Scooting across the pages of Bring A Trailer in its final auction hours is a special tiny two-wheeler. This 1947 Salsbury Model 85 didn’t just look like the streamlined scooter of your dreams, but it was years ahead of its competitors with technology, too.
When the subject of vintage scooters comes up, most people will probably think of a Vespa or maybe a Cushman. Even I own a Genuine Stella, a Vespa PX licence-built in India by Lohia Machinery, then sold by Chicago-based Genuine Scooters. But there is a vintage scooter out there that trumps even a classic Vespa. Meet the Model 85, a scooter that looks like a scaled down streamliner locomotive. And the icing on the cake is its modern power so you can actually ride the thing.
According to our friends at the Lane Motor Museum, in 1935 California businessman E. Foster Salsbury became inspired after seeing Amelia Earhart scooting about Lockheed Airport. Her ride was a Motoped, a push-scooter with an engine driving the rear wheel. Salsbury had the idea for “a cheap and cheerful vehicle that would propel the country forward to prosperous times.” He wanted to build the scooter of the people.
He built what Lane Motor Museum notes is the first commercially viable motor scooter in 1936, the Motor Glide. This scooter drove the rear wheel through a friction roller and it was a hit, particularly with Hollywood.
The next scooter took lessons learned from the Motor Glide and used them to create something way ahead of its time.
The Model 85 looks like something out of the Jet Age, but it actually predates the period by a few years. The body was designed with the rider in mind and kept mechanical parts under the metal so the rider wouldn’t get dirty. It uses a CVT that runs a belt around variable-diameter pulleys, not too unlike the scooter CVTs of today.
Salsbury wanted to attract car drivers to his scooters, so they were built with controls familiar to drivers. Instead of a twist throttle on the handlebar the Model 85 has an accelerator pedal. Instead of brake levers there’s a single brake pedal. It actuates just the rear brake as there isn’t a front brake at all. The idea was a truly automatic vehicle that was dead-simple to use.
Salsbury further tried selling the scooter to car owners with a generous storage area.
Suspension came from one-sided front and rear forks with axles inspired by aeroplane struts. Dual-rate coil springs are up front with a single spring out back.
Normally, power would come from a 320cc four-stroke single making 6 horsepower. This made it good for a top speed of about 80 km/h. However, the one in this auction has been replaced with a 270cc four-stroke Honda single making 7.9 horsepower.
That makes it a classic scooter with reliable Honda power. But don’t worry, the buyer gets a trio of period engines in the sale should they want to bring it closer to original. This one has also been repainted in a striking red with pinstripes.
All of these features came at a time when Vespa used smoky two-strokes with motorcycle controls and manual transmissions. Still, innovation didn’t lead to a smashing success.
Demand dropped off once the car became accessible again. As a result, less than 1,000 were made between 1947 and 1950 and it’s not known how many are still out there.
I’m not surprised to see it currently bidding at $13,000 on Bring a Trailer with about three hours to go.
Hat tip to Opposite-lock!
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