Its funny how things go around. 20 years ago Police scooters were bought by scooterists mostly to strip for parts or to use as a base for a restoration.
The first police scooter ScootersO ever found was a Lambretta TV200. The markings were hard to see under the poorly painted side panels. After that first one, other Police scooters started to pop up: Vespa Sprints, Vespa P150Xs and Serveta Lambrettas. These scooters got me wondering more about these Police scooters and their history. I tracked down the importer who handled the Serveta NYPD sales (he does not have any parts or scooters left!), got some tidbits of information from him, and kept my eyes peeled for any news clippings or stories I could find.
Over time I was able to piece together a timeline of the makes and models of scooters used by the NYPD.
The first police scooters seem to have been small batches purchased for special purposes. The earliest seems to have been the Parks Commission, who bought Vespas in the early 60s. Throughout the mid to late 60s various branches of public service bought scooters in small numbers. It wasn't until Innocenti were looking to break back into the US market that the NYPD bought a large fleet of scooters.
Unable to handle the US relaunch themselves, Innocenti Italy gave Lambretta Concessionaires Ltd in the UK the rights to distribute scooters to the US (and Australia). As can be seen from the clipping of the press release below, from a UK scooter magazine, up to 400 Lambrettas may have been part of this initial Italian scooter order. Although the article mentions the DL model, personal research has shown that due to the labor dispute problems the factory in Milan was having at that time, the order was filled instead with Li 150 Series 3 with some modifications. This batch of scooters seems to have been supplied with whatever parts the factory had lying around. These early models were painted in dark green and white, which were the NYPD colors at the time. The typical Italian Li 150 Series 3 Police Lambretta seems to have featured: SX Headset (to allow an ignition switch to be fitted), black body rubbers and plastics, plastic toolbox, forks using the push-in buffers, handlebar switches with black buttons, DL bench seats, SX150 engine cases, and their VIN numbers are higher than most reported VIN runs for the Li150, as the auction sheet below shows. The initial batch of Italian Lambrettas proved very popular, so when the Italian factory stopped production, scooter supply switched to the Spanish factory.
US distribution switched to a NJ company who expanded NYPD sales to over 1000 machines. These Spanish machines were the blue and white models most commonly associated with the NYPD, and one is featured in the NYC Police Museum. The Pasco, a product of the Brazilian Lambretta factory in São Paulo, was imported in the mid 70s by the NJ distributor, at Serveta's insistence, in an attempt to secure orders from the NYPD and give their new factory some sales. Needless to say the NYPD turned down this new Lambretta, and instead decided to keep using the Spanish models, for at least a few more years. This resulted in a few Pascos being sold around NJ through the distributor's retail outlet. Sometime around 1976 or 1977, the NYPD switched to the Vespa Sprint 150 V and shortly after, in 1979, the P150X, a model specially imported just for the police. The P125X and P200e were the commercially available models. Vespa pulled out of the US in the early 80s, and although the NYPD kept the vehicles in operation as long as possible, they had to switch to Japanese scooters by the end of the 80s. I doubt there are still batches of Lambrettas or Vespas to go up for auction from the NYPD, which means the few that are surfacing should be preserved for historical reasons. -Gene
Please note:This article has been edited since its original posting in February 2008, with the information changed slightly as we learn new facts, and new images added. All comments up till July 25th 2014 were imported from the old version of the blog software.