RODANO, Italy — Three of us were in my daughter Sara’s Fiat 500 TwinAir, headed to a museum an easy 15-minute drive from her Milan home.
“You’re going to love it, Dad,” she said.
We passed Milan’s Linate Airport en route to the neighboring small city of Rodano, home of the Museo Scooter & Lambretta, a combination restoration shop and parts depot with virtually every significant scooter in the world on display upstairs.
The museum contains 160 scooters, some restored and others in amazing original condition. It’s the creation of Vittorio Tessera, who bought his first scooter in 1977 — a 1953 Lambretta 125 LD owned by an elderly midwife in Bormio in the Italian Alps.
“Of course I still have it . . . and ride it,” said Tessera, “but it’s not an important enough scooter to be on display here. But it was the beginning of a great passion: the goal of accumulating a complete collection of Lambrettas.”
He not only accumulated that collection but also has acquired an excellent example of every significant scooter in international motoring history — save one.
Tessera’s interests aren’t confined to the historically significant scooters in the museum. He has another 30 to 35 in his personal collection, depending on what he’s buying and selling at the time.
Then there is the wing of the museum dedicated to a collection of antique bicycles dating to the late 1800s, complete with photos and marketing brochures.
Americans visiting the museum will note an oddity in the parking lot — Tessera’s daily ride. It’s neither a scooter nor a small European sedan. Instead he drives a 1963 Mercury Colony Park station wagon, complete with the “wood” paneling.
He also owns a Model T Ford, a 1961 Cadillac convertible, and is restoring a 1949 Buick Roadmaster Sedanet, a fastback-style sedan.
All of this didn’t come easily. At 19, Tessera opened a repair shop to restore historic scooters, though at first he had to resort to also fixing mopeds and lawn mowers to stay afloat.
Soon he was concentrating on the scooters — and collecting them along with catalogs, films, photographs, mechanical drawings, and marketing posters.
His persistence persuaded the Innocenti family to give him access to its closed Lambretta factory after production ceased in 1972. The brand was bought by the Italian government, which then sold the rights to Scooters India Ltd.
Searching through the abandoned complex, Tessera obtained numerous prototypes, one-of-a-kind scooters, drawings, and films. “I have the Lambretta with Serial Number 2,” said Tessera. “No one knows what happened to No. 1, or if it still exists.”
He was intrigued by a sealed green wooden crate. When he opened it, he was stunned to find it contained a special-order gold-painted Lambretta 175 TV built for actress Jayne Mansfield, who had done promotional work for the company. However, she died in 1967 at 34 in an auto accident and the scooter never was delivered. It is now among the exhibits.
Tessera’s scooters are divided into four main categories: pre-World War II, 1945-1972, Innocenti (Lambretta), and Vespa.
“Americans may not realize it, but they were important pioneers in scooter history,” said Tessera. “The 1915 Autoped, built in New York, was the first viable scooter because it handled well, was easy to operate, and clean of grease and grime. It then became widely copied in Britain and Germany.”
In the late 1930s, Californian Foster Salsbury advanced the breed by inventing the belt-driven automatic transmission, which still is in use today.
The rise of the automobile ended the first wave of scooter popularity in the United States, but after World War II, Europeans needed them because they had no autos. They were built with sidecars, with coolers to sell gelato, as advertising and police vehicles.
Lambretta and Vespa (Piaggio) were serious competitors as they became the iconic scooters of the 1950s and ’60s. “If you drove a Vespa to work at the Lambretta factory, you’d be fired immediately and vice versa,” said Tessera.
If you have a 1937 or ’38 Moto-Scoot built in Chicago, Tessera would like to hear from you.
“It’s my dream, to find the scooter that would complete the collection,” he says.
Museo Scooter & Lambretta Via Kennedy 38, 011-39-02-9532-0438, www.museoscooter.it