After World War II ended, dozens of Italian companies began producing small motorcycles and motor scooters to provide the local folk with some sort of personal transportation. A few of the names live on, like Vespa, Moto Guzzi and Ducati, but most have been relegated to dusty files on the back shelves of those interested in motorcycle history, names like Alpino, Bianchi and Capriolo.
One noted marque was Rumi, which figured large in the 125 racing scene in the 1950s. The story goes back to 1914, when Achilles Rumi started a foundry business in Bergamo, a city in northern Italy. His son, Donnino, inherited the business in the 1930s, when Mussolini was building up the military, and the plant was ordered to make propellers and periscopes for the Italian navy, even a two-man submarine. Hence the anchor in the Rumi’s motorcycle logo.
At war’s end, Donnino looked to the future. His main business was making machinery for textile companies, but he decided to expand into motorcycles as a secondary source of revenue. Easy to do when you have a foundry at your disposal. A lot of engineering expertise was on hand among the many employees, thanks to the sub-building exercise, and they came up with a very interesting design, both in engine and chassis. And style! Donnino, an accomplished artist, wanted a beautiful as well as functional motorcycle.
The first model was called the Rumi Turismo, introduced at the Milan show in early 1950—and it was a hit!
The engine was a two-stroke parallel twin—cylinders pointing straight forward. That particular design was a bit unusual, perhaps, but Moto Guzzi had been winning races for years with its flat, forward-facing singles. And the cooling potential for that cylinder placement was excellent. The crankcases were split horizontally, and made of cast aluminum. The crankshaft had roller bearings at each end and full-circle flywheels worthy of the job. Cylinder barrels were iron, with heads of aluminum; the bore was 42mm, stroke, 45mm. The pistons were also aluminum, with deflectors on the surface ensuring the incoming fuel was in the most opportune place before getting sparked.
A split-inlet manifold went from a single, slightly tilted, 15mm Dell’Orto carburetor to the two intakes. Ignition was via a Nassetti magneto behind the left side cover, which also lit the lights and honked the horn. At the right end of the crank was the clutch, with the geared primary running to a 3-speed transmission within the unit engine. Final drive, off the left side, was by chain. The engine was said to turn out six horsepower at 4,800 rpm.
The tubular frame, weighing a notably light 18 pounds, was an open cradle with the two front downtubes angling slightly back to bolt on the top of the crankcase, just behind the cylinders. The rear attachment used two large bolts aft of the transmission. A telescopic fork was at the front, with a simple Rumi design having springs in the upper half. At the back, a pair of plunger units provided a limited amount of movement…better than rigid by a long shot. The 18-inch wheels used 30 spokes and wore skinny 2.50-inch tires, and had full-width drum brakes. The wheelbase was a brief 48 inches.
The gas tank held a little over three gallons of petrolio—Italian gas stations had pumps for two-strokes, where one dialed in the percentage of oil the engine wanted, and all that mixing messiness was done for you. Dry weight was a shade less than 190 pounds. The six ponies could push bike and rider along at 55 mph.
The Turismo was the initial offering, at a knockdown price of 198,000 lire. Which sounds less expensive when converted to 1950 American dollars: $164. The chromed tank—as seen on this 1950 model—was standard during initial production. However, a few months along, the chrome notion was dropped and the tank was painted black, red or yellow, with matching fenders and frame. The engine was upgraded in 1953 with increased finning for better cooling, and a fourth speed added to the transmission.
This Turismo was followed by many other versions using the essential 125 engine, from scooters to roadracers, with Rumi becoming a major feature on both Italian and foreign circuits. The “Sport” model had a slightly higher compression ratio, 22mm carburetor and claimed seven horses at 6,000 rpm. In 1956, the Diana replaced the Turismo, with the same motor but a slightly altered frame.
Rumi’s racing successes in the ’50s were legion in Italy and other European countries. An enduro model, the Regolarita, also appeared and did well in off-road competitions, getting gold in the 1954 ISDT in Great Britain.
The most fun, perhaps, was in Rumi’s scooter line. Scooter racing was very popular in Italy in the ’50s, and in 1951 Rumi produced the Scoiattolo (Squirrel) using the 125 engine and 14-inch wheels—as opposed to the eight-inchers on Vespas and Lambrettas. That was followed in 1954 by the Formichino (Little Ant), which soon had a Sport version that twice won the 24-hour Bol d’Or 125 scooter class—and then a 24-hour endurance race in which 125 scooters and motorcycles were in competition with each other.
In 1953, Rumi claimed to have over 20 dealers in the United States, but they apparently did not do much advertising. After 1960, Rumi finances went downhill due to changes in both the motorcycle and textile businesses. Donnino chose to close the factory in 1962 and pursue his artistic career. One of the last Rumis on the market was the sporty Junior Gentleman, boasting nine horsepower from that 125 twin.
(This Retrospective article was published in the May 2015 issue of Rider magazine.)
Thanks for the article. Inspired me to look up the Little squirrel and Little Ant (although I’d think “ant” would have been small enough). Beautiful machines: https://youtu.be/AJ7BgBPhIoA