“Culture & Customization – The Motor Scooter Story” Book Review

If you love scooters—and let’s face it, a lot of us do because we may have experienced our first motorized two-wheel rides on one—Barry John’s new Culture & Customization: The Motor Scooter Story is a book you’ll want to give a look.

With over 200 color and black-and-white images, illustrations (drawn by the author), the book offers remarkable insights into brand histories, racing, design, and development of the motor scooter. John sheds light on the scooter’s many forms and little-known aspects of what has become one of the world’s most popular vehicles.

 

John reveals the very earliest beginnings of motorized scooters in America in 1915 with early stand-on scooters such as the Autoped. From there, he traces the evolution and development of the step-through, single and double-seat models from around the world, and identifies the watershed post-WWII period when scooter sales took off.

Economical, reliable transportation has always been in demand, but it was essential in post-war Europe and Asia. In that environment, the motor scooter really came into its own, inspired by machines such as the British Excelsior Welbike and the American-made Cushman Model 32 that the military brought to Italy during WWII.

John describes how much of the post-war development of the scooter as a major factor in personal transportation occurred in Italy as Piaggio’s Vespa and Innocenti’s Lambretta battled for domestic and export market dominance. Similarly, in Japan, with the Nakajima Aircraft Company no longer allowed to produce military aircraft after the war, the company was re-invented as the Fuji Sangyo Company. The result was the Fuji Rabbit S1 in 1946. Mitsubishi joined the fray in Japan with the Silver Pidgeon scooter, and Honda came out with its Juno scooter in 1954.

1959 Fuji Rabbit Scooter. Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

Culture & Customization: The Motor Scooter Story tracks the industrial and cultural evolution of the Scooter through the 1950s and ’60s, providing a great overview of the many manufacturers that joined the scooter market as demand continued to grow worldwide. One thing that might be considered for a future edition of this comprehensive volume is Harley-Davidson’s entry into the scooter market—the Topper. It was in the product line from 1960 to 1965, though only 7,445 were built.

John recounts some remarkable achievements with stock and radically modified scooters in land speed racing and drag racing (referred to as sprinting in the U.K.), as well as in globe-trotting adventure riding right up to recent years. He also explains the “mods” social phenomena spawned in 1960s Britain, which combined scooter customization with an appreciation of British R&B bands such as The Who and The Small Faces.

Jimmy’s Quadrophenia Scooter Replica to Bonhams
Jimmy’s Quadrophenia Scooter. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

The next evolution in scooter power is covered, as well, with John going into some depth on electric scooters and the potential development of scooters powered by hydrogen fuel cells. He explains their workings, as well as possible limitations and drawbacks for fuel cell technology, at least for the foreseeable future.

Culture & Customization: The Motor Scooter Story is beautifully produced. John’s writing style is clear and concise, with a great mix of conversational style narrative and fascinating technical detail.

  • Title: Culture & Customization: The Motor Scooter Story
  • Author: Barry John
  • Published: October 2021 by Evro Publishing, Westrow House, Holwell, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 5LF, U.K.
  • Hardcover, 112 8.25” x 8.0” pages, 200 color and black & white (period) images and illustrations
  • ISBN: 978-1-910505-74-8
  • Price: $30 MSRP