Monday, January 30, 2017

Weird and Wild Campagnolo Gran Turismo

Many cyclists, when they think of Campagnolo, think of great racing bike componentry. Nuovo Record. Super Record. C-Record. Not always or necessarily the most technologically advanced parts, but light, beautiful, and reliable. Functional jewelry. The brand possesses mystique and inspires passion in its devotees like no other. People get Campagnolo tattoos, for cryin' out loud.

That passion for the brand's high end components often turns to derision and scorn when the lower-end components are mentioned. Low-end Campy gets no respect, and as far as that goes, few components get more scorn heaped on them than Campagnolo's first attempt at a real wide-range touring derailleur - the Gran Turismo - typically ridiculed as the Gran Trashmo.

Introduced in 1971, the Gran Turismo is all stamped steel construction and bears a certain familial similarity to the other low-end Campy derailleurs from the era, the Velox and the Valentino - but larger and sturdier-looking. That said, it does seem to have a slightly nicer finish than the other cheap units, and has the pretty jewel-like red "C" bolts. (Some earlier versions of the Velox and Valentino also had those bolts).

What really set the GT apart from the others -- and pretty much any other derailleur from any other maker -- was its wicked-looking pulley cage. Some have described it as dangerous and weapon-like. I've heard people compare it to some kind of ancient sword or scimitar. One thing for sure, though, is that it couldn't have helped the shifting any. Providing adequate clearance between that swoopy upper cage and the freewheel cogs means that there's no way to get a decent chain gap between the jockey pulley and the freewheel. As I've heard from people who've used the Gran Turismo, the spring tension is also pretty high -- not unlike the cable-breaking Huret Allvit.

All that steel (and it's thick, too) means that weight is the punchline of many Gran Turismo jokes. Such jokes are totally unfair, though, because despite what many people say, the GT is not quite heavy enough to make a decent boat anchor. It would need at least a couple more grams to be effective for a small fishing boat.

One thing that is frequently overlooked about the Gran Turismo is that it had a feature that was pretty rare for Campagnolo: a sprung upper pivot - not unlike Simplex or Shimano. Even the Velox and Valentino, which have a similar body design, don't have it. A sprung upper pivot should help make for snappier shifting, though I understand that the feature isn't enough to overcome the overall other-worldliness of the GT design.

In the 1971 Campagnolo catalog, the Gran Turismo is shown with single rear-only shift levers, which would lead many to assume it was not meant for use with anything but a single-chainring crank. I don't believe that is accurate, however. Stamped right into the body, just above the lower spring pivot, the acceptable ranges are listed as "13 - 36 36 - 54" -- i.e. freewheels from 13 to 36 teeth, and a chainring difference of 36 to 54 teeth. Not only that, but the instruction sheet that was packed in the box with each new Gran Turismo derailleur depicts a double chainring setup. Lastly, for certain Schwinn paired it up with double cranks on their high end touring models, and I assume other makers did likewise.


Campagnolo apparently made a huge T-handled stick shift called Comando Elefante for use with the Gran Tursimo - not unlike the stick shift used on some Schwinn Sting-Rays. I've never seen an Elefante shifter in the real world, apart from the catalog images. (scan from Velo-Pages)

This is the more common (though still hard to find) downtube shift lever for the Gran Turismo derailleur. Right side only. Because there only seems to be a right side shift lever, many people expect that the Gran Turismo was only intended for single-chainring cranks. Not true, however. (photo from VeloBase)

Schwinn used the Gran Turismo on their hand-built Sports Tourer and Paramount Touring models from 1971 - 1973 before switching to their own-branded version of the Shimano Crane GS. (Notice that it is paired with a double crank). From what I've often heard, the standard repair for a poor-shifting Gran Turismo was to take it off and replace it with either a long-cage Shimano, or a SunTour GT. (catalog scan from Waterford Bikes).

Ultimately, the Gran Turismo was a fairly short-lived derailleur. By 1974, it had been supplanted by the much better 1st generation Rally touring derailleur, which had a design that was not terribly different from the Shimano Crane GS, and also included the sprung upper pivot. The Gran Turismo still appeared in the catalog as late as 1975, but disappeared after that. Also, for reasons that have never been fully explained or verified, Campagnolo redesigned the Rally in the early '80s, eliminating the drop parallelogram design and the sprung upper pivot -- essentially making it into a long-cage version of the Nuovo Record. Did they get in trouble for infringing Shimano patents? Or get backlash from die-hard Italian fans who objected to the "Japanese" style derailleur? Or maybe it was just a cost-cutting move.

Frank Berto, in his authoritative history The Dancing Chain, declared the Gran Turismo, "arguably the worst rear derailleur to carry Campagnolo's name . . . If a writer praised it, it meant that he had never pedaled it or he was lying." I don't have any experience trying to actually use one, but his assessment is echoed by pretty much anyone I've ever encountered who did try it. I'd like to imagine that it might be improved somewhat by retrofitting it with larger pulleys, which would help reduce some of the chain gap, but I'm not inclined to make the effort.

Unless somebody is trying to complete a proper restoration, it probably isn't a good choice for a functioning derailleur. Otherwise, I think the Gran Turismo is an interesting curiosity -- an effective paperweight (though not so effective an anchor), a clever conversation starter, or something to mount on the wall and admire for its quirky, otherworldly styling.

8 comments:

  1. I started out on a 1972 Schwinn Continental with the noisy and craptastic Huret Allvit. A friend bought the $200 Sports Tourer model with the Campy GT. 15.5 ounces of chrome plated steel IIRC. We used to kid him about the ringing noise the GT made as it mangled the shifts on that 5-speed freewheel.

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    1. Yes - I forgot to mention the actual weight of the G-T. I believe you are right, as it was just barely shy of a pound.

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    2. In 1975 a friend and I toured Europe on Holdsworth's that were equipped with Valentino front and rear derailleurs. Despite lugging 40 pounds or so on each bike the Valentino pushrod front and stamped steel rear derailleurs held up perfectly and while not perfect, changed gears well enough to last through England, France, Italy to Rome and back up through the continent. The GT would wrap more chain those Holdsworth's were geared more like a racing bike than a tourer. When you're 21 you can get away with anything!

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  2. What a near miss! I built a tourer in the mid seventies and fitted the Rally, which is still working fine albeit now getting a bit loose, they certainly learned their lessons from that GT...

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  3. Sometimes I think Campy's heart really wasn't in touring. Or, at least, they had some odd notions of what touring required. Their triple crankset could only take a 36T low gear, although some enterprising folks took Campy doubles and drilled and tapped the spiders to take 28T Stronglight low gears.

    The Gran Turismo is another example of Campy's disdain or misunderstanding of touring gear. Even the long-cage Huret Luxe and Allvit derailleurs of that time had better chain gap and angle than the GT.

    The Rally, though, was a nice derailleur. It didn't shift better than a Crane GS--or as well as any Sun Tour wide-range derailleur of its time--but it was well-made. I, too, don't know why they changed the design into that of a long-cage Record.

    The drum on the single down tube lever looks significantly larger than that of the Record shifter, or of almost any other down tube shifter. I wonder whether the GT needed a large drum, which would wrap up more cable, in order to work properly (if not well). I suspect that most people who used GTs paired them with one of Campy's other levers, which are made for derailleurs like the Nuovo/Super Record, which required less cable travel and probably made the GT even less responsive than it already was. The same could be said, I think, for most other levers.

    I would love to see one of those "Elefante" levers in person. Sometimes I wonder whether Tullio put it in his catalogue as a joke: I have been told that he had a rather strange sense of humor.

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  4. Excellent! The sort of post that keeps me coming back.

    30 years in the industry, and while I was alive, and cycling in the 70's, I wasn't playing at that end of the pool, so I must have missed this particular albatross.

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  5. Ah yes, the 1974 Falcon Olympic's original VELOX RD (cleaned and polished) makes a lovely wall ornament in the Bike Barn. You are correct, it would also make a great paperweight. The SunTour Vx which replaced it in the late 1970s shifts as smoothly and quietly as it did 40+ years ago.
    PS The original Campy FD shifted very well until it gave up the ghost two years ago when the metal of the body began to split.
    Currently the Falcon is sporting a new Tiagra FD until someday when a Superbe finds its way to the Bike Barn.

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  6. I read this with interest because I have one of these on my workbench, ready to install on an old frame I just repainted. I chose it since I think it is appropriate for the bike (early 70's Coppi frame that was a budget racer/tourer - think Atala or Bottecchia low end models.) Style wise, I love that it is crazy looking and has a bad reputation. In practice, we'll see if how bad it really is when I get the bike together. Hopefully I can live with it.

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