Rallies in the 1960s

When scooters and motorcycles flirted together

Previously I dealt with the rebirth of the rally in 1950 and the general feelings that surrounded it up until 1955 where we left the story. In the absence of any meaningful information and documentation for the second half of the 1950s, 1955 saw the end of that decade's story.

On the other hand, though, before drawing a line under this period and moving on to the meetings of the 1960s, there is one important document that deserves inclusion and serves as an introduction to this next chapter.

It's a colour film, professionally shot during the 1955 meeting, brilliantly reflecting the atmosphere of the Pasubio at the time. From the arrival of rallyists at the gates of Schio, to the awards ceremony bringing the rally to a close, the film takes you on a classic rally journey from start to finish.

Watching it brings our story of the 1950s to a close and we can move on to the following decade.

The 'unexpected beautiful time'

During the post-war period, Italy was still largely a poor country based on an agricultural economy, with low personal consumption, characteristic of a developing country. In fact in 1950 barely 10% of homes had electricity, water and indoor bathrooms.

Everything changed though between 1958 and 1963. An economic miracle erupted in Italy, turning the country upside down in a positive way; 'an unexpected beautiful time' as it was called back then.

The Pasubio 1958 route printed on an envelope produced by MC Schio for the meeting

Production of two wheelers explodes

Back in 1958 only around 13% of Italian families owned a refrigerator or television, but by 1965 the number had risen almost four-fold to 50%.

By contrast, in 1955 there were around 1 million motorcycles, rising four-fold to approximately 4.3 million in 1963. The same goes for cars, going from 1 million in 1956 to around 5.5 million in 1965.

Pasubio 1962 - Members of the Adria club, a town in the Veneto region of northern Italy, posing for a souvenir photo

This growth was in complete contrast to the situation in France where the production of motorcycles, fell by 38% in 1957. It was economic growth in France and the desire for comfort that drove consumers there towards the car, and consequently motorcycles lost their social status and a large part of the motorcycle industry collapsed in just a few years.

Pasubio 1960s - Locals and participating rallyists in the Schio city centre

The two wheel Queen

In 1960s Italy, unsurprisingly the best-selling two-wheeler was the Vespa. They abounded in clubs as well as all kinds of motorcycling events, including rallies like the Pasubio.

Italian clubs and the rallies of the time brought together scooterists and motorcyclists. I guess they must have had a little friendly teasing between them on occasions, but the common passion for two wheels obviously united them

When Enrico Piaggio filed the patent for the Vespa in Florence on 23 April 1946, his goal was to relaunch his company, which at the time served the aircraft industry and which had been badly damaged in the Second World War.

He asked one of his engineers, Corradino d'Ascanio, to create a vehicle that was inexpensive and easy to produce.

Italian touring motorcyclists during a sporting event

D'Ascanio did not like motorcycles, feeling they were uncomfortable, bulky and messy. Ironically it was these prejudices that guided his thinking and by tackling them one after the other, he envisaged a revolutionary new design.

The result was a practical and economical vehicle, primarily intended for the fairer sex, enabling them to ride a motorcycle whilst wearing a skirt and of course without getting dirty.

Scooterists and motorcyclists in the background behind the registration table for an Italian rally of this period

Originally, this machine was to be called 'Paperino' (Donald Duck), but seeing the design for the first time, someone exclaimed:

"It looks like a wasp"... (vespa, in Italian).

And the rest is history as they say.

One of the 1960s Pasubio rally commemorative pennants.

The success of the Vespa was immediate: from a paltry 2,484 models sold in 1946, production reached a peak of 2 million in 1960, with factories in ten countries around the world.

The reasons for its success was obvious. Italians who couldn't afford to buy a car or a motorbike, could live out their dream of freedom at 60 kmh for only eighty thousand lire.

Mind you, it wasn't cheap. At the time the average salary was around ten thousand lire, but the Vespa proved to be a practical (and attractive) necessity for which most people were willing to get into debt.

The demand was such that at the end of 1946 Piaggio decided to withdraw the economy model from the market, and only sell the most expensive one.

Pasubio 1962 - Rallyists at the 'arco romano' ceremony

What other features engendered its success? Many, (certainly predisposed), scooter historians agree that it was better designed than a motorcycle, with its apron-bodywork protecting the rider from dust, mud and rain.

And with its small wheels, it was possible to carry a spare tyre, (obviously not the case on a motorcycle). All this, at a time when motorcyclists often suffered punctures due to the nails that horses hooves shed on the roads.

Pasubio 1960s - Almost thirty years after its first meeting, rallyists carry on the traditional ascent of the mountain each summer on the occasion of the MC Schio rally

Let's end this narrative documenting the heyday of scooters and the Pasubio rallies of the 1960s with two mementos from the time.

The first one below is a printout, (cut into 2 sections due to its length), produced for each participant in the early 1960s by MC Schio, showing the route from Schio to the 'cappella votiva' near the top.

The second (shown below) is the registration form for this period, given to each participant taking part in the rally.

Continued ...

- Jean-Francois Helias