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SNAPSHOT 38: Skootamota 1919

As we are approaching the time of year when parties are popular with some, it seemed appropriate to have a shot of people who look to be on their way to such an event. Once one gets over wincing at the ‘Skootamota’ name of these little machines, they look as if they might have been quite fun to use, although it is not thought to have been a requirement to wear fancy dress when travelling on them.

Behind the rider’s posterior was a 125cc horizontally-mounted air-cooled ‘over-square’ single-cylinder motor, essentially half of a flat-twin ABC ‘Firefly’ auxiliary engine, with direct chain drive to the rear wheel. There was no clutch, kick-start, or cycle-type pedals, so starting required the conductor to either scoot the machine forward with both feet, or to run along side and leap aboard once the engine fired. Then when reasonably securely seated the rider controlled the speed by means of the valve-lifter, although later examples appear to have a carburettor control. To stop the machine the magneto was earthed, which ‘killed’ the engine, creating engine-braking, but there was also a tiny cable-operated brake on the front wheel hub.

These Skootamotas were introduced in 1919, the person behind the project being one Gilbert Campling, and they were made at the Redsan Works in South Croydon – hence the BY registration visible on the machine on the left of the picture – and later at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, although Mr Campling’s business address was in Piccadilly, London. It is thought that over 3000 were made up to 1922 when they then faded from the scene.

In this immediate post-war period there was a brief vogue for motor scooters, of various layouts, and other makers produced them in Britain, whilst examples were also made on the Continent, and in America. They were though rather disparaged by ‘proper’ motorcyclists at the time, in much the same way that car drivers looked down upon two-wheelers – both literally, particularly in the early days of motoring, and metaphorically – but the revival of the motor scooter dawned again about three decades later and the onset of twilight is as yet nowhere visible on the horizon.

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