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In 1935 Californian E. Foster Salsbury, an innovative businessman, was impressed when he saw pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart using an old small motorized two-wheeler Motoped around Burbank’s Lockheed Airport. He had a vision for “a cheap and cheerful vehicle that would propel the country forward to prosperous times.” Salsbury hired inventor Austin Elmore to construct his first endeavor. In 1936, during the Great Depression, the world's first commercially viable motor scooter, the Motor Glide, was born. This scooter was an instant hit, especially among celebrities in Hollywood, with record-breaking American aviator Colonel Roscoe Turner as the public face of his company. The Motor Glide was first shown in 1936, and about two dozen were manufactured. They used a friction roller against the rear wheel, which proved an impractical design.
Salsbury’s second generation of scooters incorporated lessons learned from the early scooters. His later scooters were truly revolutionary, both in design and performance. A revolutionary and patented variable speed transmission the Constant Velocity transmission or CVT, was far better than anything competitors had for years (including Vespas in the early 1950s). The Super-Scooter Model 85 or the “Imperial Rocket Scooter”, seen here, was designed to entice car owners into considering a scooter for transportation. Historically, scooters and motorcycles had a twist throttle on the handlebars, which Salsbury thought car drivers might be unaccustomed to using. Instead, the 85 was touted as, “The most completely automatic vehicle ever built.” with a simple foot-operated brake and gas, and no shifting required. Another interesting mechanical feature was the one-sided front and rear forks, with stub axles inspired by airplane strut design. The front suspension was provided by two, dual-rate coil springs housed within the elongated steering head. At the rear, a single coil spring did the dampening.
Long and low with sweeping lines and beautiful detailing everywhere, the Salsbury 85 had the look of the future. It appeared like something from a sci-fi movie of the time. The design was a few years ahead of jet age styling of the 1950’s. Its streamlined bodywork covered the engine and other mechanical parts so the driver never got dirty. Its generous, flowing fender skirts covered the wheels, making it look as if it were floating like a Zeppelin. The 85 came bejeweled with a chrome bumper. Within the tail bodywork was spacious with spare tire and luggage compartment. The large flowing front apron enveloped the front wheel and lead up over the steering head in one smooth fuselage-like expanse.
Less than 1000 Model 85’s were made from 1947-1950, including exports to Germany. Demand fell off when cars started to become available again. A sad finale for a scooter that influenced many scooters that followed.
Manufacturer: Salsbury Motors, Inc,
Country of Origin: United States
Engine: Air-cooled Salsbury single cylinder four-stroke; 6 hp
Transmission: Automatic CVT
Top Speed: 50 miles per hour
Years of Production: 1947-1950
Number Produced: 70 -1000
Original Cost: Approx. $800.00