Motobécane and the Mobylette

In the early 1920's Frenchmen Charles Benoit and Abel Bardin worked together at the Pantin based company SICAM (Société Industrielle de Construction d'Automobiles et de Moteurs) developing a small two-stroke auxiliary motor that could be attached to bicycles. Intending to adapt the engine for use in a "voiturette" (little car), Benoit and Bardin left SICAM in 1922 to found their own company. Unfortunately their first prototype, the Pélican, (later described as a "cyclecar") caught fire and the men were forced to abandon the project.

Instead they set to work designing a motorcycle. In 1923 they completed a new prototype featuring a single-cylinder, two-stroke 175cc engine, and this time the test runs were much more successful. In 1924 Benoit and Bardin, joined by several others, founded a new company: Société des Ateliers de la Motobécane.  The 175cc motorcycle was dubbed the MB1 and held the company's first patent for a piston design that delivered greater power over similarly classed engines.

Motobécane MB1
Motobécane launched full production of the MB1 from a small 400-square-meter factory in Pantin, and it quickly became a bestseller in the entry-level range. By the end of the decade Motobécane had become one of the best-known names in the French motorcycle market.
In order to meet production demand the company launched an expansion of its production facilities, adding more than 6,000 square meters by 1926. They continued to improve on the MB1 design through the end of the decade, adding a number of new features such as a luggage rack and a muffler along with various engine improvements.
The MB1 was to remain a fixture in Motobécane's catalog through the 1930s, but in the meantime the company continued to expand its range; in 1926 they developed a 308cc motorcycle also featuring a single-cylinder two-stroke engine, the "Motoconfort" which quickly provided the company with its second success.

1926 MC1 "Motoconfort" 308
Motobécane began developing its first four-stroke engines in the late 1920s, and their early efforts produced a 500cc engine in 1929 but the design generated little more power than the company's two-stroke engines and it failed to garner much attention.
Still, by the 1930s Motobécane was producing a best-selling range of motorcycles and they continued to push the four stroke. In 1930 they launched the B7, a 750cc four-stroke motorcycle which delivered greater power but still failed commercially. 1933 saw the introduction of a new 250cc model and by the end of that decade the four-stroke featured prominently among the group's models although two-stroke engines remained the primary focus of production, particularly the small-cylinder models. These included the Poney, introduced in 1938 initially with a 63cc engine that was replaced in 1945 with a smaller 50cc design. During this period the firm entered several road racing competitions and won the Bol d'or endurance race.

1939 "Poney"AG1

1938 S5

With the onset of the French Occupation during World War II operations at the Pantin factory were severely restricted. Although a few Poneys and B1V2 machines initially crept off the lines, lack of materials soon put a halt to production and in 1941 the Organizing Committee of the Automobile (COA) issued an order allowing only the manufacture of bicycles for civilians. Motobécane adapted their facilities and came out with three standard bicycle models, two basic and another designed for racing; they also produced some twin cylinder, water cooled engines for bauer Karlsruhe fire pumps and worked on designs for radial aircraft engines.

In response to disappearing civilian fuel supplies, the directors instructed engineer Éric Jaulmes to look into producing a pedal car to compete with the Vélocar: in 1942 he delivered a prototype three wheel vehicle with  pedals connected to the single rear wheel via a chain and an 8-speed cycle-style gear system. The emphasis was on weight reduction and it came in just over 30 kg. A single central fin on the tail-piece of the body was featured not for aerodynamic reasons but in order to accommodate the rear wheel. The vehicle never saw production, and seems to have been more of an exercise in morale building rather than a practical commercial concept.

Immediately following the war the company sought to continue its push into larger motorcycle categories, and began designing a new two-cylinder four-stroke engine. A prototype of the new model dubbed the V4C was displayed in 1947 but lack of demand for larger motorcycles caused them to abandon plans for further development.

Instead they went back to focus on smaller single cylinders: their  D45 125cc had been introduced in 1945 and had proved a commercial success, as had its successor  the 175cc  Z46 which was equipped with modern suspension.

Based on the success of its smaller motorcycles, the company introduced a new design in 1949 that was to become its greatest commercial achievement.

The Mobylette, as the new model was called, was a hybrid between a bicycle and a motorcycle and it responded perfectly to the needs of the postwar French population; with few automobiles available for private use, the country's workers typically traveled to and from their homes on bicycle.

Charles Benoit had been exploring the concept of the auxiliary bicycle motors he had produced at SICAM earlier in the century: as early as 1942 Motobécane had developed the AV2 motor which was intended as an add-on for a bicycle. When the Solex company, an established manufacturer of carburetors and other automotive parts, released their Velosolex motor powered bicycle in 1946 at the Paris Salon their success convinced Benoit that the time was right.
 Motobécane reinforced a bicycle frame and adapted it to accept their Poney motors: the result was dubbed the Mobylette AV3, and was launched in 1949 under both the Motobécane and Motoconfort names.

The Mobylette featured several innovations that provided an advantage over the Velosolex and other competing models; the design utilized a low-slung frame appropriate for both male and female riders, and the company had also designed the fuel reserve and engine to eliminate the risk of oil or petrol spattered clothing. Motobécane had also equipped their hybrid with a wide, comfortable seat, raised handlebars and a headlamp: small touches that immediately appealed to their customers. And despite the motor's small size and limited performance (top speed was only 30 kilometers an hour) the Mobylette was capable of climbing all but the steepest hills.

The success of the "Moby" was immediate, and Motobécane rapidly grew from a relatively small company focused primarily on the French market to an highly internationally recognized brand. But as demand grew steadily through the 1950s it quickly eclipsed the company's motorcycle production capabilities. By 1964 the company had produced its last "real" motorcycle and was focused almost exclusively on the little moped.


Sales of the Mobylette remained strong and the company continued to expand its range adding new models, colors and features. Altogether the company sold more than 14 million Mobylettes, becoming the leading producer in its class: the model's popularity was such that "Mobylette" had become a generic term for what we now know as the "moped".
But by the late 1960s the market for the Mobylette had begun to decline. Steady economic prosperity meant that the public could now replace their economical transport with more comfortable automobiles and larger motorcycles: at the same time a rise in popularity of the new Italian "scooters" which featured more power and a more modern design was posing a new threat to Motobécane's core market.

During the 1970s several variations were available, usually incorporating a number/letter combination such as 40T, 40TL, 40V, and 50V. These naming conventions determined either stock or optional equipment available; for example, the 40T was a slower version capable of just 25mph maximum speed and without rear suspension, while the top of the line 50V had front and rear suspension, a heavier body, and was capable of 30 to 35 miles per hour (48 to 56 km/h).

In response to slumping sales, Motobécane launched a new attempt to reenter the full-size motorcycle market, introducing a new 125cc model in 1969; but the rapid growth of imports from the major Japanese motorcycle makers made it almost impossible. They tried again in 1973 with a well received 350cc three-cylinder model, but by then the advanced features had raised its base price too high to compete against its lower-priced Japanese competition.

1961 race-prepared Motobécane ZS 175cc single

Another factor led to the group's downfall; with the rising popularity of televised racing by the end of the 1970s, racing had become an important means of promoting motorcycle brands. Although Canadian Walter Muma rode a 50V 11,500 miles on a 3-month round trip from Toronto to Alaska in 1978 and Motobécane had developed its own racing team in the late 1970s -competing in several Grand Prix races, even managing to score a number of 125cc class victories in the early 1980's- they had done it with motorcycles that bore little resemblance to their production models. The interest in racing and consumer machines had merged and the public wanted bikes that were fast in their stock form.

Motobécane continued to explore new engine and component designs, launching a collaboration with Bosch to develop a fuel-injection system for two-stroke engines but that project failed to produce results. After a failed attempt to merge with Italy's Motoguzzi the company was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1981.
In India, the earlier version of Mobylette was manufactured under license by Mopeds India Ltd from 1965 until the late 1980s under the name Suvega. They also had a factory-supported race team which was highly successful in annual Sholavaram races in 50 cubic centimetres (3.1 cu in) class.

In 1983 Motobécane was sold to a group of buyers led by Xavier Maugendre, a prominent figure in France's automotive and motorcycle markets. Renamed as MBK, the company began seeking new investors in order to rebuild its operations and by 1984 they had secured financing from new shareholders included Yamaha Motor Company which acquired 40 percent. By 1986 Yamaha had gained majority control of MBK.
Under Yamaha's ownership MBK was able to return to profitability, achieved in part through the transfer of parts of Yamaha's scooter production to MBK's factory. But although some of the company's production was sold under the Yamaha name they continued to market several models under their own MBK brand including the "Booster" scooter line launched in 1990.

MBK continued to produce the Mobylette through much of the 1990s. From its launch in 1949 until final production in 1997, the Mobylette acheived production numbers exceeding 14 million with peak production in the 1970s averaging around 750,000 annually.

The company also continued to produce bicycles on a small scale, although the Motobécane brand was later sold to a U.S. company which used it to market Chinese and Korean built bicycles.

Early in the first decade of the 21st century MBK also began producing motorcycles again, including a 600cc motorcycle for Yamaha starting in 2003. But scooters remained MBK's core operation into the second half of the decade; the scooter's economic and environmental advantages was winning over a growing number of urban commuters. MBK launched its first large-wheel scooter, the Cityliner, for the 2008 model year.
Under the name MBK, the company continues to manufacture scooters and mopeds for the European market.


Historic motorbikes Motobecane B-44, 1930
MB1, la première: par Patrick Barrabes (in French)
Création de la marque Motobécane (in French)

Motobécane; Souvenirs de guerre -Par Patrick Barrabes (in french, .pdf)


The Cushman Motor Company

The Beginnings
Everett (left) and Clinton Cushman
In 1901 cousins Everett and Clinton Cushman of Lincoln, Nebraska applied for a patent on a seal to prevent compression leaks on small two-cycle stationary engines. They'd been building and working on farm machinery for some time; both had attended the University of Nebraska and although the younger Everett had "...went in the front door and out the back" according to his grandson Robert, Clinton graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1902. 
That same year their patent was approved, and the duo filed articles of incorporation as the Cushman Motor Company on September 18, 1902.

 Working out of the basement of a building on the northwest corner of 24th and O streets, the pair struggled to make a living from building engines for farm applications. At the same time they were both avid boaters- a difficult prospect in landlocked Lincoln- and were constantly working on modifications for a marine engine. When Everett saw an advertisement for a single-cylinder outboard engine competition the cousins entered a 2hp version of their two stroke and took first place. The Rudder, a popular power boating magazine, ran an article about the race which gave the Cushman engine some much needed PR, and they began to develop a reputation for power and reliability. But the overall demand simply wasn't enough to make Cushman a major name.

Early Cushman 2hp Outboard
Advertisement from 1919 Nebraska Farmer
By 1906 the company was struggling to stay afloat and the next three years saw little in the way of advancement. But in 1909 the cousins brought in Everett Brown Sawyer, a young salesman with a strong background in engineering. As general operations manager Sawyer quickly realized the growth potential in the agricultural market: farmers were actively seeking new means of mechanizing production. Clinton and Everett were persuaded to put their marine line on the back burner and developed a new line of 4 stroke, high speed water cooled engines which developed a solid reputation around the Midwest. In 1910 the company turned an actual profit of $12,000 and was incorporated as the Cushman Motor Works: in 1913 they broke ground on a new foundry and factory on 21st Street in Lincoln.

World War I opened new military and foreign markets, along with a dramatic increase in demand for electricity; with some modifications to their 4hp binder engine Cushman began producing portable "electric light plants", small enough to be popular with individual farmers but also in demand from small electric companies and the government. By 1918, sales had risen to $1.5 million and the company opened a Canadian branch in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Cushman engines were powering everything from hay presses to washing machines.

Cushman Motor Works, 1919
 But the drop in military contracts at the end of the war coupled with the farm depression in the early 1920s signed a death knell for the company: despite a line of new engines even Sawyer was unable to pull sales back up. Everett Cushman left the company in 1919 to start the Cushman Engineering Company in California with his son Clifford, then later joined Piersen Manufacturing Co. in Topeka, Kansas. Clinton Cushman's fate after 1919 is unknown. Everett Sawyer ran the company himself until was forced out by creditors in 1927, when a management firm controlled by outside creditors took control.

Easy Manufacturing

Cushman R-1, 1936
In 1933 Charles Ammon was running the Easy Manufacturing Company in Lincoln, just down the street from the Cushman Motor Works (the Cushman foundry had been a major supplier of castings for Easy).
The onset of the Great Depression allowed Ammon to acquire the remains of Cushman at a bargain and they quickly adopted the Cushman name for their own line of small multi-purpose engines, capitalizing on the already established reputation.
About 1935 the new company bid on a contract to supply scooter motors to the California-based Motorglide Company. Ammon lost the original bid, but he had learned enough to conclude that there must be a market for scooters and by October 1936 the first Cushman scooter prototype, the R-1, was ready for production. Renamed the "Auto-Glide", the machine featured a 1 hp. (112 hp. optional) Cushman "Husky" 4 stroke with a wet clutch system, primitive automatic transmission, chain drive and an advertised top speed of about 30mph.

The Stooges on an early Cushman sidecar machine
With the addition of the optional "Kari-Pac," a sort of bin which attached to the rear, the scooter found commercial use as a small delivery wagon that could hold up to 100 pounds. Although initial sales were low the company soon began offering a variety of new options including larger engines and cargo boxes in various configurations, including a sidecar and a front end delivery box. One of the more elegant designs was the "Kar" model 29, a 3 wheeled full chassis vehicle introduced in 1939. Their 3 wheel design would later prove to be the company's most successful configuration.

 1939 Kar model 29 

Second World War
After America officially entered World War II in 1941, Cushman was one of the few manufacturers of motorized vehicles allowed to continue civilian production: the carts and scooters were considered "energy savers" for those needing efficient transportation to jobs. While the factory began production of bomb nose fuses (over 8.5 million produced during the war, and given the Army and Navy "E" awards for outstanding quality and quantity), the military also found an immediate need for lightweight, dependable and economic transport both on base camps and in the field. More than 15,000 Cushman two and three-wheeled vehicles were commissioned for use by all branches of the armed forces.

1944 Cushman Airborne, Model 53

In 1944 the Model 53 Cushman Airborne was introduced: a heavy 255lb. rigid framed machine with a stock 4.5 hp "Husky" motor and non-syncromesh 2 speed sliding gear transmission. The Airborne's top speed was 45 mph, but the heavy, solid frame produced a bone jarring ride on anything besides smooth tarmac.
The machine was designed to be airdropped by parachute or carried by glider, and it had a hitch to pull a model M3A4 general-purpose utility cart. The cart could be converted to carry .30 or .50-cal. machine guns or an 81mm mortar, though performance was sketchy under any kind of heavy load.

Reportedly the Army engineers also made a serious weight miscalculation when allocating the parachute size for the Cushman, and as a result the scooter hit the ground with enough force to bend the frame in half.
Utilizing typical "Army intelligence", rather than simply using a bigger parachute they contracted Cushman to modify the Airborne with a large spring-loaded bumper that wrapped around the frame section of the scooter, adding another 50 lbs. in the process. This resulted in an Airborne with bent frames and bumpers, hardly the improvement they were seeking. The whole parachute program was scrapped, but Cushman still made nearly 5,000 airborne scooters for the military. The rugged, simple Model 53 could travel through a foot of water, climb a 25 percent grade and had a range of about 100 miles. After the war the Airborne was modified with swing-arm rear suspension and sprung trailing link forks, and sold on the civilian market until 1954 as the model 53-A. Many of them were re-purposed for use by the postal service and police departments after the war.

Post- War Production
1948 Pacemaker
Following World War II, Company President Charles Ammon started a union in an apparent attempt to block worker support for outside union representation. But in 1946 the Cushman factory workers chose the UAW-AFL to represent them, and the first one-year contract was signed Nov. 14, 1946. In 1947 control of the company passed from Charles Ammon to his sons; Robert, who became president, and William who served as vice president. Soon after Robert Ammon became president the plant converted to a small-scale assembly line modeled on Detroit's auto manufacturing principles; Ammon told Business Week magazine in 1950 that he liked to think of Cushman as "...the General Motors of scooter production". Several new models were introduced to the production line from 1946 through 1950, including the Pacemaker and Roadking models (1946), the Sears Allstate (1948) and the Highlander (1949).

 Above: Bo Diddley with a Cushman RoadKing

  Above left: Cushman Allstate (manufactured for Sears); Right, Model 61 Highlander 

Mid-1950's model Cushman Eagle

In 1950 Cushman Motor Works employed 750 people; that same year the company introduced the Eagle, which would prove to be their most popular two wheeled model of the era. The Eagle copied more conventional motorcycle designs with its "naked" engine, sprung saddle, contoured fenders and teardrop fuel tank: even whitewall tires were available. With a 318cc, 8hp  flathead single cylinder, the scooter further burred the lines between scooters and motorcycles: combined with a two-speed transmission, the machine could boast 50-plus mph.

Unexpectedly, the Eagle soon became an icon of Shriners' groups (an offshoot of the Freemasons), who made the little bikes famous by riding them in formation during civil parades around the USA.
By the mid-1950s a specialized version of the Cushman Silver Eagle, featuring a slightly higher hp output and a few additional cosmetic features, had become the standard for many Shrine Temple "Cushman Motor Corps" throughout the United States and Canada.

But in 1961 Cushman decided to phase out all production of two wheeled scooters, and by 1966 the last Silver Eagles had left the plant.

The Truckster
As defense contracts finally ended after the Korean War (Cushman had also been producing aircraft parts), the company began to focus new product modifications for industrial consumers. In 1952 they re-introduced a line of three-wheeled industrial vehicles dubbed the "Truckster". In 1957 the federal Post Office Department awarded Cushman a contract to produce 1,500 modified Trucksters which would be known as Mailsters.

Late Model Cushman Mailster
 Within months of signing the contract to build Mailsters, the Ammon brothers sold Cushman Corporation to the Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) of Waukeegan, Illinois. In a stock trade valued at $3 million, the homegrown engine manufacturer finally became a subsidiary of a firm best known for marine products; ironically, the original goal of Everett and Clinton Cushman back in the early 1900s.
The Truckster was being used in dozens of industries along with more visible roles in the Postal Service, "Meter Maid" parking enforcement and private security sectors. In 1965 the Welding Journal reported that the New York Central railroad was using the 50-inch wide Trucksters as mobile welding units in Chicago, making repairs to passenger coaches; scores of them were used at the 1964 New York World's Fair, and even the Pentagon reportedly had a Cushman outfitted as a fire truck.

Custom Golfster

Dwight D. Eisenhower and LBJ in a Cushman Golfster, 1960s.
Cushman had also used the three wheeled frame with an electric motor to produce a "Golf Car" which was originally introduced in 1955. In the 1960's this little open machine, now known as the Golfster, got a PR boost from President Eisenhower, an avid golfer who began relying on the little vehicle after he suffered a well-publicized heart attack. An array of celebrity golfers and stars including Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra soon had Cushman golf carts modified to reflect their personalities.
This created a publicity bonanza for Cushman, and combined with the increased leisure time for Americans and a corresponding increase in discretionary income the golf carts developed into something like a personal version of the truckster.
But in 1973 6,087 Polish made electric golf carts were imported into the United States at "less than fair value", accounting for 15 percent of the U.S. electric golf cart market. On June 27, 1975, Outboard Marine announced it would discontinue manufacture of its signature product; ironically, the Polish imports that brought down Cushman's line were carbon copies of Cushman competitor "E-Z Go" golf carts, which is now, like Cushman, a part of the Textron conglomerate of companies.

Bristol Police Truckster, 1978

By the late 1970s the need for modernization at Cushman ushered in a burst of expansion at the Lincoln plant. OMC had consolidated equipment lines from Minnesota to Lincoln in 1977 and through the next decade they invested more than $40 million on the facility, upgrading machinery and engineering new products. Sales volume doubled between 1984 and 1989, which made the Cushman division an attractive property when OMC decided to sell it in 1989. Ransomes PLC, a British manufacturer of lawn and turf care equipment got the purchase but things began going downhill almost immediately: the company had almost bankrupted itself trying to raise the purchase capital, and they implemented "a management style that seemed to ignore Cushman's successful track record." Then a major recession hit the golf course industry, Ransomes bread and butter. Employment at the Lincoln plant dropped from 700 to about 400 within a decade.
On Jan. 30, 1998, Textron bought the British company for $230 million and agreed to assume $60 million in Ransomes' debt, part of which stemmed from Ransomes' purchase of Cushman from Outboard Marine. The sale brought Cushman into a global industrial company with aircraft, automotive, industrial, and finance divisions.
 Today, 100 years after the first engine was shipped out of the Lincoln, Nebraska plant, Cushman is still striving to provide rugged, dependable solutions for a variety of industries. And with the ever-expanding resources of Textron, one of the world's most renowned manufacturers of transportation vehicles, Cushman continues to grow. Cushman vehicles are now manufactured in Augusta, Georgia, in a 650,000-square-foot plant recently honored as one of the top 10 manufacturing facilities in North America by IndustryWeek magazine. The company continues to build on its reputation for delivering quality, heavy-duty industrial material carriers and comfortable personnel transport vehicles.

It’s Time for a Cushman Scooter (Brandland USA)
The Early Cushman Years
Who Saved The Cushman Scooter? by Bob Jungbluth (www.hobbytech.com)
Directory of Cushman photos from scootermaniac.org
Jim's Cushman Scooter Site