While the overtone of Britishness is written large throughout the story of mod culture, it would be wrong to describe the movement as being one that was solely interested in Britain. Many of the best most loved musical genres of the mod movement originated from outside Britain, whether it was American soul or the Jamaican ska tunes that sound tracked the era. It would also be fair to say that there was a strong Italian influence on the first mod movement and this should always be celebrated when examining the importance of mod culture over the years.
When it comes to Italian culture impacting on the modernist movement, many people will instinctively think of the fashion element. Fine suits with a well-cut finish or high quality shoes brought a touch of Italian flair and style to the movement but for a lot of mods, the most important Italian element came in how they got around town. When you think of scooter brands, it is likely that you will think of Lambretta or Vespa, both of which originated in Italy.
In many ways, the role of Italy in the war, the end of the war and then the imposing limitations placed on Italy, especially with respect to creating aircrafts, had a huge impact on the scooter industry and in turn, mod culture.
Economic factors influenced the need for scooters
The Piaggio company was one of the many firms that suffered through this and their Pontedera fighter plane plant was not only limited by the impositions placed upon them, the plant was also demolished in a bombing raid. The state of the Italian economy was in a very bad way, as were the roads, and there was no money to repair them to a good level. The decision was made by Enrico Piaggio, the founder of the company’s son, to exit from the aeronautical industry and set about providing affordable transport for the Italian people. This led to the creation of the Vespa company in 1946.
The Vespa company, was the first to be founded although it was a close run thing. There was a very similar story for the Lambretta company, who were also looking to rebuild their business after the ravages of war. In an ironic twist, the future and success of the Vespa and Lambretta companies had a lot to do with the influence of the American military in Italy. The style and impetus for these companies came from the Cushman scooters which arrived in Italy in huge numbers to provide field transport for the Marines and Paratroops that were in the country. Even with the German’s having a tactic of blowing up bridges and destroying roads in the Dolomite region of the Alps and the borders of Austria, these scooters provided an effective and efficient way of getting around the region.
Design features would be great for mods
Although not constructed with the mod in mind, some of the design features of these scooters would provide exactly what the culture was looking for. The Lambretta and Vespa scooters both had front shield areas which provided an added level of protection to ensure that the rider kept their clothes clean and dry at the front. In comparison to the motorbike, this would be a tremendous element for the fashion conscious. There was also the thought that the design of the scooter was far more suitable for women, again especially in comparison with motorbikes, which would be a boon in mod culture. Without wishing to delve into a major topic too lightly, many were of the opinion that the mod culture placed women on a more equal basis with the men, especially in comparison to the rocker youth movement and the choice of scooters as the main form of transport was of benefit to both genders.
While these scooters found success in Europe, there is no doubt that the success in the UK outstripped the rest of the continent. The mod culture came about at the right time and the scooter came along at the right time to be the perfect vehicle for this youth movement. The affordability of these vehicles were perfect for a youth movement who were looking for an affordable traffic solution but the sleek and stylish design also fitted in superbly with the mod outlook with regards to fashion.
The peak of popularity of mod culture can probably be indicated by the fact that in the mid-1960s, the biggest market in the world for Vespa’s was in the United Kingdom. Even to this day, the UK market is the second biggest market in the world for Vespa and that shows no sign of changing.