cycling utah Oct/Nov. 2000

Classic Corner

A reverent look at the evolution of Campagnolo

By Greg Overton

      We were talking with a customer the other day about the various Campagnolo groups that were offered to the buying public over the years. He was asking where this group and where that group fell in the company's lineup from top to bottom. So we decided that sounded like an easy, er, great idea for the next Classic Corner.
      If you go way back to the beginning of the company, there were various groups offered through the years, with names like Cambio Corsa and Roubaix, that were very rare in the United States. As a result, not many of these parts have seen the light of day here other than in the hands of selfish collectors who will not share. So we'll just talk about the ones that you may have a chance of coming across.
      In the sixties, Campy offered the Record group for the discerning racer. It was the top of the line, bettering Simplex in the minds of the racing crowd, except for the French racing crowd. Below Record, and offered on many mass produced bikes, was the Valentino group. Named after the son of Tullio Campagnolo, this group was simpler, mostly steel and much less expensive. Valentino is now the head of the company that his father began.
      In 1968, Campy released the first Nuovo Record groups. This is the component group that really made the company stand head and shoulders above the rest. It was beautifully crafted of aluminum, ornately engraved and totally serviceable. As a result, many of these groups are still around and a surprising number are still being used.
      Just below Nuovo Record was Gran Sport. Offered as an eventual replacement for Valentino, this group was similar to Nuovo Record in many ways, including appearance. But Gran Sport had less polishing and finish work, and several design differences to cut costs. It was offered on a number of mass-produced bikes, but never really caught fire, as Japanese manufacturers were beginning to make a mark at the low end.
      In 1972, Campy released its Super Record group, with titanium derailleur pivots, bottom bracket and pedal spindles, as well as alloy headset and bottom bracket cups. Super Record was the ultimate, with all racers either using it or wishing they were. No other parts group was even used in the professional
peloton, or so it seemed. We've often wondered how many of these groups were produced from 1972 until its end in 1985.
      The Gran Sport, Nuovo and Super Record lineup stayed until 1985, with small evolutionary changes, mostly mandated by the US government's safety patrol, the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These changes mostly represent a lip here and a rounded edge there to eliminate life threatening injury by a front derailleur or similar component.
      By 1985, Big Blue was feeling pinched by the Japanese with their quick-changing designs and big-time marketing schemes. The Italian philosophy of making great products and keeping the design current for a decade was being trounced by new this and new that each year from the two warring Japanese rivals - Shimano and Suntour.
      Then things got ugly, at least for Campy. It introduced Record C, known here for some reason as C Record. The C stood for Corsa and the group was hailed as a total triumph. Victory was declared once again at the very highest level of performance. Then there was a slight problem with the revolutionary Delta brake, something about the cable not holding or some silly little thing.
      No problem. There was a stash of Super Record brakes left, so we'll just stick a blue stone on the front of the pivot bolt, call it Cobalto and charge good money for it. It worked! Everybody loved 'em, and they still do today. The Record C group was saved, and the company's reputation actually elevated, for the time being.
      Campy floundered a bit for groups to place beneath Record C. There was a brief stint for Gran Sport again, then came Victory and Triomphe. These were almost identical, and in the minds of consumers they were invisible. There were a good number of bikes equipped with these groups as a package, so there are some parts out there, and the groups are actually pretty cool. But they were more like Nuovo Record than Record C, and everyone wanted the new look, not the old.
      So the company regrouped and in '88 it released Chorus and Athena. Chorus occupied the space below Record C, with some of the same features and a lot of the same look. Athena was similar in style, but less similar in actual features. These were both great performing groups, and fairly affordable as well. Record C was still the leader, and now had the way cool Delta brakes with the kinks worked out.
      But alas, the Japanese had indexed shifting! What?! Here we go again. Okay Campy can do index shifting, and we'll call it Synchro, uh and well, uh it needs some work.
      So all derailleurs had to be redesigned to index well, but in the meantime, something had to be done to satisfy this fast changing marketplace. Several versions of reworked Chorus and Athena derailleurs came and went. Heck, even a whole new group was introduced. Croce D'Aune (Crocha Downay) was the mountain pass where Tullio's frozen fingers helped inspire the mother of all inventions, the quick release skewer and now became the name of the new group between Record (no C now) and Chorus. The Croce rear derailleurs are way cool with a little push rod down the side to help indexing capability. It worked okay, and had its own Delta brake, but didn't last long.
      So Campy settled on the Record, Chorus and Athena pecking order until 1992, when Ergo shifting came along, and the return of Big Blue began.
      Although it was more than a year behind the release of Shaman's STI shifter, Campy's Ergo was well accepted and has been ever since. In keeping with company philosophy, these shifters are owner rebuildable, gear capacity is interchangeable and were triple compatible from the start.
      In the nineties, the order of the Campagnolo world has been pretty much the same, with Record at the top, followed by Chorus, Athena, then Veloce,
Mirage, and for a short time, Avanti and Stratos. We believe Campy thought they were Japanese for a year or so, and had to offer ten different levels of components.
      But since then, the lineup has been consistent from Mirage to Record. The only recent change has been the switch from Athena to Daytona starting in 2000.
Now it will be fun to see what changes come next.
      Will it be electronic shifting? We've heard rumors of a system that uses the upper pulley wheel in the rear derailleur as a generator, so no batteries, and quite possibly no wires! There is apparently a new single pivot brake coming soon. Maybe they will resurrect the Croce D'Aune name for this stuff, we always liked that one.

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