An Italian Affair: Vyatka vs Vespa

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.

v 1 500x410 An Italian Affair: Vyatka vs Vespa

Mod­ern girl with a vin­tage scooter. She is prob­a­bly gloomy over the petrol price.

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.

Everybody loved a Vespa.

Every­body loved a Vespa.

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.

One of the first models, 1957.

One of the first Vyatka mod­els, 1957

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).

Even the logo was copied: oh, imagine those law suits in our days!

Vyatka Logo: look­ing famil­iar? Imag­ine the law­suits in our days! Back then, the Ital­ians opted to pro­nounce the supremacy of their scoot­ers that even the Com­mu­nists were copying.

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.

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.

It certainly never went to 140. But this was the dashboard.

The dash­board. It cer­tainly never went up to 140.

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.

Quite fancy, isn't it?

Vyatka-Electron. Quite fancy, isn’t it?

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.

Tula scooter, 1961.

Tula scooter, 1961.

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.

A restored Vyatka.

A restored Vyatka.

Source: Real USSR — Lifting the Iron Curtain

26 thoughts on “An Italian Affair: Vyatka vs Vespa”

  1. Its always amazing how close the copies are – Russian vs western
    Wonder if in time it worked the other way or are there examples – say Russian pole dancers ?
    I would be happy to be with that trim girl as well

  2. Such scooters were also produced in Poland under the name “Osa” but I don’t know if they were on Vyatka licence or it was another independent construction.

    • It is blasphemy what U just wrote ! 😉 OSA wasnt inspired by any other scooter – but become inspiration for other. For example – India bought license to produce Polish scooter there. OSA got pretty unusual look and technical specification.
      Back to the subject – My parents had Vyatka in the 80’s … but it was washing machine not scooter 🙁

    • Scooters were manufactured in Czechoslovakia, too. One of them, Čezeta (nicknamed “čuník”, i.e. “piggy”), actually became a symbol of Czechoslovak “swinging sixties” together with original Škoda Felicia – AFAIK the only cabrio mass-produced in the former Eastern Block.

  3. The 3rd, 7th and 8th picture look like Fuji Rabbit knockoffs. They are far rarer than the Vespa.

    • Gloomy? Perhaps. But it is the most beautiful girl I’ve seen on the internets this week. And I see a lot of girls.

      A classic beauty.

  4. Few comments.
    Vyatka was copied after 50-ieth Vespa’s models, so on picture “One of the first Vyatka models, 1957” is a model of 1965, made similar to another time range of models and this design is not a copy at all.
    Vyatka – is a name of river, so scooter ould’n be called after “Vyatka factory” 🙂
    “The dashboard. It certainly never went up to 140.” It’s a dashboard of Tulitsa scooter (14 hp, 120 km|h maximal speed). So, it’s ok.
    “Osa” is a Polish scooter and it has no connection to Vyatka at all.
    “…later on there were Java and Ural, each with a wide range of models.” Jawa is a Checkoslovakia morocycle and it never produced a scooters. Ural is a big soviet motorcycle with boxer 2-cylynder 750cc engine. Have you ever seen a scooter like this? 🙂

  5. I have often heard that Soviet citizens could not own anything. The State actually owned everything. For instance I have heard that if you wanted an automobile you had to apply to get one. If the State felt you had a need they would grant you one.

    How could a Soviet citizen BUY a scooter? or clothes or toys or anything else for that matter. Did they actually own it or was it considered property of the State too? That would suggest that people earned salaries.

    • I think you’re being quite naive (FOX News much?) – it’s obvious they had salaries and private property, although I think that also happened at different times in the early days (not during NEP) and under Stalin, as well as in other places – and also confusing communism (socialism) with anarchism, where you really don’t “own” anything, all property belongs to the community and can be used by anyone at anytime (as in Catalonia under the anarchist regime, during the civil war).

      You’re also confusing “state” (the way a country/nation is organized) and “state administration” (its governing bodies).

    • You were allowed to buy yourself a car, clothes, food etc. And these purchases were of course your property. However, you were not allowed to have real estate, land; you could not be an entrepreneur.
      By the way, true, it was necessary to apply for the chance to buy a car. If you were not a good Soviet citizen (might have said something pro-Western), no car for you! Waiting lists were measured by years and in some cases even decades.


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