After the SecÂond World War in Italy the carÂmakÂers realised that it would be a long time before everyÂone who needed a car would be able to afford one. So the smart ItalÂians switched to designÂing and proÂducÂing motor scootÂers: these light, affordÂable, ergonomic VesÂpas, a low cost prodÂuct availÂable to everybody.
NeedÂless to say, Vespa was the brand of the time (and arguably still is) and it grew more and more popÂuÂlar across Europe, until, in early 1950s, it reached the USSR. All of a sudÂden this youthÂful and cheery means of transÂportaÂtion coinÂcided with the Khrushchev Thaw and it was decided to launch the Soviet line of motor scootÂers. MachinÂery wise, it was viable: since the war times, a few facÂtoÂries had been idle, so it was only a matÂter of design.
The design couldnâ€™t have been an easÂier probÂlem to fix: Europe was going through a real scooter boom and, since the copyÂright laws were not as aggresÂsive as they are nowaÂdays, it was decided to simÂply copy some. The choice was there but, after much conÂsidÂerÂaÂtion, Vespa was choÂsen as the prototype.
The deciÂsion was made at the level as high as the CabÂiÂnet of MinÂisÂters. The designÂers and engiÂneers were given six months to proÂduce the first modÂels. Which was timely achieved, and in early 1957 the first scootÂersâ€‰â€“â€‰called Vyatkasâ€‰â€“â€‰by the name of the facÂtory sitÂuÂated in the Vyatka regionâ€‰â€“â€‰were introÂduced to the market.
Both exterÂnally and on the inside, Vyatka was a very close copy of its ItalÂian counÂterÂpart. HowÂever, at a closer look, the Soviet scooter would lose a few points to the Vespa. Vespa was 16 kgs lighter (104, not 120); 30kmh faster (100, not 70); and it had more power (8 hps vsÂ 4.5).
UnsurÂprisÂingly, peoÂple liked Vyatkasâ€‰â€“â€‰they became very popÂuÂlar very fast. Younger driÂvers would take it on long interÂcity trips, and every now and then a female driÂver would be spotÂted. It was meant to proÂvide the comÂfort of a car for the price of a bikeâ€‰â€”â€‰well, almost, as the sloÂgan stated.
- The paintÂwork was so bad, it often started peelÂing within the year of purÂchase. But it was still a reliÂable vehicle.
As the time went by, the scooter was being perÂfected: the glove box became key-lockable; the brake pedal was shifted under the floor; and the power went up to 5.5 hps. The price was about 350 rubles, which was good value forÂ money.
The later model of 1974, Vyatka-Electron, was equipped with a new type of igniÂtion, an elecÂtronic one, copied off the JapanÂese car makÂers. This allowed the scooter to become more powÂerÂful (up tp 7.5hps), faster (up to 80 kph) and more ecoÂnomÂiÂcal, too (less than 3litres per 100kms). The price also dropped to 280 rubles, which made it affordÂable even for students.
NevÂerÂtheÂless, the popÂuÂlarÂity of Vyatkas was steadily declinÂing. NowaÂdays we would call it bad marÂketÂing poliÂcies, but then really it was a matÂter of supÂply and demand in the planned Soviet econÂomy. Even the numerÂous proÂmoÂtional adverÂtoÂriÂals in the autoÂmoÂbile magÂaÂzines did not help: by 1979, the proÂducÂtion was stopped. It took a good decade to sell out the excess stock of Vyatkas, and another one to marÂket off the parts. AltoÂgether there was made about 1.7mln Vyatka scootÂers in these 23Â years.
Of course the Soviet scootÂers never stopped with Vyatka. There was the Tuirst scooter, named after the facÂtory in the town of Tula, later on there were Java and Ural, each with a wide range of models.
Yet the Vyatka story is another finest examÂple of how fanÂtasÂtiÂcally inefÂfiÂcient the USSR and its poliÂcies were. The ItalÂian Vespa is still a funky brand and a great vehiÂcle. The RussÂian Vyatka ceased to exist, and it is more of a colÂlecÂtable itemÂ now.