FERDINANDO INNOCENTI: A SHORT BIOGRAPHY
Ferdinando Innocenti was born in Pescia on the 1st September 1891. His father, Dante Innocenti, a blacksmith, soon moved to the town of Grosseto, where he opened a hardware store in Via Galilei, while continuing his activity as a smith. A few years later a second store was opened in Corso Carducci. Ferdinando, after having completed his 3rd year in a technical school, started his activity with his father and his half-brother Rosolino (son of his father’s first marriage) at the head of the “Ferramenta Innocenti” (1906). Thanks to all the activities, at this time the family was already well-off.
At 18, young Ferdinando was leading the family enterprise and started trading iron mainly recovered from the firms engaged in the drainage of the Maremma marshes. Iron was exchanged with oil, and the oil sale gave high profits.
In 1920 he started experimenting the possible applications of iron tubes and in 1923 he moved to Rome where he planned to invest about half a million lire in the expansion of his activity. As luck would have it, the Bank where his money was deposited went bankrupt after a few months and Ferdinando was forced to slow down and devote his time to recover the large sum of money.
Despite this misfortune, Ferdinando was not discouraged and soon started to trade the Mannesmann seamless steel pipes produced by Dalmine. 1928 saw a boom in the building sector and the economic situation in Italy was flourishing. Agriculture was also growing, thanks to the policy of the fascist regime and the consequent disappearance of the trade unions’ activity. A negative outlet of the governement policy was however a 11-12% decrease in wages between 1921 and 1924.
From 1921 to 1931 the fascist regime set out a great plan of building and remoderning, particularly in the capital. During this decade, Rome looked like a huge builder’s yard and the general mood was the “monumental renaissance of the city”. Ferdinando seized the opportunity and in 1926 he opened in Via Porto Fluviale a tube storage warehouse and plant where he made products for the building activity. The “Fratelli Innocenti”, as the company was called in 1930, started producing tube scaffoldings in 1933. The British Scaffolding’s mounting-dismantling special rapid system was applied.
In 1931, Ferdinando started building a plant of rain irrigation in the Castelgandolfo Pope’s Gardens (14 hectares). The water was supplied by lake Albano. Immediately after, he worked on a similar plant for the Vatican Gardens, and then he completed a fire-fighting and a thermoelectric plant. He also used his scaffolding patent for the Cappella Sistina, where he had the opportunity to show the quality of the project: the scaffolding was assembled and dismantled in a very short time, and without interfering with the priceless Michelangelo’s wall paintings. Franco Ratti count of Desio, a nephew of Pio XI, and Leone Castelli, owner of a building enterprise working in the Vatican, were providential in allowing Ferdinando to take part in the project of the Cappella Sistina. The project was concluded by the end of 1935 and at the beginning of the following year Ferdinando was charged to mount a 6,000 square metres wide covered complex with his tubes for the world exhibition of the Catholic Press.
The firm obtained contracts of great prestige, which not only helped transform the artisanal enterprise in an industrial company but gained to it more profits which contributed to its enlargement. In 1932 the industrial production recorded a 27% decrease if compared to 1928, but Ferdinando Innocenti decided Milan was the right spot to move into with his activity. The city was in fact very active, the Central Station was then being built, and the economic crisis was not as bad as elsewhere. In northern Italy, Innocenti had a privileged position and won many contracts. In 1929, because of the serious crisis, 300,000 people were recorded as being out of work, and they increased to more than one million in 1931, 715,000 of whom in the industrial sector.
With the help of Ratti who was then in the Dalmine’s Board of Directors and had also important positions in other companies, and especially with the help of his Vatican friendships, Ferdinando won contracts for works in the Vatican Castelgandolfo. The seat of Fratelli Innocenti was then officially opened in Via S. Paolo 18.
The 20 workers of 1929 were more than a hundred in 1931, when the company started the production of mobile and fixed irrigation plants. The factory in via Pitteri (Milano Lambrate) was built in 1933. Here, the now tested Innocenti scaffoldings were produced and traded. A new plant was built in October 1933 on a strip of land between Via Pitteri and the Lambro. To start production, a number of workers moved in from Rome.
In November 1933 the name of the company changed into “Fratelli Innocenti Società Anonima per Applicazioni Tubolari in Acciaio”. The main seat was in Rome, Via XX Settembre, the company’s assets 5,000 shares worth 1,000 Italian lire each. Of these, 3,100 belonged to Ferdinando and 1,900 to Rosolino. To reach this sum the company asked a bond loan worth 5,000,000 lire, split in 5,000 bonds worth 1,000 lire each with a 4% yearly interest. Sole Administrator, Ferdinando Innocenti.
A pioneer in his way, Ferdinando Innocenti was modest, close and reserved, but at the same time had a brave and protective character. He talked very slowly, just few words in a low tone of voice and brief, separated sentences. He did not like to show it but was very determined when planning his actions and when placing the right men at the right spots. One of the most genial entrepreneurs of the twentieth century, he easily gained everybody’s approval with a nice smile. He did not love the wordly habits typical of the successful businessmen of his time. He did not attend parties nor went to see theatre plays, although he went to the movies at times with one of his employees and usually selected a cowboy film. But they always ended up talking business. Very appreciated as a “creator of work”, he was dinamic and constructive. He was described as “a very silent captain of industry completely out of the regular schemes of his category”. Possibly, he never read a book, but he was always ready to plunge very efficiently into the company’s bookkeeping and he was very determined when he wanted to contact people for his activity. In his work, he always strenuously defended his ideas, but he was also very good at starting new political relations without disclosing his true opinions. His unique purpose was to gain favours for his industrial activities.
NATIONAL EVOLUTION OF THE COMPANY
During the summer 1934 the Soccer World Championship was to take place in Rome. To enlarge the capacity of the soccer stadios, Innocenti was assigned by the Italian Government the task of building new stands. This assignment and the construction during the same year of a variety of stands, stages, runways and the like gained conspicuous profits to Innocenti’s Milan factory, which now had 200 workers, partly from Rome.
The company was structured in two seats and two factories, one in Rome and one in Milan, plus a total of 9 branch offices in Genoa, Naples, Bologne, Trieste, Grosseto, Cagliari, Palermo, Padua, Florence. The company had four separated divisions for a variety of products:
- Building activity: electric ware, scaffolding, high-tension pylons, gates and fences, lamp-posts.
- Agriculture and sports: water system pipings, spray irrigation plants, fencings for sport units or training grounds, equipment for gymnasia.
- Industry: thermoelectrical plants; air, gas and steam tubings; compressed or liquid gas cylinders; pipings.
- Mechanical industry: lorry tubes, propeller shafts, tubes for motorcars, tubes for gun carriages, hydraulic rams and cylinders, rolls for glassworks.
This was a purely commercial division, because from the technical and production point of view there was no difference. The plants were potentially able to produce the whole range of products. Around this year (1935), Innocenti was about to concentrate all the production in the Milan factory.
On the 30th April 1935 the social capital was doubled, during a meeting of the 11 shareholders, and 5,000 new shares were issued with a value of 1,000 lire each.
The aggression to Ethiopia was on its way, and it took place on the 3rd October 1935. During the summer of the same year, the intervention against the republican government in Spain burst out. The Italian industry was not prepared to face the outburst of war, but in a short time the production was converted and by the end of 1936 the industries producing war equipment were gaining large profits.
THE PRODUCTION OF WAR MATERIAL
During the war years the Innocenti plants supplied bodies for 150 and 250 kg airplane bombs, for which cut down tubes were used. Profits in 1935 amounted to 840,000. To avoid a fiscal drawing applied by tax offices on the basis of a 1935 law, many manufacturers decided to invest money on the enlargement of their industrial activities. Innocenti therefore enlarged the industrial structure, also because the plant was to supply a higher quantity of bullets. The plants were moved from Rome to Milan, the section MO/1 was enlarged by diverting the course of the Lambro river and an office building was built in Via Pitteri. Only the storage warehouse for trading tubes was left in Rome. With war production, the number of workers had doubled if compared to 1934. The constant demand for building airplane hangars and the production of bombshells from (Dalmine) tubes was making the company larger and larger. And also the respect gained with the various works accomplished in the Vatican was responsible for this success. In 1933 the IRI – Institution of Italian Reconstruction – was founded and Dalmine merged with it. The Innocenti factory already owned a large number of Dalmine shares, and saw their power grow becoming one of the most important private shareholders. The rapid growth of Fratelli Innocenti saw Ferdinando creating a board of directors and a board of auditors with a meeting held on the 16th April 1936. The most reliable co-operators were asked to take part in the Board: Rosolino Innocenti, Prof. Giulio Giussani, Ing. Giuseppe Cecchi, Rag. Vittorio Verdarini. Chairman, Ferdinando Innocenti. The board of auditors was formed by Avv. Renato Finocchi, Avv. Carlo Jurgens and Dr Giuliano Mastrogiovanni. On that occasion, the Innocenti plant was given the new name Innocenti Società Anonima per Applicazioni Tubolari in Acciaio. In 1936, the empire was proclaimed and war spread out. The Pact of Steel with Germany requested an even deeper engagement in the production of bullets, that were now made also for the artillery and the navy. In this year the company recorded a profit of 877,000 lire, despite the large amount of money invested in the enlargement. In 1937 profits reached one million lire. The next year, the Marina plant was built (the present MO/2) and the company moved a little more east from the Lambro river. Also the “attrezzeria” (equipment plant) and the Social Service buildings were built (the present SOCI) and, despite the large amount of money invested, the balance was a profit of about one and a half million lire.
Ferdinando Innocenti, who since 1933 embodied the idea of tubes, in 1936 decided to build a factory entirely dedicated to their production. Mussolini at that time wanted to complete an industrial center at Apuania. This was the place where the factory was made, allowing Innocenti to obtain the financial means necessary to build the new SAFTA (Società Anonima Fabbricazione Tubolari Acciaio). Holdings went for a minority to Dalmine and a majority to Innocenti.
In 1942 the plant that had been started in 1939 for the construction of seamless tubings was completed and the production was partially started. The establishment, about 495,000 sq m wide, included 4 longitudinal parallel and three transversal floors, containing 3 rolling mills of different lengths. 500 workers were employed, the management was assigned to Ing. Alberto Calmes from Luxembourg. He was particularly experienced in the construction of tubes and had a deep knowledge of this activity gained in Germany, which he had left for political reasons. Thanks to his ability the tubes were produced directly from ingots and not from expensive rolled sections subsequently welded. However, the production did not continue after the opening phase because Kesserling, in his retreat, brought part of the industrial equipment to Germany and partly destroyed the production units.
In November 1948, after a quick reconstruction, the production of tubes for oil drills and oil and gas pipes took the start. Dalmine acquired all the holdings and transformed SAFTA into a second large production unit. The war events saw a constant engagement of Innocenti at the construction of plants for producing bullets. A huge bullet factory had been planned in the Lambrate factory, and it was to be the largest supplier of the Ministry of War.
On their side, the Ministry of War had planned to split the productive units in different yards. One of them was to be Guerra I (G I, War I) at Tor Sapienza, Rome, a complex for the production of about 40,000 bullets a day. Innocenti won the competition against Fiat, Falck etc., thanks to a better guarantee on the deadline requested. Completed between 1939 and 1942 as asked, Innocenti won trust and admiration, and the completion of projects Guerra II and Guerra III in Milan were assigned to them (between 1940 and 1941).
Guerra II covered a 75,000 sq. m surface and was built in the area between Via Tanzi, Via Bistolfi, Via Pitteri, Via Trentacoste. The plant produced sintered copper grenade time rings (on a German patent). Guerra III was made with the machinery from Guerra I after the US forces’ landing. Its construction started in 1941 to produce (on a German patent) steel extrusions of shell cases, devised to face the lack of copper. At two thirds building was interrupted for the events which took place on the 8th September 1943. The establishment consisted in four huge structures, two of which had already been equipped with pressing machines supplied by Germans for the extrusion of shell cases.
In 1939 the Innocenti factory, declared by Starace during his visit on the 27th October 1939 “a model of fascist establishment”, was in fact producing bullets. 90% of the labour was engaged in war production. In 1939 the Innocenti workers making bullets were only 5.5% of the total of the Italians producing ammunitions, but the mechanical production of the factory amounted to 17% of the total in Italy.
In four years, Innocenti multiplied by three the plants and by ten their production, with 36,000 bullets produced per day in 1943. The people working in the Milan plant were around 800 in 1938 and increased to 2,000 in 1940, 3,000 in 1941, 6,000 in 1942 and more than 7,000 in the spring of 1943, mostly unskilled labour, 50% women.
Profits amounted to 2,119,000 lire in 1939, 4,231,000 lire in 1940, 10,118,500 lire in 1941, 12,298,000 in 1942 and 10,783,000 on the 8th September 1943. The ordinary reserve amounted to 2,200,000 lire, the extraordinary to 8,468,000. On the 11th March 1940 the managing board increased the capital from 20 to 50 million lire, on the 8th April 1941 from 50 to 100 million lire. 80,000 shares were issued with a value of 1,000 lire each. Shareholders from twelve became once more three (80% Ferdinando Innocenti, 15% Rosolino Innocenti, 5% Paolo Missiroli). By way of gratitude during the 11th March 1940 meeting, Edmondo Balbo (Italo Balbo’s brother), the two Innocentis and Paolo Missiroli were elected as members of the Board.
In 1942 Ferdinando Innocenti felt it as a necessity to split the company, one of the two parts was called Lambro and was charged to run the establishments, the second one, ATA (Applicazioni Tubolari Acciaio), was to trade the products. But the war events of 1943 suggested he should wait and during the meeting held on the 29th April 1943 Ferdinando was appointed president, sole administrator and general manager of the company.
After the 8th September, the company had to go through the trials of the German military occupation, even if the opposition from the inside was very strong. The production of war supplies did not stop.
From Rome, Ferdinando kept following the events involving the company and plotted constructive and well balanced political relations between German, RSI, CLN and democratic forces. He also gave financial help to the partisans. General Poletti was enthusiastic about his brilliant cooperation and this is one of the reasons why afterwards he was not submitted to the purge by the Allied forces. From Rome, he was certainly able to catch sight of a new industrial boom after the end of the war, and in this expenctancy he was trying to keep the plants as sound as possible in view of their relaunching. It was not a coincidence if the Allied bombings, on his precise information, hit only isolated unimportant divisions, whereas most of the plants were left untouched. Also the slowing of production was an advantage, as the stock of raw material would later be largely used to cover the reconstruction expenses.
At the end of the war Ferdinando Innocenti went back to Milan and, after having called a workers’ meeting, succeeded in obtaining their cooperation. The reconversion plan set out.
RESTRUCTURATION AND RECONVERSION
The reconversion plans were conceived in three stages.
- Production of a low-cost vehicle for the working class.
- Building of metallurgic machinery and industrial plants.
- Development of sintering processes.
The vehicle was to be the Lambretta. The idea came from vehicles dropped in Rome by the British parachuters. Innocenti thought that similar vehicles could be of great interest in a country where people needed a means of transport to move quickly. At Guidonia, Innocenti met colonel D’Ascanio, but they soon found out they had different ideas about the vehicle to be designed. Colonel D’Ascanio was in fact later engaged by Piaggio, where he created the “Vespa” scooter. Innocenti contacted another colonel at the Experimental Center in Guidonia, Ing. Torre, who was to become the “father” of the Lambretta scooter. In the field of metallurgy Ferdinando Innocenti wanted to exploit the studies and experience of Calmes at Apuania on the production of seamless tubings. In the field of sintered materials the idea was to produce bushings and bearings for electric motors and endothermic machinery.
This was an ambitious restructuration and reconversion programme, implying a quality and quantity review of the people employed. There were at the time 691 skilled workers, specialists and foremen; 969 labourers and unskilled workers; 729 women, 146 delivery-boys, watchmen, keepers and drivers; 2,252 employees and designers, for a total of 2,767 people: 1,900 at Lambrate, 500 at the Guerra III, 367 at the Guerra II. About one hundred people were working outside the premises, at ATA etc.
People were to be reduced to about 970, and about 2,000 were to be dismissed. At the end of 1945 the activity was very scarce – only around one hundred people were working at building bodies for electrical motors at Bezzi. This activity did not even cover the expenses, therefore raw materials were sold, 42,000,000 lire worth of Treasury bonds were sold in Rome, 3,000,000 lire were recovered with the sale of Dalmine’s holdings. But to live on, the enterprise needed to recover 175,000,000 lire of credits, mostly from Germany.
At the beginning of 1946 the workers still were 800, plus 150 employees. On the 12th November 1946 the first financial investment for reconstruction and production was obtained (300,000,000 lire, which was to start in 1947. The shortage of coal and electricity caused many delays, but the third item (sintering) was abandoned because the technology was by the time obsolete. At the end of 1946 some orders did already arrive: 6 special machines for Dalmine for 200 tons in total, the building of tube rolling mills for Jugoslavia (3,200 tons) and 1,150 tons of machinery for Polony.
These goods were paid with raw materials and coal. The production of scooters had been again delayed because of difficulties in obtaining supplies and because of the energy shortage. Moreover, the product was completely new to the company. The first lot of 25 Lambretta scooters was being completed, when two Lambretta scooters and one van were ready for the Paris Exhibition. Trade agents were at work in 33 provinces and 3,300 bookings had already been received. The scooters were to be supplied within March 1948. The aluminum foundry was fully active and the equipment for cast iron was being prepared. The financial situation was still critical but improved in April thanks to a loan of a hundred thousand dollars from Eximbank USA.
However, instead of the 150 daily Lambretta scooters, not more than 10 were being made, especially because of a faulty organization and the lack of financial resources. The reorganization of Signor Calbiani planned to reach a production of 25/30 scooters a day and in a short time, not later than the following spring, 50 a day. The foundry was fully used to produce the parts necessary to make the Lambretta, no longer as an autonomous development as Innocenti had foreseen in his three-point plan. The establishment in Apuania was rebuilt, and Francesco Innocenti had a prominent place in the production of tubes, thanks to swift financial manoeuvres and the founding of new companies. The Lambrate establishment was runned by Lauro who not only had important acquaintances in the industrial world, but was also highly respected for his work at Navalmeccanica, an IRI company.
However, the motor division was still a problem, and Lauro complained that “the production of scooters is an adventure putting the company at risk; all the profits of the mechanical division have been used up and also part of the booking shares”. Signor Moro also expressed his doubts to the managing board: “starting the Lambretta production, because of a number of mistakes, has costed the company a huge sacrifice”, about 500 million over the planned amount.
A choice of projets meant to avoid possible mistakes in evaluating the real possibilities of placing the scooters on the market, resulted in the production of a small low-cost “working-class tractor”. Just 20 HP, it could be transformed into a small van by a national patent, and it was already being built at the Hesemberg in Monza.
The production of Model M Lambretta (1st type) reached at the end of 1948 the potentiality of 80-85 daily units, but in fact only 70 were being produced because of difficulties in covering the national market. During the fall season, exports began to US and Argentine with a first lot of 2,000 pieces. At the same time, a 2nd model was being designed (type B) and this would be produced in 1949 and was to solve the many faults of the previous model. In fact, this mainly looked like the first model and essentially kept the same engine, but a new front-wheel suspension system was to be applied and a rear suspension to be introduced, a hand gear instead of foot gear and 8-inch wheels instead of 7-inch, plus metallic colours.
A choice of projets meant to avoid possible mistakes in evaluating the real possibilities of placing the scooters on the market, resulted in the production of a small low-cost “working-class tractor”. Just 20 HP, it could be transformed into a small van by a national patent, and it was already being built at the Hesemberg in Monza.
The division of heavy mechanics was no worry, because there were orders to cover the production of one and a half year. Despite this someone said “in this period we have eaten up 30% in order to finance the production of Lambretta”.
The company now had a truly modern and efficient managing office. The president Ferdinando Innocenti was supported by Fioramonti and Fumagalli, Lauro was the general manager and Guani the central manager, Moro the administrative manager. The mechanical division was run by Rey and the engine division, since June 1949, by Parolari.
By the end of October 1948, 9,660 Lambretta type A had been produced, and the making of this model was ceased. The cost account in February 1949 showed a loss of more than 800 million lire. But this was not a problem according to Ferdinando, because during the first three months of the model B production the loss had decreased by 200 million, recovered from the lucky sales of this new model, that, as we said, no longer had the faults of type A.
Production was now well organized and increased from the 70 daily pieces of January 1949 to around 150 in July. It was difficult to keep up with demand. Light transport vehicles with the scooter mechanics were produced since March 1949 at a rhythm of four per day. Also the heavy mechanics were now working well, especially thanks to a large supply requested by Austria.
On the 30th June 1949, the following were the people in the managing board: President Ferdinando Innocenti, managing director Lauro, councillors Luigi Innocenti (Ferdinando’s son), Giussani and Pestalozzi.
Two new improved models (125 C and faired 125 LC) were introduced in January 1959. The production of 60,000 scooters was planned, the double if compared to the previous year. The increase in production meant the building of a new varnishing plant and the moderning of the production equipment, especially for the gears and the die-casting of the aluminum parts. Production of new models started before the processing line was completed, because no more scooters of the previous model were in stock. In May, already 5,500 pieces were being made in one month, in July 260 daily pieces were made, 160 C and 100 LC, equal to 6,200 a month. In 1951 production increased to 7,000 a month. Sales surpassed all expectations and in 1952 a further increase was decided and the production increased to 8,000. In December 1951 two new types were ready, D and LD, the first one a low-cost model, the second one faired, more elegant and linear.
Meanwhile, a manufacturing licence for Lambretta scooters had been granted to NSU in Germany (1950), and in France a similar agreement was made for an initial production of 13,000 scooters. The majority of the company’s shares belonged to Innocenti.
With model D, the 8,000 units a month were reached and surpassed. In 1952 a total of 96,000 vehicles were produced, 16,000 of which exported. This high production was difficult to place on the national market and abroad there was some resistance, therefore in 1953 it was decided to design a cheaper type, model E, and to produce 70/80,000 of this model and 40/50,000 of model LD, with the aim of keeping the turnover at the same level. But the demand did not reach the expected level, even if there was an increase of 11% if compared with 1952. 1,063 specimens of the motor van were produced in 1952 and 4,780 the following year. Exports were 25% of total production.
In 1955 the Innocenti company obtained one of the largest work orders ever: in fact, the building of a factory in Venezuela was a huge job, equal to 350 million dollars (the Fiat factory in Togliattigrad costed the Russian 920 million dollars). Fiat was also taking part in the tender, and the two companies joined together. Works started at the beginning of 1956. Fiat was soon to break the joint-venture, so Innocenti gained the company a 40 billion income. The works were completed even if the Democratic Government, after having ousted the leader Jimenez, decided that the cost was too high and therefore would not pay. But the following government was on easier terms with Innocenti and finally respected the agreement.
The scooter production in 1955 reached a good level, even if not as good as in 1953. At the beginning of the year a high-wheel 48 cc two-speed motor-bicycle was launched (“Lambrettino 48”), with a production of 6,000 units and 22,000 units in 1956. Increase in total production (scooters + motor-bicycles) amounted to 20%.
From 1958 to 1963 Italy experienced a great industrial boom. In 1961 there was an increase in production of 97% if compared to 1953. Innocenti accordingly increased production: given a production of 100 motor vehicles in 1957, it increased to 103.5 in 1958, to 120 in 1959 and to 148 in 1960.
In the heavy mechanic industry 2,800 tons of machinery were made in 1950, increased to 21,550 in 1960. Profits at the end of 1960 were 59% higher if compared to 1950. The capital stock increased by 2,000%. Much of the increase was due to the Venezuela “business”. Ferdinando’s son Luigi, who was vice-president since 1958 and who in fact always lived in his father’s shadow, succeeded in accomplishing his longlife dream: he enforced his decision – and this was the only occasion in his life – to build a motor-car. This change was made necessary in order to employ the large income obtained in the previous years.
In 1957 Ing. Torre had already been asked to design a small motor car, but then Parolari (Lauro’s favourite) took Torre off the project because he wanted to be the only one leading the motoring division. In 1957/58, Torre designed a prototype of utility car which could be totally built in the Innocenti plant, but again the project was abandoned at the beginning of the following year, as an agreement was being made with Gogomobil Iseria for the construction of a 400 cm3 small car. Moreover, Innocenti did not want to annoy Fiat in the field of heavy mechanics.
In 1959 BMC of Birmingham was contacted to realize an Austin 900 cm3 saloon car: the A40. The agreement included the assembling and varnishing of the parts supplied by BMC. This was a 7-year lasting uncomplete and unfavourable agreement for Innocenti. In a year or little more the A40 processing line was completed and at the end of 1960 production started with about 100 cars per day. The assembling line was certainly obsolete, if compared to Fiat’s.
In 1961/62 also a pressing division for producing parts was ready, for the A40, the roadster and the Bertone coupé with the same mechanics as A40. The total production amounted to 20,900 pieces in 1962 and increased in 1963 when the production of IM3 in the regular and super models started, so at the end of the year it amounted to 30,600 units.
In 1966 at the age of 85 Commendator Ferdinando Innocenti – who had certainly been one of the most brilliant and genial captains of industry in the world – died, and his son Ing. Luigi succeeded him at the head of the company.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
This change at the head of the company took place in a particular period of the political, social and financial history of Italy.
The feature of this political stage is the scarce stability of the governments and we can say that the various parties and the political class in general were more interested in creating power centres than in maintaining and increasing the large productive industrial thrust known as “economic miracle”, thanks to which Italy had reached a very high standard and had acquired an important position in the international field. The political administrations, conditioned by the left parties, were not able to exploit the growing capacities offered by industry.
One must note that Innocenti since the beginning has always been a firm strongly involved in politics, and the trade union was capable of mobilizing labourers in just a few hours. Better and more human working conditions and real advantages were asked for. The “equality” flag-waving often served as an excuse to transform simple and realistic demands into a class struggle. This unrest damaged production and took away resources from industrial research and investment. Almost every week, the firm was to endure strikes and had to give in to trade union blackmail. Necessarily, the trade union had an influence on the company’s decisions.
Economy and market
Most traditional scooter users turned to small cars. In 1967 the Fiat 500 was very comfortable and reliable in its class and was sold at the very low price of 475,000 lire, whereas the SX 200’s price was 219,000 lire! The popular Turin-made small car also had the advantage of a very low consumption, not far from that of Lambretta scooters. Demand for scooters was slowly but relentlessly decreasing, and was not sufficient to support such a differentiated production and the development of new projects. Total production of vehicles, including scooters, motor-bicycles and vans, from the 144,000 yearly units in 1963 gradually lowered to 107,150 in 1966, 84,885 in 1967, 82,121 in 1968 and 62,209 in 1969.
With the death of the charismatic figure of the founder, who had always succeeded in controlling his cooperators, they stopped working synergically and started trying to gain leadership in the company’s management. The “old pioneer” felt the scooter as his own creature, but this was not the case for the strong and capable managers who were left in his place, so they did not develop the production as the situation demanded. The production was now far too expensive for the times. At Piaggio, that suffered of the same market situation, the lines were instead quickly automated. In fact this company succeeded in overcoming the difficult times, thanks also to a large financial help from Fiat.
Little by little the members of the managing staff who were in some way bound to the legendary Lambretta and wistfully proposed its development, were losers against those who considered motorcars as the unique opportunity to relaunch the company. No company ever succeeded in switching from the motorcycle to the motorcar production. Some of them, for instance Triumph, BMW and DKW, were thinking of cars right from the start and therefore developed their technology and research in parallel.
In 1967 Nuccio Bertone was assigned the task of improving the Lambretta design. Model DL was soon produced (January 1968) in the 125-150-200 cc models. Also a new 50 and 75 cc motor-bicycle with mechanics derived from J 50 was produced. This was also designed by Bertone and its production started in March 1968. Despite this last attempt to renew the Lambretta’s design, in 1968 the Innocenti managing staff was already aware that ceasing the scooter production was only a matter of time.
In 1971 Luigi Innocenti who had trouble with his health and could not be active as the difficult situation demanded, left the head of the company. The last model (DL) ceased to be made in April of the same year, and J 50 the following year. The various models of vans were made in a reasonable number until the month of December. Total of vehicles made in 1971 is 11,222 – 3,400 of which DL, 2,153 J 50 in the De Luxe and Special models, and 5,669 vans, 72 of them being completed in the first ten days of January 1972.
The Innocenti company, a leader in the field of the two-wheel vechicles and with a huge know-how derived from research (that certainly surpassed the technology placed on the marked), was sold to Leyland and the heavy mechanics division became Innse (Innocenti Sant’Eustachio). A company was therefore destroyed by the combined action of the market situation, trade unions, the short-sightedness of the political class and an unfortunate heir, leaving free hand to the slow but unbending Japanese penetration. Plants were emptied and the assembly lines of the last model were sold to India (Scooterindia) where the Lambretta models DL 150 and 200 were to be made for many more years.
In the Lambrate establishment motorcars were made with the Innocenti brand and with BMC engines (the same as the Mini’s) and later on with Japanese engines (Daiatsu). During this last and not much enlightened De Tomaso’s management, the plant also hosted the Maserati assembly line and succeeded in placing on the market many models of a very good car, the 2000 cc two and four-door, roadster and coupé Maserati Biturbo. But this car was not a success, an event more due to a faulty advertising than to the qualities of the car itself. The production was then moved to Modena and in the Innocenti premises every production activity was ceased. The workers were partly employed by Maserati, some of them by public institutions, some others were encouraged to an early retirement or in any case to resign.
When the production of the Lambretta was ceased also in India, it was called “Grand Prix” and its design had been widely modified. The die-casts and equipment used for over 25 years were offered to the highest bidder, but being the amounts offered too low, the assembly lines were left to themselves and in time strongly weathered.
The brand Innocenti and the agents were taken up by Fiat and are today used to identify some of their motorcars, mainly produced in Brazil.
The area that once belonged to Innocenti, by this time engulfed by the city that had seen this industry grow, enlarge and then die, has been the object of several plans. One of these, ironic as it may be, is an unconsciuos desecration of an establishment that once was one of the most modern in Europe, and it is strongly backed up by some people who probably never were so lucky as to own a Lambretta scooter: it is the plan for a large rubbish recycling plant, uselessly opposed by the inhabitants of the area.
People who, for various reasons, have had something to do with the Innocenti company in the past, will in any case remember it for the Lambretta scooter. There are and there will always be in every part of the world many owners and fans of this scooter, which is nowadays a cult object to be saved from destruction.