1946 Motorette

When I was a kid, we had a magic green scooter that stayed in this corner of our yard outside my parents’ bedroom window. It was a place of much imagination. My brother, sister, and I would climb on it with some of the neighbor kids, pretend to flash the lights, pretend to steer, pretend it was an airplane, a space ship, a hovercraft, or any other sort of enchanted conveyance we could dream up. We took many trips without ever moving an inch. Or it was a convenient place to sit and watch the other kids play tetherball. Or it was a convenient base for tag.

Every summer, my dad would work on the engine. When I got older, I got to help him gap the spark plug, clean the connections, clean the carburetor, lubricate the cylinders, change the oil, then crank the engine until it would cough into action. The engine had a small glass bulb gas reservoir that fascinated me. Though the scooter sat outside all winter (in the fall my dad winterized it), he always got it running. Then we’d go for trips around the yard, and sometimes down the alley to the little city park down the block. Everyone got a ride, though our dog, Hector, probably didn’t ever sit still long enough to qualify as a passenger. I remember one photograph of my grandma and grandpa riding the scooter, though I don’t recall whether they actually took it for a spin or only sat in it to pose for the picture. Now and then us kids even got to drive, and I remember once or twice someone, maybe even my dad, taking a left turn a little too sharply, causing the scooter to tip up on its side. It never flipped over, but would come to rest on the bottom of the frame, and could easily be pushed back on all three wheels.

One summer, we gave it a fresh paint job and a new cover for the seat. I decorated the scooter with bunting, attached a few little flags, got a big bag of candy to throw, and drove it in the Fourth of July parade. Since my dad had kept the motorcycle license current, I was able to drive it on the street, even though I wasn’t old enough to drive a car. I was only allowed to go under 20 miles an hour and take it to, from, and along the parade route. I had a blast, driving my dad’s antique motor scooter. And that’s probably when I learned that it was a 1946 Motorette.

My dad bought it after getting out of the Navy after WWII and after he had rehabilitated from polio that he contracted on a trip to Chicago. He went to Des Moines to attend Drake University and go to law school, and he needed a cheap vehicle that could make it around campus and up and down the hills. The Motorette fit the bill exactly, or almost. He had a hand control added that would allow him to use the brake and the gas, and he modified the back end to add a Model A transmission. The Motorette’s Mercury Clutch was perfect, since it didn’t require a pedal. With the new transmission, he had more gears and could go in reverse. He also could shift gears using the gear shift lever that stuck out the back behind the driver’s seat — not real handy if you had to change gears a lot, but perfectly acceptable for his needs. Later, he when he had moved to Osage and owned a home, he modified it slightly again so he could pull a lawn mower behind it, though by the time I was old enough to remember, us kids were the more reliable lawn mowers in the family, and the scooter was in semi-retirement, only brought out for the occasional rides around the yard.

Sometime after my famous ride in the parade, we stopped starting the scooter in the summers. Eventually, it got stored in our garden shed, where it has remained for the past 20 years or more, protected from the elements and up on blocks. If I were more of a mechanic, like my dad, I would dream of getting the engine running again and taking it for a spin.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

16 thoughts on “1946 Motorette

  1. Love your story and your Motorette! I am a collector and historian of vehicles like the Motorette known as autoettes. I blog about them at autoette.blogspot.com and am writing a book as well. Someday I hope to find a Motorette to bring back to life.


    Larry Fisher

    1. Nice Motorette….I have a similar story about one that my Dad had. I have it now, along with lots of interesting information about it. I would be happy to pass some of that along to you, including one of the original sales brochures for it.

      by the way, mine runs and I would be pleased to provide some advice to get yours running as well.


      1. Hi Darcy,

        You will hear from Kendall that I have become the next caretaker for the Motorette. A little over a week ago I was able to get the Motorette running. I would be very interested in sharing any information you might have and that Kendall’s family has shared with me. Please do contact me off line on my email.

        Thanks so much,


      2. I have a blue 1947 motorette which I would like to refurbish I know it needs a new seat and any information on the wisconsin engine would be appreciated. I run a small engine repair shop so the information which you can provide would be very useful. My dad left the “car” to me before he passed away. I know it may have been converted to a 12 volt electrical system, But with the availability of clutch 6 volt starter, horn and headlights, I can probably bring it back to the original condition. If you can help me out, I sure would appreciate it. Thanks, Laurence

  2. Thanks, I was just working on a new post about what happened with the Motorette. It’s been a rewarding story. Will have that up soon!

  3. I just read your post on your Dad’s motorette, I remember one in the neighborhood where we lived in the summer of 1946, I would walk around it thinking how wonderful it would be to have one! Little did I know many years later I would find one on its way to being scrapped! After many years I have restored it to like new condition and drive it around the neighborhood with my grand kids. I have pictures of mine if you would like to see some.


    1. Hi Ken,

      As you will see above, I am now the steward of the green Motorette. It’s been an interesting journey and today, we now have three Motorettes and a matching aluminum trailer. The other two cars and trailer were on their way to the scrapper, relics from the estate of an man who hoarded all sorts of mechanical things and kept the two cars in a collapsing chicken coop. It took two days to get the cars from the coop to the curbside where we could load them.

      I would be very interested in seeing pictures of your Motorette and its restoration. I have been trying to connect with other Motorette owners since acquiring Mr. Dunkelberg’s car to compare notes and information as well as just know there are others like us out there.

      Please feel free to contact me at lfisher160@cox.net or visit my web page at Autoette.blogspot.com

      I hope to hear from you soon!

      Larry Fisher

      1. Good to hear from you again, Larry, and good to hear Ken’s story. I, too, would be interested to see pictures of his Motorette, and I’m amazed you found a couple of others to rescue from the scrap heap. Hopefully they won’t be too hard to restore, though I imagine part of the joy is in the challenge of restoration.

  4. To Larry Fisher and Ken, Can you help me with information I posted needing to replace the seat. the starter, Headlights and the horn because I believe my fathers nephew changed the system on this motorette from an original 6 volt system to a 12 volt system. I would surely appreciate it. Laurence

  5. I am purchasing a storage unit with an Autoette. I know nothing about them, but the more I see, the more I like. I have a couple pictures I’d love to send. It’s in poor condition; I’m not interested in restoring it. I will likely need to find someone who can appreciate what it is and make a project of it. Please let me know if you think you can help me. Thank you.

    1. I can’t help much with finding someone to restore your Autoette, but there may be someone who’s interested and will reply here or email me. I’ve had a few comments by people who wanted to find a Motorette. They might notice and inquire. Let me know if it is identical or if it’s a different kind (Autoette is the more general term for this type of vehicle).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: