The Great Depression era shook up countless industries, creating a need for low-cost, high-efficiency products. So when E. Foster Salsbury reportedly saw Amelia Earhart romping around a California airport on a small motorized two wheeler, he recognized the potential of a cheap, reliable means of transportation. This prompted Salsbury to co-develop the Salsbury Aero Model Motor Glide in 1936 — a scooter propelled by a drivetrain housed beneath the seat that utilized a friction roller against the back-wheel. Supposedly around two dozen units were produced as Salsbury’s debut model had some kinks to be worked out, but in 1938 Salsbury would introduce a game-changer with his “self-shifting” models.
The Salsbury 50 and 60 models essentially laid the groundwork for the majority of scooters that followed. In Colin Shattuck’s Scooters: Red Eyes, Whitewalls and Blue Smoke, the author states that “Almost every scooter built today uses Salsbury’s basic design.” Salsbury’s scooters featured centrally-placed engines, small diameter wheels, step-through frames, enclosed storage space, and most importantly, constant velocity transmissions. The inclusion of these features made scooters markedly more appealing to the non-two-wheeling public — a fact Salsbury was aware of, as he tirelessly marketed his scooters by highlighting their practical and utilitarian benefits.
In an effort to attract car owners, Salsbury implemented several features such as gas and brake pedals on a flat floorboard in place of traditional twist-throttles and levers. In 1947, the Model 85 was introduced, also known as the “Imperial Rocket”. The 85 was manufactured by the Northrup Aircraft company in Los Angeles, California from ’47-’50, though less than 1,000 units were built over its three year production run. Supposedly a DeLuxe-spec was also offered, though those are extremely rare.
Powering the Model 85 was a four-stroke, fan-cooled, side-valve, 320cc single married to an automatic transmission. The chassis was a steel unit shrouded in formed steel bodywork that even included chrome-plated, spring steel bumpers. The 6 horsepower engine was capable of getting the Model 85 up to around 50 mph. On top of its impressive mechanics, the Model 85’s appearance also played an important role in its overall appeal, sporting an incredibly unique design influenced by post-WW2 aviation designs.
You can find this 1947 Salsbury Model 85 “Imperial Rocket” for sale here on Craigslist in Westchester, New York with a price of $8,500.