bar. Lights and horn are combined into a press-button rotary switch. When pushed right around this turns off the motor. (Thi sis a magneto cut-out similar to an ignition switch).
Let's assess the scooter so far. We used it as a second string, found it more practical for some work than a car, most inexpensive to run.
Another point we found out is that you can put the machine inside a big car, in the back seat, providing you have a reasonable loading ramp.
Its 156lb weight is not too heavy for a woman to handle, and any girl can start it with ease.
So we say quite seriously that motor scooters are not toys. Like all else, we'd like to see some improvements made in this particular model - which would increase their practical value still further.
An easier way of pulling the Lambretta on to its stand when you park would be welcome. And a needed optional extra is a luggage carrier of some sort, because at the moment you can't carry any luggage on the model we tried. we've seen pictures of a basket carrier which fits on the front.
The seat is small, could be bigger. It's adequate, but we like comfort. A big foam rubber seat really would have cushion the ride.
Price of the deluxe model we rode was £222. A standard model, which has less shielding and other minor differences, costs £197/10/-.
They're made for hard work; and, in fact, our demonstrator had done some thousands of miles without showing any ill-effects apart from the gear change losing its adjustment.
We gave our scooter back with regret. It was something new to us, and we tried it thoroughly. It proved that it was, indeed, a practical tender for our car.