Cushman Motor Scooters
By Walter F. Kern
A trip down motorcycle memory lane on a Cushman motor scooter
Back in 1954 or thereabouts I was halfway through high school and in need of some basic transportation. I had just received my driver's license and I was in search of wheels. My buddy wanted to sell his Cushman motor scooter. He offered to let me take the motor scooter for a day or two and try it out. I don't know what scooter model it was. It was a red motor scooter and had an automatic transmission. You twisted the grip on the scooter to go and stepped on the brake to stop. Pretty simple. The motor scooter had that enclosed body with a lift-up trunk. I rode the scooter all over town and had a lot of fun with it but I decided not to buy the scooter. Those were the days when I was trying to decide among getting a scooter, a Crosley automobile, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, or a 1937 Oldsmobile.
The Olds finally won out and I left 2-wheel vehicles, including scooters, to sit in the back of my mind for the next 35 years.
Recently I was thumbing through a copy of the Whitehorse Press Motorcycle Catalog that's delivered to my door once or twice a year. (If you aren't aware of this catalog you should be. It contains all sorts of motorcycle-related books, videos, repair manuals, tools, etc. Many of these books can't be found at your local bookstore or at the usual Internet bookstores. See sidebar.) On the top of one of the pages I spied: "Scooter Mania Takes Over." My eyes drifted down to books about various motor scooters. There was Cushman, a name from the past.
One of the Cushman motor scooter publications, The Complete Guide to Cushman Motor Scooters, caught my eye and I ordered it online from Whitehorse. The author, Bill Somerville, was also the founder of the Cushman Club of America. Somerville has a complete identification guide for Cushman motor scooters in this book. He shows some of the original scooter sales literature as well. As he points out, it's sometimes difficult to identify a Cushman scooter since the company would often take parts from previous year's models and substitute them if they were running out of current scooter parts. You could even get the paint changed if you wanted to. Be sure to order this book from Whitehorse Press for more details. Here are a few facts about the Cushman scooter to refresh your memory.
Originally the company made engines and decided to build a motor scooter just to have another product to put the engines in. The earliest Cushman scooters were sold in 1937 and known as Auto-Glide models. The first model was 1-1 for first scooter and first model. The 1-2 was the second model and so forth. The original Auto-Glides sold for $132 to $140. By 1938 Cushman had nine models of scooters.
They continued to build scooters in what they called the twenty series and thirty series until World War II. Then all scooter production went to the war effort. Some wartime motor scooters were designed to be dropped from airplanes and they were used for other military duties.
The fifty series of scooters after the war resulted in something the Cushman Company called "The Family Scooter." These were 4 H.P. motor scooters with automatic clutch and were simple to operate. It was one of these scooters that I believe I took out for a road test as mentioned above. Next came the sixty series scooters that had a more rounded look in the back body, more horsepower, better lighting and prices that averaged around $250. Cushman also made a variety of other vehicles that used the same basic design including a Package Kar, Stake Kar, Side-Kar, Package Truckster, Personnel Truckster and Stake Truckster.
The Cushman Eagle scooters were first sold in 1949. They looked like miniature motorcycles and gained in popularity becoming the best sellers for Cushman. Most of the Cushman scooters you see on the Internet (see Scooter Links section in the sidebar) are Eagles. Personally, I never liked the Eagle design. To me it wasn't a scooter anymore with the traditional step-through design. Apparently, the general public felt the same way in the early sixties when the Japanese invasion of motorcycles began and other scooters began being imported to the USA. In 1961 Cushman actually decided to distribute Vespa scooters in the US. Cushman discontinued the Eagle scooter in 1965 and soon the entire line. Thereafter they concentrated on building industrial and commercial vehicles including golf cars.
Surprisingly, Cushman is a survivor and exists today under the parent company of Textron. Indeed, Cushman celebrated its 100th anniversary in June, 2001 at their plant in Lincoln, Nebraska. Logon to their Web site and see how Cushman continues to make those vehicles that still remind you of their motor scooter heritage.