The enigma behind Lambretta.it
Tino Sacchi provides scooterists with exotic components such as the Targa Twin engine and Super Monza kit to name but two. But what drives men like him? Our Italian reporter Christian Giarrizzo finds out…
How far can passion carry a man? What are the boundaries which determine how his happiness in life can be fulfilled? These questions were bouncing round my mind when, at 4am, I set off from my home town to get to the heart of Lambretta.it in Milan. The name Tino Sacchi often echoes across conversations at rallies, shows and exhibitions of classic scooters. Some of his products seem to be a ‘must-have’ to breathe new life into once deceased Innocenti engines, or to add more bhp where no further development seemed possible. A real ‘guru’ of Lambretta. But who is he?
I see him around 10 o’clock in the morning, after six hours of tarmac and toll booths. His headquarters is located at the provincial border between Milano and Lodi. Each region of Italy has its own peculiarities and Lombardia is renowned throughout the country for its productive capacity. In this region everything is ‘industrial’ and the work begins early in the morning before other regions begin to work. Sacchi does not subscribe to this philosophy however, in fact he has the opposite peculiarity: do not go to see him before 10am. He gets nervous and in all probability will chase you out of his office. His phone, however, rings from 10.30am to two in the morning, lunch and supper time included. I meet him outside his lab, which later I find out to be like an endless underground cathedral. Next to the entrance I see a man with crossed arms, a kind of bodyguard, waiting for a signal while looking at his SUV. Inside is a Lambretta type-A scooter made in 1947 just restored and brought back to life. It is the new classic project of Sacchi that will accompany the long series of machines which are resting in the museum. We allow ourselves a coffee before the big dive-in, up to my neck in the ‘bunker’. Two blue eyes are hidden under a pair of photo-sensitive glasses, which change colour if exposed to strong sunlight. Tino’s slender build gives him a certain authority, however, this is softened by a friendly smile, used to season his poise. I cannot figure out how old he is; the white beard suggests that the man has easily passed fifty. But what strikes me immediately is his narrative ability. By the time the coffee arrives we have already travelled in three different continents through his words: Africa, South America and Australia. I then realize that the man in front of me is not a simple technician passionate about Lambrettas, design and processing — Tino is primarily a traveller, a global explorer animated by curiosity.
From his tales it immediately emerges how he educated himself through his trips, adventures and long journeys. “I live for the travelling. For me, travel is amazing, you learn how to live and it is a real life-school. You grasp that people are people, not flags or extremist policy. For example, when I was in Sudan to visit the Sudanese desert in the connecting area between black-Africa and North Africa, to see first-hand the charm of that geographical area, I rented a jeep and we arrived at El’Atrun – an area for the extraction of big salt blocks — which was a penal colony before the war of Darfur. The idea was to get close to the oasis, look to the north, turn around and then continue on our way.
“The journey did not go well, because just when I saw the horizon, three pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted on the roof approached us, stopped us against the dunes and pointed the guns straight at us while we were questioned. After a formal notice to explain who we were, and the reason for our visit, the hostile tension in the air was hot and anxious. We were told that the area was frequented by the rebels, however, the question is always the same… the rebels against what and to whom?”
Tino is taking a break and sliding the glasses on his nose. He looks me straight in the eyes for a few seconds, making sure that I’m listening with high attention. “We are completely surrounded by these bad guys, pointing the gun barrel at us, when they requested my name, our guide who was a native of the place dares a joke: ‘He’s called The Pharaoh — we wanted to call him god, but out of respect to Allah we preferred to give him the name of the direct successor in the mortal earth’.
“At that point the rebels, dressed in tunics and sandals, throw their AK-47s to the ground and begin to split their sides laughing. Think about this, my guide and the other fellas called me ‘The Pharaoh’ just because during the trip I had helped an unfortunate traveller fix his bike. All is relative in the world, Einstein was right about that. We are humans firstly.”
Another break for attention and Tino surprises me: You know that if you have a leak in the petrol tank you can repair it using soap?” “No,” I reply, but wanting to know more about the man I continue: “Let’s start from the beginning of your love affair with the Lambretta shall we?” I change topic, escaping the trap. Tina nods, understanding my game, beginning to tell about himself.
The Lambretta love affair
After working with many established companies in the country, and contributing to the design of the famous Italian ‘Pendolino’ (pendulum) train, Tino, grew tired of the daily routine, and transformed his first love, the Lambretta, into a job. He retired aged 52 but instead of fishing or hiking in the mountains, he took the opportunity to start the adventure that is Lambretta.it. “Basically I retired so I could start work,” he says smiling. “I was the first to produce electronic ignition with variable advance, then after five years of criticism and doubts, all competitors have started to recommend it.” Principles of quality and durability form the foundation upon which the reputation and market presence of Lambretta.it is built in Italy, Germany, UK and Australia.
We leave behind the coffee and the sensual smile of the Romanian bartender-lady (even more intense and romantic after she receives a generous tip from Tino). In a couple of moves the ‘A-Lambretta’ is liberated from the chains in order to allow my indiscreet photo. The castle nearby (Castello di Peschiera Borromeo) is the backdrop for one of Sacchi’s oldest pieces. Being with Tino is very similar to travelling with a bishop; the whole town recognizes him with great ardour and often the jokes are constant: “He’s a dreams-dealer.” whispers a passer-by as he watches from a distance the A-Lambretta. I realise then I’m dealing with a chap who not only has an elaborate two-stroke technical knowledge, but a man who believes in his abilities and has transformed an idea into reality.
After this short interlude, we finally descend within the operating nucleus of Lambretta.it. “I hope you haven’t got your hopes up too much about my lab; we’re not the big-boys-factory like ‘Innocenti’ or ‘Piaggio’ my friend.” What I see however fascinates me; an entire parallel world develops below Tino’s house. A labyrinth organised beautifully which efficiently winds throughout the area underneath the garden. You move from the piston-assembly area to the electronic ignitions storage and disc-brake testing. It is a dense and well-structured space which exudes technical experiences and ruminations. Sacchi, my cicerone to this world, is showing me every corner of his brainstorming lab. I cast my eye to a signed poster on the wall, I read the signature, Charlie Edmonds. Tino comes up to me beating the finger on my shoulder and showing me where to sit. It’s time for another tale.
“You just saw the signature of the man who took 50 aluminium rods and with welding and polishing has transformed a Monza into a SuperMonza, which is an entirely different machine.”
From this motor and the idea there was born an annual collaboration that pointed the way for Lambretta.it to become the official sponsor of the British racer. A mocking smile spreads on Tino’s face: “The problem of Charlie was to stop the Lambrettas not to go fast, he is a big hefty fellow taller than me, but amazingly nimble in movements.
“I remember one particular race meeting during the winter — there were quite nasty motorbikes of the 80s and 90s, laughing over the small Lambretta shape on which Charlie was sitting. The sneers of derision printed on the faces of the competitors were swept away like ashes in the wind at the time of the green light ‘Go!’ By the first corner Charlie was already 40ft ahead of everyone, and from that moment on the race has been set all depending on who could reach Edmonds. What a fun event that turned out to be!”
Tino at 69 years (you really cannot tell his age) seems to have stopped the clock and retained a good measure of his youth. Each vehicle he owns has a story to tell, a whole history that is waiting to be revealed. He continues talking on the topic of Edmonds: “I, along with a group of people including Girardoni and Mazzucchelli organized a trip with a minibus to Cadwell Park, during Charlie’s last race, he was doing his business in the paddock when we managed to unroll a banner of 6m bearing the inscription ‘Charlie Edmonds Fan Club’. I’ll never forget the look on his face at that moment. Every time I recall it, it makes me laugh.”
Tine Sacchi responds to another phone call and with a gesture he indicates to me that he wants to eat something. The time in the hallways seems to run as fast as the race-engines on the track. We walk along the maze leading to the exit when I see another ‘A-Lambretta’ parked next to a shelf. I stop and ask for information to savour one last tale before we leave the lab for a meal, since the bodywork has plenty of stickers from various parts of the world. “During my walkabout in Australia, when in Sydney, I parked her in Saint George Street and just after that started to look around to orient myself; that’s when someone poked my shoulder and asked me if I was Tino Sacchi.”
Another connection is made; the unpredictability of the on-the-road-meetings creates a new friendship with Cambridge-Lambretta which is an ongoing and very close business relationship. I reflect on how trips are the soul of ‘the Tino experience’ and the importance of human connections, which since the first words of our conversation highlights how modern life lacks a lot in the actual meeting in person, the old school sharing of information and opinions.
Now that I’m inside the ‘Cathedral’ and its guardian escorts me under his leadership, I can freely dig all the way into the jungle of technical items in front of me, the smell of aluminium, the glitter of new casings and the form of new components appear for me to try and decipher the secrets which make the products of Lambretta.it so special.
At last, however, it is time to close the world atlases and take some moments to explore the tangle of product concepts within Lambretta.it. To be continued…
Words & Photographs: Christian Giarrizzo
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