New Life for 1946 Motorette

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my dad’s 1946 Motorette motor scooter. I’ll admit, we had talked about trying to sell it, and I did have that on my mind. I had promised my mom I would look into it, yet in a couple of years, I hadn’t done much. It’s the kind of odd item for which you need to find just the right buyer, and we weren’t hooked into the right community to do that. So, I thought I’d write a blog post and see what happened, never expecting much, but hoping I might generate some interest and maybe a lead. Little did I know how fruitful that post would be.

A few days after I posted it on this blog, Larry Fisher wrote a comment, and I replied, telling him we’d be interested in selling. A few emails later, we reached an agreement. Larry collects and restores autoettes, the class of vehicle the Motorette is in. He’d even tried to purchase one a few years back. And it turned out that Larry’s wife and my mother share the same name, and they had even been in Osage, my home town, a few years back on a trip down Highway 9. They remembered stopping at Stan’s Drive-In. It seemed too good to be true.

I will say that we weren’t looking for a lot of money from this sale. We asked him to name a price, and we offered to help some with shipping. Our main goal was to find the Motorette a good home, where it might be restored to running condition (we had no idea how much work this would be — as it turns out not that much, since it’s been running already this summer, but still much more than I could imagine doing myself). The Motorette had been stored in my parents’ garden shed for over twenty years, and was in decent shape, though it needs some care to really restore it. Field mice had nested under the seat and eaten through some of the wiring. Larry flushed and lubricated the engine, transmission, and bearings and rewired the electrical system to bring the scooter back to life.

Though we were glad to get a little money out of the deal, and glad to know that the Motorette was still valuable, the best part of the deal has been getting to know Larry and finding out more about the scooter. My mom found a newspaper clipping that talked about how my dad bought the Motorette and had it delivered by my (soon-to be) uncle Frank Mulvihille. Frank was a pilot, and his airline flew the Motorette from Chicago to Des Moines for free. It made the news, since my Dad was a WWII veteran who suffered from polio, and that kind of public interest story was popular in the months after the war. Larry even did some research and found some newspaper archives with other references to my dad’s military service. We found multiple license plates and old registration papers. This allowed my mom to renew the registration and then transfer the title to Larry, making the whole process much simpler. I now have a license plate and photos from 1976 when I rode the Motorette in the Bicentennial Fourth of July Parade in Osage, one of the last times we got it running.

The only hassle was with shipping the Motorette across the country to its new home. There were many delays and we were nearly afraid it wouldn’t happen, but finally in late May, the shipping company came through, and the Motorette was on its way to its new home. Since then, we’ve maintained contact with Larry, who has sent some video of the first time the Motorette was running, the engine, and a visit with my brother Kermit and his wife Kim when he was in Boston for a gathering and showed the Motorette for the first time. It sounds like Larry has plans to continue restoring it to get it closer to its original state (with the modifications my Dad made for using hand controls). We’re glad that Larry is so interested in the history of the vehicle and so willing to share what he learns. Maybe one day we’ll all get a chance to meet him and thank him in person. We’re glad Dad’s Motorette has a new life in a new home, and we’re thrilled to have made friends with Larry and Leone, all through a simple blog post.

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 “New Life for 1946 Motorette

  1. I love this story, Kendall! The video of it cranking and put-putting down the street is wonderful. I never had heard of this type of vehicle. Is that its original color? I’m so glad that someone is taking care of it!

    1. l have the same 1947 blue motorette that my dad left me in his will I need to know where to start to get some parts to restore it. ( seat headlights centrifugal clutch and where I can get parts for the Wisconsin engine. Any information would be greatly appreciated. On a lighter side I remember riding this motorette with my mom and dad back in the 1950’s Thanks again if you can help me!

  2. Kendall, I have a 1947 Motorette that I recently acquired and have restored it somewhat. I’m uncertain if I want to sell it at this time but am curious as to what it may be worth? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks Doug

  3. Kendall,

    My great-grandfather (Stephen Bucholtz) and two of his coworkers actually invented the Motorette. I have been in touch with Larry Fisher and he has shared pictures of his three that he has. My family and I recently went down to the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo, NY where they have one on display. It was great to find your story about the Motorette! One day I hope very much to buy one so that the family can physically have a little piece of our history. I would love to find out more about Motorettes from other owners as well. Thank you again for sharing your story!

  4. Sarah,
    Thank you for your comment. I am always amazed at the people this post has reached, and am glad to hear the story of your great grandfather. His invention helped my father tremendously in his early adulthood, giving him mobility as a polio survivor, and it provided us kids with loads of fun in later years. I’m glad you got in touch with Larry. We were so happy he was able to give our Motorette a good home. Maybe your family will find one that needs a home, too. I sometimes hear from someone who has one to sell.

  5. I am very glad to hear that it was able to help someone out in such a way. It adds such a greater purpose to the invention, even if production only lasted a few years. I am determined to acquire one someday!

    1. That’s a great question, and I don’t have an answer, but I hope someone else might. I did a little searching, and found pictures of our Motorette now owned by Larry Fisher here: Without the title, I’m not sure how you identify the year, though 1946-early 1950’s is the range of years I’ve seen. Some places say they started production in 1947, but ours was 1946 and I’ve seen references to them that early, including a Motorette Derby in October 1946 in Winter Park Florida. May be another blog post…

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