Piatti Scooters and Design

Today in Motorcycle History

Piatti History

Scootering will always be dominated by a couple of big names.

Like Vespa and Lambretta, the Piatti was conceived in late 1940's; this scooter was avant-garde... to say the least.
In a market flooded with clones, the Piatti was technically and aesthetically original.

Fresh from the success of his minimotor (1949 clip-on 50cc bicycle motor) Italian designer Vincent Piatti saw a market for a lightweight and easy to handle scooter.

Radical design features, like the lack of a cooling fan and the totaly enclosed 'fuselage' set the Piatti aside from the rest.

After road-testing his prototype in the Dolomites, seeking commercial interest in the scooter Vincent showed a prototype at the 1952 Brussels motor-show.
"...the palm for originality in scooter design, however, must go to the Italian-designed Piatti, shortly to be produced in Belgium after two years in prototype form" The Motor Cycle January 1954

The 125cc Prototype (right) shows the headlight in the 'nose'. This had to be repositioned higher to meet traffic regulations.

The scooter was eventually to be made in two countries, by two very different companies. In Belgium by D'Ieteren, and later in the U.K by Cyclemaster.

...in Belgium

D'Ieteren, a well established automobile manufacturer, with a history of coachbuilding going back to 1805, took on the production of the Piatti in 1954. Having produced such greats as Packard, Studebaker, Rolls Royce and Hispano-Suiza. This company was a ripe pick for producing the scooter.

Initially, Vincent sold a contract for 5000 scooters, and his involvement went into overseeing the inital stages of the production line, ensuring a quality product. The scooter was designed entirely by Vincent, and was now coming to life.

The parts for the scooter came from various sources, like the engine, which was a Sachs from Germany, the bodywork was pressed in Italy, and the speedo was an English Smiths. The birth of a very international scooter.

The small car market was beginning to boom in the mid '50s, and scooter sales were on the decline, so it seems the Piatti came along a few years too late. 800 scooters were made.

D'Ieteren Piatti

Cyclemaster Piatti

...in England

Cyclemaster, the makers of the 'Cyclemate' clip-on cyclemotor, which was in direct competition with Vincent's Minimotor, bought the U.K rights to produce the Piatti.

The English operation , beginning in May 1956, was to have an entirely different focus to the Belgian. Cyclemaster (later Britax), based in Byfleet, Surrey, sub-contracted almost all of the manufacturing, and in essence, were only assembling the scooter, with little direct input from the designer. In doing this they lost a degree of quality control. Only the engine was produced in-house, and English components were used throughout.

To compete with other scooters on the market, many accessories were produced, like a perspex windshield and front basket. The tradition of craftsmanship was not evident in the British production of the Piatti, but the sales and marketing was strong, and a lot of the budget was spent on the service network which claimed to reach to over twenty countries.

Some bold quotes from the British marketing campaign.

"Piatti sets a new fashion in scooter design, achieving a standard of elegance, lightness and stability never before attained in it's class, here is a scooter of the highest mechanical perfection and individuality of design, yet offering the finest value ever at £104 10s 0d basic price"

"The beautifully designed PIATTI, the centre of attraction wherever it goes. A scooter you will be proud to own."

"A happy twosome in comfort and safety.
Large footboards and foam latex dual-seat afford maximum comfort."

"detailed research was undertaken and rigorous tests were carried out over a long period before the Piatti was passed for production. Cyclemaster Ltd. are confident that their new product will uphold the reputation for quality that has always been associated with their name"

"sturdily built, yet wonderfully light and easy to handle, the latest construction methods and all-British manufacture combine to make the finest scooter of them all "

The Piatti: a Standard scooter? .... never

1957 and with small car sales rocketting, scooters were more-and-more being sold on price alone.
For 1958, Cyclemaster, whose product was already the cheapest on the market, released an even more affordable model called "Piatti Standard". Lacking luxuries like spare wheel, double seat and parcel carrier and available only in grey. It is believed that 14,000 British Piattis were built.

The 125cc Piatti was not known for blistering performance or reliability, but the design alone has stood the test of time, the attention the Piatti receives today is testament to how avant garde it was in the 1950s.