Salsbury scooters from Motor Glide to a giant Super Scooter

By: On: November 15th, 20109 Comments »Updated: October 14, 2012

Salsbury scooters super scooter first maxi scooterSalsbury scooters were manufactured in California starting in 1936.  Their story is an interesting one because they are known as the first motor scooter to have an automatic transmission.

Mr. Salsbury had high hopes for his motor scooters to be popular world wide, including in post-war Europe where it seemed everyone was starting to ride motor scooters.   Unfortunately, production of  Salsbury scooters only lasted 12 years, ending in 1948 with the impressive, and very collectible Super Scooter model 85 (perhaps the worlds first maxi scooter!).  Cushman scooters went on to be the more well known American scooter brand of that era.

The 1938 Salsbury Motor Glide scooter was equipped with a 1.5 hp Johnson engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).  This type of automatic transmission was adopted by most other motor scooter companies soon after Salsbury introduced it.  It has been commonly used ever since on small vehicles ranging from mini bikes, go-karts and snowmobiles.  The CVT transmission concept has even been implemented on some modern cars.

Salsbury Motor Glide scooters were a small, relatively simple and economical form of transportation.  These caught on relatively fast in the US during the late 30’s, but production got interrupted due to the war.

1948 Salsbury scooter adEngines on early Salsbury scooters were manufactured by Evinrude, Johnson and Lauson.  Of course, Evinrude and Johnson both went on to make all sorts of engines for different types of things, including outboards for boats.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s Lauson was making small and large gasoline engines, most of which were used for farming equipment.

Salsbury scooters, unlike most other motorcycles and scooters of that time period, eventually had foot-operated controls.  The idea was to make it easier to operate, like a car with a brake pedal and a gas pedal.  Mr. E. Foster Salsbury, the company founder, apparently figured he would have a better chance at selling scooters to car drivers if his scooters had foot pedals like they already knew how to use.Salsbury motor scooter on farm Learning how to use hand operated controls is still an obstacle for some new cyclists today.

Another unique innovation of Salisbury was their Super-Scooter model 85, introduced in 1946.  This was a rather large and aerodynamic looking motor scooter that seems to have been influenced by the Salsbury company’s role with wind tunnel tests in support of WWII efforts.  As most US manufacturers did back then, Salsbury also switched away from their normal production to use their technical skills and abilities to assist the war.

The old photo shown here of a farmer in 1947 using his Super Scooter like an ATV or dirt bike is a little hard to imagine in today’s world of John Deere Gators and other specialized off-road utility vehicles, but it certainly demonstrated the durability and usefulness of the Salsbury motor scooter.

The Salsbury Super Scooter model 85 was sold from 1947-1950.  Production numbers are said to have been around 700 to 1000 units.  With a rated speed of 50 miles per hour, an automatic transmission, and a sleek, clean design reminiscent of that era, it is no wonder that this Salsbury is a sought after collectible today.  We at Motorcycle Information believe it to be the worlds first maxi scooter.

About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotorcycleInfo.Org. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding his Moto Guzzi in charity rides and serves as a volunteer motorcycle marshal for an annual bicycle charity event in the Carolinas.

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9 Responded

  1. Ron says:

    I used to have 1 of these back in 1948. I had 2 other buddies that also had 1 each. Mine was orange & 1 was blue but I don’t remember the other color. I had a whizzer motorbike before I purchased the salsbury. I wish I had it today. I drove it summer & winter, weather permitting. I think the purchase price at that time was $450.00 or $475.00.

  2. Ron Heigl says:

    Great to see people today are conserving this special scooter, I had 2 Salburys at one time and another for parts, no cushman could measure up to them.Wish I had one to restore.

  3. Wayne Edwards says:

    I had a used Super Scooter Model 85 as a fifteen year old boy in 1957. I grew up in southern Indiana,with fairly flat, straight roads and a speed limit of 65 m.p.h., and I’m telling you EMPHATICALLY that my scooter ran a hell of a lot faster than 50 m.p.h.! I still have vivid memories of sacking two, sometimes three cars at a time! The motorcycles of later years didn’t provide the thrills that my Model 85 did.

  4. Chuck Hartl says:

    I have a Salisbury that is for sale. I have pictures of the pieces that are there and can e-mail them to whomever would be interested.

  5. John says:

    This will be a great restoration project for someone. The Salisbury scooter is an amazing example of motor scooter evolution and American nostalgia. I hope the new owner will keep us updated as to their progress.
    John

  6. José Luis says:

    I have a scooter Salsbury. do not know what year or model. I need the rod. which had mounted was not original. if anyone knows the steps of the crank. to be made on the lathe and milling machine. thank them
    I have 53 years and this is my hobby happens

    sorry for my mistakes in writing English
    .

  7. ron weaver says:

    HAVE A 1947 SALSBURY SCOOTER FOR SALE, ORIGINAL AND RUNNING, CURRENTLY REGISTERED AND HAVE CLEAR TITLE.

    PRICE $ 4,500 ALSO HAVE A MATCHING TRAILER PRICE $2,000, REALLY NICE TRAILER

    FOR PHOTOS CONTACT ME AT —rweaver100@hotmail.com

  8. don castleberr says:

    My brief memory: Growing up in Little Rock, AR just after WW-2. Must have been about 1949 (give or take, couple years). A store on Broadway, (I believe a ‘glass shop’), had, a new Salsbury scooter on the floor, aparently for sale. I had a “doodle bug scooter, and was familiar with the Cushmans around, but was intrigued by this slick offering. Used to daydream about driving one to Jr, High school. Never forgot that interest. Now back in AR as a retired Senior Citizen, I still long for that experience. 5 years ago, at an antique car Swap Meet, in a State Park, saw two, owned by a man from Oklahoma. One was blue and they were for sale. Unfortunately, lost contact. Also, I recall, back in the 80s. seeing a full-page ad, in a cycle mag. offering some 75 (I believe) Salsburys for sale, along with related signs, etc. Wonder whatever happened to that collection? Any known examples for sale now? D.

  9. B.R.Slocum says:

    I am looking for a running Salsbury 48 or that era and would not care if it was completely restored. Anyone out there know of one let me know.
    BR Slocum email br@lvsgolfcars.com