SunTour was a brand name for Maeda Industries, originally Maeda Iron Works, founded in 1912. According to Frank Berto's The Dancing Chain, the company started out making parts for agricultural machinery, but their first bicycle products were sprockets and freewheels. The bicycle products were marketed under the name 8.8.8., which was intended to remind their Japanese consumers of B.S.A. -- a name many in Japan associated with quality.
In the 1950s, SunTour made derailleurs (or perhaps more accurately, derailleurs were made for them by other companies) that were based on pull-chain plunger-type French designs. Dubbed the "8.8.8. Wide," some versions of these mounted to the chain-stay, while others mounted to the dropout.
|Here's a dropout-mounted SunTour, probably from the late 50s. This one is marked on the pulley cage as "SunTour 4" but I saw a nearly identical one on Disraeli Gears (minus the "SunTour 4" markings) identified as a later version of the 8.8.8 Wide. According to several sources, these were made for SunTour by a company called Iwai, or Iwai Seisakusho. Overall, it is very similar to some early '50s Huret models, such as the Competition.|
|With castings as opposed to cheaper stamped construction, and "high-normal" operation, the Competition was another step forward in SunTour's derailleur offerings.|
When SunTour's patents on the slant parallelogram expired in 1984, Shimano was ready to pounce. Their revised Dura-Ace 7400 series took the slant parallelogram and combined it with a spring loaded top pivot to usher in the "indexing" era. Both SunTour and Shimano had offered indexed shifting years earlier -- SunTour's Mighty Click, and Shimano's Positron (and those were hardly the first click shifters either) -- and neither had made much of an impact, so SunTour probably just shrugged at the new "SIS." (I remember scoffing at SIS, myself. Why would anyone need that? I remember thinking.) But SIS was a hit, and suddenly SunTour was the one playing catch-up. They never fully recovered, and neither did anyone else. By the end of the 80s, Shimano was the dominant force -- the Microsoft of bicycle components. The Microsoft comparison is an apt one on several levels, by the way.
What can I say? I write this blog on a Mac. I always preferred Mary Ann to Ginger. If I lived in New York, I'd probably root for the Mets. And I've always been a SunTour guy.