After the Second World War in Italy the carmakers realised that it would be a long time before everyone who needed a car would be able to afford one. So the smart Italians switched to designing and producing motor scooters: these light, affordable, ergonomic Vespas, a low cost product available to everybody.
Needless to say, Vespa was the brand of the time (and arguably still is) and it grew more and more popular across Europe, until, in early 1950s, it reached the USSR. All of a sudden this youthful and cheery means of transportation coincided with the Khrushchev Thaw and it was decided to launch the Soviet line of motor scooters. Machinery wise, it was viable: since the war times, a few factories had been idle, so it was only a matter of design.
The design couldn’t have been an easier problem to fix: Europe was going through a real scooter boom and, since the copyright laws were not as aggressive as they are nowadays, it was decided to simply copy some. The choice was there but, after much consideration, Vespa was chosen as the prototype.
The decision was made at the level as high as the Cabinet of Ministers. The designers and engineers were given six months to produce the first models. Which was timely achieved, and in early 1957 the first scooters – called Vyatkas – by the name of the factory situated in the Vyatka region – were introduced to the market.
Both externally and on the inside, Vyatka was a very close copy of its Italian counterpart. However, 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 vs 4.5).
Unsurprisingly, people liked Vyatkas – they became very popular very fast. Younger drivers would take it on long intercity trips, and every now and then a female driver would be spotted. It was meant to provide the comfort of a car for the price of a bike — well, almost, as the slogan stated.
- The paintwork was so bad, it often started peeling within the year of purchase. But it was still a reliable vehicle.
As the time went by, the scooter was being perfected: 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 for money.
The later model of 1974, Vyatka-Electron, was equipped with a new type of ignition, an electronic one, copied off the Japanese car makers. This allowed the scooter to become more powerful (up tp 7.5hps), faster (up to 80 kph) and more economical, too (less than 3litres per 100kms). The price also dropped to 280 rubles, which made it affordable even for students.
Nevertheless, the popularity of Vyatkas was steadily declining. Nowadays we would call it bad marketing policies, but then really it was a matter of supply and demand in the planned Soviet economy. Even the numerous promotional advertorials in the automobile magazines did not help: by 1979, the production was stopped. It took a good decade to sell out the excess stock of Vyatkas, and another one to market off the parts. Altogether there was made about 1.7mln Vyatka scooters in these 23 years.
Of course the Soviet scooters never stopped with Vyatka. There was the Tuirst scooter, named after the factory 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 example of how fantastically inefficient the USSR and its policies were. The Italian Vespa is still a funky brand and a great vehicle. The Russian Vyatka ceased to exist, and it is more of a collectable item now.