The French Production Lambretta

Lambretta - Fenwick

The saga of Lambretta manufacture in Troyes, France

Only a few buildings remain of the Saint-Julien-les-Villas factory on the Rives de Seine, Troyes, France. A hypermarket now stands on the old factory site and it's hard to imagine that up to 1150 people worked there when it manufactured Fenwick forklift trucks, and 870 employees when it produced Lambretta scooters.

Contrary to what is often thought, the history of this industrial site does not begin with Lambretta. Long before the production arrival of this Italian brand, there stood a dye works, the Petit Saint-Julien, founded in 1874 that ceased production just before the Second World War in 1935. Between that date and the end of hostilities the plant was initially utilised by the occupying Germans, leading to it being bombed by the allies (dates for this event are not known for certain). After the war, and from 1949, the story becomes clearer. The former dye factory, by then connected to the railway main line by a branch line, was then bought by Fenwick, a company founded by Scotsman, Robert Fenwick, with a view to producing his licence built US Yale forklift trucks as well as industrial boilers.


Early in 1950, Fernando Innocenti, owner of the Lambretta licence, granted Robert Fenwick the rights to manufacture the Lambretta scooter in France under the umbrella name of Societe Industrielle de Troyes. The very earliest batches of LD 125 Mk 1's sold were actually imported Italian models. Scooter manufacture commenced in 1952 turning out new French scooters at a rate of 280 units per day. The Italian design was soon modified by the French factory and several derivatives of the basic LD theme were built. At first the scooter frame was similar to the LC, only the colour differed (the LC was brown, but blue grey was used on the new French LD).

To give a good example of the diversity of design changes, there were at least four different horncastings, exhibiting product development of that single part over the entire production period. This development was in fact forced on the company by the French legal regulation that necessitated a larger diameter front headlamp than the prototype. Starting with the original Italian style horncast, an alternative design featured an enlarged collar to accommodate the regulation sized headlamp; in 1953, a further redesign incorporated a French standard headlight housing cast integrally.

Another change from the Italian specification was the saddle, which featured a stretched grey rubber seat cover that did away with the Italian style sprung base with a vinyl facing.

Another externally visible change was to the positioning of the fuel taps and choke levers that were placed in the same position as seen on the later Li series model Lambrettas. A small plate between the fuel and choke levers, sported the Troyes factory badge that was based on the coat of arms of the Champagne department of France.

Fuel tank fillers were offset on the French LD models, instead copying the central positioning of the Italian models, making them much easier to top up.

The last scooters to be made in Troyes were LD 125 Mk4's and due to ongoing demand for the LD in the UK, many of these last French production models found their way onto the UK market after the Italian manufacturers wound-up their production of the LD to make way for the new Series 1 Lambrettas.

In less than ten years, almost 200,000 scooters and 10,000 three wheelers came out of Saint Julien-les-Villas factory. This was not just assembly work, as a local historian, Jacques Fournier, has discovered in a film that shows the entire scooter being manufactured on site, including the engines.


It was decided to cease production in 1960 and the last Lambretta rolled off the assembly lines the following year. The rationale behind this decision because a number of factors impinging on sales: The war in Algeria that kept young conscripts and, therefore, potential customers under arms for two years; new crash helmet legislation; two strong successive increases in VAT; the prohibitive cost of insurance; and the rise of the car as a means of transport - all negatives that caused the sales of scooters in France to collapse.

Motorcycle insurance premiums rose by up to 1,000% at this time (so huge was this rise in running costs, that it became a rarity to see a motorcycle on the roads in France). This situation continued through the decade of the '60s. Luckily, mopeds were classed as little more than push bikes and escaped from this cost factor and maintained their popularity.

Fenwick once again swapped all production back to concentrate on forklifts, the company's original specialism. The plant, having grown in size under the 'Lambretta regime', was enlarged even further. By 1970, it had 1,150 employees. Four years later, in 1974, employment fell to 1,125, plus 250 temporary workers. Sadly, employment had peaked and, in 1978, the first lay-offs began. Five years later, in 1984, the factory finally closed its doors with 515 workers unexpectedly losing their jobs. The Fenwick brand was then acquired by Linde, the German forklift truck manufacturer, and a new subsidiary called Fenwick-Linde was created.

The manufacture of Lambretta scooters in Troyes only lasted ten years, but the brand has survived because these scooters are now highly sought after. 196,377 scooters were built between 1951 and 1961. A generation later, Lambretta lovers are getting caught up in the appeal of the French Lambretta and these machines are being subjected to careful restorations by enthusiastic owners.

Passe Avant le Meilleur

A French production Lambretta LDA 150 Electric Start (1955/6)

As stated in the preceding article, the French marque was more than just a slavish imitator of the Italian home-market product; to prove a point, Classic Scooterist features the very rare and different French LDA 150 with electric start (a scooter, if you look carefully, that does not even sport a traditional kick-start).


The precise details of manufacture are a little obscure and much has to be extrapolated from the evidence of surviving machines, but the French LD production included the Type 1 of 1954/5 that featured the Italian design of horncasting (an item possibly imported directly, rather than being locally manufactured). This, unfortunately, did not satisfy the French regulations with regard to the diameter of the front headlamp, so an intermediate adaption was resorted to that allowed the fitting of a larger headlamp by clamping a cup effect headlamp rim carrier to the horncast light aperture to provide this upgrade. The 'ears' at the top of this casting had cutaways to allow the control cables to exit from behind the casting.

The Type 2 of 1955/6 had a purpose-made horncasting that satisfied the French rules for headlamps without resorting to the previous adaption, and the finished article was reminiscent of LC practice. Again the cable cutaways followed earlier practice.

The 3rd and final series again featured the bigger headlamp horncast and can be seen on the LD featured. This model has the engine casing stamped as GL125. This 125 casing was easily convertible to 150cc by fitting an over-bored barrel, as is in the case of this machine. In fact, the alloy inlet manifold is clearly marked '150' on the casting to clear this point up.

LD fans will notice a number of differences from the Italian variant, apart from the obvious lack of a kick start lever. These include: the Jaeger Speedometer and clock (a clockwork, wind-up version), solid ally handle bar levers (all set on open handlebars), offset filler cap under the seats, rubber covered single seats (a French Lambretta hallmark that dispensed with springs under the seat cover), a starter motor switch (designed for foot operation and situated on the left-hand side behind the legshield), model number, or chassis number on a removable plate beneath the choke petrol taps and many and varied brackets under the footboards and frame to support the various cables.

Less obvious French additions or alterations on the engine front were:

3/4 inch spark plug, a Mk2 type barrel, exhaust fitted by means of lugs, small type flywheel nut requiring an oversized puller and a slightly shorter barrel than the Italian spec - piston comes up to the crown. The Lambretta method of the copious use of cap screws to secure engine components and covers was largely by passed and raised headed slotted screws were widely substituted in their place by the French factory.

The plastic shield-shaped badge on the front of the legshield uses the native French province heraldic escutcheon as the basis for the design and features the motto 'Passe avant meilleur - literally, 'pass before the best' in English.

Many thanks to Howard Chambers for supplying the information for this article