1947 Salsbury Model 85 Standard_1
The Salsbury Model 85 is possibly the coolest, most inventive and trend setting of American scooters. It offers great streamlined style, but with its variable speed drive*, remarkable performance as well. The featured Salsbury is a Standard, but a DeLuxe was also produced in small numbers. It featured a more enclosed fairing, recessed headlamp and a clear windscreen, but only one is known to exist today. In a book entitled The Evolution of a Revolution”. Scooters: Red Eyes, Whitewalls and Blue Smoke, author Shattuck states that “Almost every scooter built today uses Salsbury’s basic design.” Most interesting about the Salsbury Model 85 is its Constant Velocity Drive or CVT.

Perhaps similar to a typical women’s bicycle frame design, in strictest terms, a scooter offers a “step through” frame, does not require “throwing a leg over” such as with a typical motorcycle. Way back in the 1930’s E. Foster Salsbury was impressed when he saw Amelia Earhart using a small powered two-wheeler around a California airport. He set about designing and building cheap transportation for post-Depression Americans. His first model, the Salsbury Aero Model 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.

The classic and best known drive line design was rolled out in 1938, and offered “self shifting” on the 50 and 60 Models, later the featured Model 85. Some feel that with this “CVT”, constant velocity transmission, the central placement of the engine, a bit of rider protection, a trunk, step-through mounting and small wheels, Salsbury set the standard for scooter designs of the future. And the streamlined design may have been influenced by Salsbury’s work in wind tunnel testing for the World War II effort. Salsbury also adopted some of the pedal operated controls typical of an automobile thinking potential customers that drove automobiles would have a quicker learning curve. Just step on the pedal and go; engine RPMs move into the power band and then become fairly constant as the CVT automatically “upshifts” for you. Searching “Salsbury YouTube” will turn up numerous operating videos for you.

Less than 1000 Model 85’s were made from 1947-1950. Salsbury engines over time came from several suppliers, and these scooters were assembled in California by the Northrup Aircraft company.


  • Engine: Salsbury Four Stroke Single
  • Design: Fan-cooled, Side-valve
  • Displacement: 320cc’s
  • Horsepower:6 Horsepower
  • Transmission: CVT Automatic
  • Starting: Kick Starter
  • Frame: Steel Stock
  • Body: Formed Steel
  • Seating: Spring Cushion, Solo
  • Bumpers: Chrome Plated Spring Steel
  • Top Speed….50 MPH

*The CVT design incorporated a tough, wide V-belt, moving pulley sheaves that changed the “gear ratio” automatically as engine speed and resistance increased or decreased. Modern CVTs are oil-bath designs using multi-plate link chains on “sprockets” housed in “transmission” cases.

3 replies
  1. Ron
    Ron says:

    This Salsbury motor scooter is way too cool. I would like to have one of these for around town travel. As a teenager in the late 50’s I had a Sears Allstate motor scooter. It was powered by a 3 hp continental engine. It would only do about 25 MPH, and then my buddies and I figured out how to make it go faster. We removed the governor and then I could almost keep up with them on their Vespa’s. I delivered many newspapers from the seat of that Allstate. I also went on many road trips and camping trips with my buddies. I would frequently ride it 30 miles to my grandparents house for a short visit with my grandmother. She would fix me a root beer or Dr. Pepper float, then I would be off again home. I always carried a quart of oil with me. That little continental held less than a quart of oil. It didn’t leak oil but burned it. Several times it seized up on me, after a short cool down period and an oil fill-up it was ready to go again. I rebuilt that little engine several times in the driveway at home. I could install new rings and a rod bearing in about an hour and be ready to roll. I didn’t like it too much because it wasn’t a Vespa, but I sure had a lot fun adventures on it. What I really wanted was a Cushman Eagle, but price-wise that was way out of sight. The Allstate served me well and gave me the freedom most Junior High and High School kids could only dream about. Ah, just typing in this little tidbit from a far corner of my memory brings back a rush of good feelings.

  2. Tom Buckner
    Tom Buckner says:

    My first motor vehicle was the Salsbury around 1949-50. I rode it for 2-3 years before my first car, and my longest trip was from San Marcos to Rockport, Texas, when I was 14-15. Top speed 35 mph (I would have liked to have that 50 mph speed it advertised). My hands had no feeling in them for a couple of days from the vibration of the handlebars after the 163-mile ride each way. I had to get a Texas driver’s license to ride it.
    My scooter was the only Salsbury I ever saw, and I had a lot of fun with it riding around and taking my friends on the hood behind me to get a drink at the drug store. It also helped me get ready for automobiles, except it didn’t have that clutch pedal I needed for all my early autos. I’m proud to have a picture of myself sitting on my new Salsbury along with my little sister and brother with their new bicycles.

  3. David Manring
    David Manring says:

    The Model T ride at Knotts Berry farm in Buena Park California used the “salisberry” belt drive, they were designed by Loren Beckman whom I worked for in 1966-1968


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