25 February 2015

Campagnolo Gran Sport: Act II

Yesterday, I mentioned the Campagnolo Gran Sport and its offspring.  As I said, although the original GS derailleur ceased production in 1963, the name wasn't abandoned:  It was re-appropriated in 1975.  In a way, Campagnolo came "full circle" with the Nuovo Grand Sport rear derailleur:  It shared the geometry and overall design of the Record and its succ essors, but had a cruder finish and hexagonal rather than recessed allen bolts, while the Record, Nuovo Record and Super Records were refinements of the original Gran Sport.    The 1970's Gran Sport was situated below the Record but above Campagnolo's "budget" Valentino and Gran Turismo derailleurs, which cost more than, and didn't shift as well as, Japanese derailleurs of the time.  


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Campagnolo Nuovo Gran Sport derailleur, late 1970s



Also, over the few years that followed the introduction of the original GS, Campy created a line of Gran Sport components: hubs, crankset, bottom bracket, headset, pedals and seatpost, but no brakes.  This gruppo is believed to be the first such comprehensive ensemble of professional-level equipment since Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) made the components-of-choice for Six-Day Racers as well as much of the peloton during the 1930s. (BSA also made some very well-respected bicycles.)  Soon, Campagnolo Gran Sport parts would be nearly as common among elite cyclists as BSA stuff had been.


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A new gruppo was also created around the Nuovo Gran Sport.  It would include something the original Gran Sport group didn't have:  brakes.  (Interestingly, BSA made brakes to go with their other components, but Campagnolo didn't come out with their now-famous sidepulls until 1968, a year after the Nuovo Record derailleur was introduced.) The arms were all but identical to those of the Record.  However, the cable adjuster was a knurled dome and didn't have the rubber "O" ring seen on Record brakes.  More important, the quick release could only be opened or closed completely, in contrast to the infinitely-variable quick release on the Record, which could be opened part way.


One of the most interesting Nuovo Gran Sport components was the crankset, which had a three-arm spider:


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Gran Sport crankset, 1970s



Later, it was replaced by a five-arm spider much like that of the Record:


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The headset shared the same bearings and bearing surfaces with Record and Super Record headsets.  However, the Gran Sport, made entirely from steel, had only two wrench "flats" on the top adjustable race, while Record-level headsets had multiple sides that to fit a standard headset wrench.

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Some people preferred the Gran Sport because it didn't have any names or logos on the adjustable race or lower head race. In that way, it resembled the headsets found on some old British frames like Claud Butler.

The pedals were based on the Record's quill design.  The bearings and bearing surfaces were the same. However, the NGS didn't share the Record's knurling on the outside of the cone locknut that helped to prevent dirt from working its way in.  In addition, the dust caps on the NGS were plastic (steel on the Record and alloy on the Super Record) and the cutouts on the cages were a bit smaller.  Finally, as with the rear (and front) derailleurs, the finish was cruder.  However, nobody seemed to notice any difference in functionality between the Gran Sport and Record series pedals.

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Possibly the most inelegant (at least to my eye) constituent of the Nuovo Gran Sport line was the shift levers.  They functioned just like the Record levers but, like other Gran Sport components, had a less-polished finish. And the adjuster nuts, while easy enough to use, were not attractive, at least to my tastes.

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In contrast, the Gran Sport front derailleur was all but indistinguishable from the Record:

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Finally, here is my favorite component in the Gran Sport lineup:

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These hubs were part of the Nuovo Gran Sport gruppo.  But they weren't called "Gran Sport". Instead they were known as "Nuovo Tipo", the name under which they had been made since 1965, a decade before the introduction of the Nuovo Gran Sport derailleur.  The hubs were simply incorporated into the group.



I had two sets of wheels with these hubs.  In fact, my very first set of custom wheels was built around them, with Super Champion 58 rims and Robergel "Sport" spokes.  I rode them on my first long bike tours and, after a few hundred miles, the hubs spun just as smoothly as the Record hubs I would later acquire.  

TIpos shared the same bearings, cones and axles with Record hubs of the same era.  However, the inner races on the Tipos were stamped, while those on Records were forged.  That meant that Tipos weren't as smooth out of the box as Records and needed "breaking in".  They also probably didn't last as long, but I knew cyclists (myself included) who rode plenty of miles, some of them hard, on Tipos.  

More visible differences, though, were in the logo (Tipos used the older-style "flying wheel" while Records had the "world" insignia), the oil hole clips on the Records and lack of same on the Tipos, and the knurled quick-release locknut on the Tipo vs. the nut with the D-ring on the Record.

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Finally, the large-flanged version of the Record had oval cutouts in the flanges, while the Tipos had portal-style holes reminiscent of classic hubs from the 1930s to the 1950s.

1977 Raleigh Competition


Probably the best-known bike (in the US, anyway) to come equipped with Nuovo Gran Sport components was the Raleigh Competition from 1977 to 1985. (Before 1977 , the Competition came with a Huret Jubilee rear derailleur and other French components.)  The NGS gruppo was, not surprisingly, more likely to be found on Italian bikes.  I recall seeing Olmos and Cioccs outfitted with the full Nuovo Gran Sport ensemble, except for the rear derailleur, which was a Nuovo Record.  Stuyvesant Bicycle  and a few other shops sold them.  I don't know whether the shops changed the derailleurs or whether the bikes were originally spec'd that way.

Whatever the case, Nuovo Gran Sport equipment, while good and reliable, never became terribly popular in the US.  I think one reason was the crude finish of some parts, especially the rear derailleur.  For about  the same price as NGS, one could buy Shimano Dura-Ace or SunTour Superbe equipment, which were beautifully finished and offered some of the features (like the infinitely variable brake quick-release) Campagnolo included in their Record series but omitted from Gran Sport.  And SunTour derailleurs and levers shifted better than their counterparts from Campagnolo.

Campagnolo finally retired the Gran Sport name and lineup in 1985, the same year the Nuovo and Super Record series ended their runs.  The Record lines were superseded by the Record-C, while the Gran Sport's berth below the Record was taken by the Chorus and Athena gruppos.  And Campagnolo stopped making their lower-end Valentino and Gran Turismo derailleurs and developed new "mass market" component lines called Victory and Triomphe.

7 comments:

  1. I, too, think the Gran Sport or Tipo hubs were a nice piece of equipment, and I have built a few sets of wheels with them over the years. They weren't quite as smooth or as pretty as the Record hubs - at least not right out of the box. But they could (still can be) polished up to look wonderful - and their bearings are still as good as the more expensive hubs. They represent a really good value, even now.

    By the way - one other problem that probably impacted sales of the NGS group was that Campy didn't have good control over pricing of their groups, so it wasn't too hard to find the better Nuovo Record components for barely more money than the NGS, if one searched around a bit and knew where to look.

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  2. I, too, think the Gran Sport or Tipo hubs were a nice piece of equipment, and I have built a few sets of wheels with them over the years. They weren't quite as smooth or as pretty as the Record hubs - at least not right out of the box. But they could (still can be) polished up to look wonderful - and their bearings are still as good as the more expensive hubs. They represent a really good value, even now.

    By the way - one other problem that probably impacted sales of the NGS group was that Campy didn't have good control over pricing of their groups, so it wasn't too hard to find the better Nuovo Record components for barely more money than the NGS, if one searched around a bit and knew where to look.

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  3. Once again your post resonated with me. A couple of years ago, I bought a 1977 Raleigh Competition GS off of ebay for the princely sum of $50. I thought I was getting just the frameset, but the seller included lots of extra goodies: the three-arm crankset, the bottom bracket, front and rear derailleurs (bother were in pieces), Campy shift levers and Weinmann Carrera brakes and levers, which I believe are original. I have built the bike up with a wheel set that I had on hand, and it rides really well. I managed to re-assemble the front derailleur, but the rear one is still in pieces. Instead, I'm using a Suntour, Vx GT, I believe. It works perfectly with a 5-speed freewheel. The brakes have never worked very well. I couldn't keep them centered, and they're pretty flexy. Just last night I swapped them for a set of Shimano 600s, which work much better. I have also picked up a set of Tippo hubs, another ebay bargain for around $40. My plan had been to convert this to a 650b machine, but it's proven to be a fun ride as it is. One of these days I might even try to reassemble the rear derailleur. If that happens, I may be hitting you up for advice.

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  4. Brooks--You make a very good point about pricing. That might be one reason why, as I recall, few shops or mail-order houses carried Gran Sport stuff, except perhaps for the hubs. Catalogues like those from Bike Warehouse and Bikecology (which became Bike Nashbar and Supergo, respectively) typically listed Nuovo/Super Record equipment, maybe a couple of high-end French components(like Mavic and Super Champion rims, Stronglight and Specialites TA cranksets and Huret Jubilee and/or Duopar derailleurs) Shimano Dura Ace and 600 and most of what SunTour, Sugino and Dia Compe produced. I'd bet that a lot of cyclists who didn't have a high-end shop near them and therefore did most of their shopping from such catalogues didn't even know about Gran Sport.

    MT--You got a Competition frame for $50? Wow! For a production bike, especially a later Raleigh, the Competition was quite nice. As I recall, when the Competition was first outfitted with Campy GS, it had Carrera brakes because, I believe,at that time Campy wasn't yet making the GS brake. I think that brake did more to hurt Weinmann's reputation because it was supposed to be their pro-level brake, but it lacked features like a centering device or mechanism found on brakes like Campy's. Also, its quick release wasn't any better than what was found on cheap sidepulls. They were nicely finished, though.

    Don't hesitate to hit me up for any advice I can give.

    I'll give you some now: If you want to reassemble the derailleur to make the bike "correct" (in which case you'd have to replace the Shimano brakes and SunTour derailleur) or simply for fun, go ahead. But if you want to ride the bike regularly, you'd be better off with the SunTour derailleur. Either way, building a set of wheels from the Tipo hubs is a great idea.

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  5. I was a poor student in 1971and had never had a new bike. Deciding that food was overrated I found the best bike shop in town and went to look. There was nothing which I liked but after a long conversation first a silver frame appeared then a growing pile of bits... At the time it was everything I had so grand sport it had to be with tipo hubs. After years on heavy rebuilds it was a dream. Naturally it got nicked! We had seven good years and countless thousands of miles.

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  6. Coline--Do we ever get over losing a beloved bike?

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