Roma Olimpiade or Gran Premio?

Legnano produced two quality road bikes, the Gran Premio and the Roma, or Roma Olimpiade as it was renamed following Ercole Baldini’s gold medal win at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.  The Roma Olimpiade was the ‘flagship’ model for top competition and the Gran Premio a very close ‘second tier’ road bike for amateur racing and ‘sportif’ riders alike.  The Gran Premio was also produced in greater numbers and imported to North America in greater numbers as it was more affordable.

To make it more affordable, the Gran Premio typically had fewer Campagnolo components than the Roma, dispensing with the pricey Campy crankset, bottom bracket, headset and seat post. Having said that, there is very little otherwise to visually distinguish the Gran Premio frame itself from the Roma Olimpiade, particularly if the paint is worn or if the bike has been repainted. So for anyone purchasing a repainted Legnano bearing Roma Olimpiade decals, you may to read on and take a very close look at your pending purchase.

58_LEGNANO_02

Serial numbers were stamped on the back of the seat lug for Roma and Roma Olimpiade models.

The ‘apparent’ build quality or detailing differences between the Roma and Gran Premio frame is not obvious with the exception of one feature, the location of the serial number. Legnano assigned a unique alphanumeric serial number, of 6 characters (sometimes 5 if the numeric portion only had 3 digits) to each frame they produced through until the late 1960’s. And from all of my research and investigation, the serial number on the Roma Olimpiade was always placed horizontally, left to right, at the top edge on the back of the seat lug (photo above). The serial number for the Gran Premio was placed vertically, top to bottom, on the right side of the seat post in the same manner as all other Legnano models (photo below).

61_GRANPREMIO_01

Serial numbers for Gran Premio models were stamped vertically on the right side of the seat lug.

The different location of the serial numbers may have been done to ensure that the Roma and Gran Premio frames did not get mixed up in the Legnano factory through production prior to paint and decals being applied.  It may also have been done because the more ‘tailored’ fitting of the rear stays to the seat lug on the Roma models does not really leave as much room for the serial number to be stamped on the side of the seat lug.

Both the Gran Premio and Roma models used Campagnolo dropouts front and rear. The lugs and fork crowns are identical. And the reinforcing detail or ‘tange’ on the inside face of the front forks can also be the same on bikes from the 50’s and early 60’s. The plating details on the rear stays, front forks and head tube are also identical between the Gran Premio and Roma models.

It is worth mentioning that the location of the serial number on the side of the seat lug was also used for all of the other bikes that Legnano produced including their ‘Condorino’ models. So if you are buying a repainted Gran Premio be sure to check that it has Campy dropouts, otherwise it could well be a ‘repurposed’ frame from one of their city bikes posing to be something that it is not.

So what are the construction or performance differences between Gran Premio and Roma frames?

As mentioned above, the rear stays on the Roma models have a tailored ‘butt’ fit to the seat lug compared to the side brazing of the Gran Premio rear stays to the seat lug. This difference in construction would result in a stronger and perhaps a stiffer rear triangle on the Roma.

IMG_5116_800x600

The rear stays on the Gran Premio have a ‘bullet’ shape end and are brazed directly to the set lug.

IMG_5117_800x600

The rear stays on the Roma frames have been ground and ‘fitted’ to the rounded contour of the seat lug and then brazed.

In addition to the different location of the serial number on the seat lug, the seat lug itself is different on the Roma models with a much longer throat and support for the top tube.  Coupled with the aforementioned different fitting and brazing of the rear stays, the Roma frame would be much stronger and stiffer than the Gran Premio particularly for top competitors.

IMG_5118_800x600

IMG_5119_800X600

The seat lug on the Roma (bottom image) has a longer throat for supporting the top tube compared to the Gran Premio (top image).

I didn’t notice this difference until fairly recently as it is a subtle one.  The Gran Premio forks use the Campagnolo Gran Sport dropouts and the Legnano Roma forks are finished with the Campaganolo Strada (later Record) dropouts that are investment cast rather than stamped and less susceptible to bending or misalignment.  It is worth adding that both the Campy Gran Sport and the Campy Strada rear dropouts were investment cast steel, so no substantive difference here.

IMG_5124_800x600

The fork ends on the Gran Premio models use the Campaganolo Gran Sport dropouts that are stamped.

IMG_5123_800x600

The fork ends on the Legnano Roma models use the Campagnolo Strada dropouts that are investment cast.

What about differences between the frame geometry and tubing on the Gran Premio and Roma models?

Comparing a 56cm Gran Premio frame with the same size Roma frame, the overall center-to-center wheelbase is approx. 2cm shorter on the Roma. The shorter Roma wheelbase reflects a slightly more upright main triangle and there is slightly less rake in the front forks. So we can assume that the Gran Premio is a little less responsive than the Roma frame but also a little more comfortable on rough road surfaces.

Legnano used Falck tubing to build the Roma frames through the 60’s and sometimes into the early 70’s. It could be that a better grade of Falck tubing was used on the Roma frames or perhaps only the three main tubes on the Gran Premio models shared this better quality tubing however it is possible that the tubing could also be identical between the two models.

When I get the opportunity, I will weigh two identically sized Roma and Gran Premio frames of the same year to see if there is any noticeable weight difference. This may give a clue as to any possible tubing differences between the models. Lastly, there is also the possibility that the better or more skilled of the frame builders were assigned to the Roma frame production given the higher price point and lower production quantities.

More to come . . .

8 thoughts on “Roma Olimpiade or Gran Premio?

  1. Hello,
    First of all, very interesting and informative website you have, been reading it for about a year now. Have a question; do you know what was the first year model Gran Premio appeared in catalogs replacing the model 54? So far, I haven’t been able to find an earlier date than 1958. The reason why I’m asking is that I just acquired a Gran Premio which I believe dates to -58. That’s what’s stamped on the Magistroni crank arms. Also, it has Universal 51 sidepulls, FB hubs on Nisi rims and a 4 speed freewheel, and naturally Gran Sport derailleur. It has a stamped serial, just plain “46” on the seat tube. I’ve seen these two digit serials on some late 60’s bikes but I don’t think it’s the case with mine. Meaning why use ten year old components on a new quality frame, wouldn’t make sense! The only clearly non 50’s components are bars and stem, but even those are very early TTT Gran Prix from the early 60s. Anyways, would appreciate any input!
    Thanks,
    Jussi

      • Yes it is. Haven’t actually checked how many teeth and what are the rear sprockets. The four speed freewheel is not Regina, can’t remember now what it is. Pedals are Sheffield Sprints, look rough condition but bearings are in great shape. Paint on the bike has the usual scratches but all in all in good shape. Stenciled hot dog Legnano logo in good condition too.

      • There is a bit of gap in my collection of Legnano catalogs so I can’t confirm the exact year that the Gran Premio replaced the Legnano Corsa Mod.54. However I suspect it may have been the same year or shortly thereafter that the Roma became the Roma Olimpiade following Baldini’s Gold Medal at the 1956 Olympics. Having said that there could have been a Gran Premio model at the 1956 end of year shows and shipping to Dealers in 1957 or 1958.

        I do have a Catalog from 1960/1961 that shows the Gran Premio (in lieu of the Corsa Mod.54) alongside the Messa Corsa Mod.53 that remained in production for several more years. The Mezza Corsa was essentially the same as the Mod.54 and it’s successor the Gran Premio except that the Mod.53 was fitted with a four speed freewheel and did not have a double front chainring or front derailleur (the reason I asked about your bike).

        As the 60’s rolled on, the Gran Premio model was extremely popular and Legnano dropped the Mezza Corsa Mod.53 choosing instead to equip the Gran Premio with different components to achieve different price points. They did the same with the Roma Olimpiade as you will find these bikes with complete Campagnolo groups and partial groups during the same years.

        The two digit serial number on your bike is a bit of a puzzle though for a 1958 model but your never know. Some pictures may help me comment further on this and I will send you an email if you want to pass along some photos.

  2. I can try and send photos via email, just have to shoot some. Forgot to mention that the Gran Premio decal is there on the downtube and it sure is original and not a repro that someone just slapped in there. You’re right about the puzzling 46 serial number, but I’ve come across quite a few odds and exceptions with Legnanos that nothing surprises me anymore ( I have a late 60’s no model, no serial number bike which I guess is something between model 54 and Gran Premio of the era ) Also I recently saw pictures of a Gran Premio ( vertical serial # ) with the Roma seat tube lug. Confusing and interesting! 🙂

    • Hi Bruno,
      My life would have been a lot simpler if a paint code existed (regrettably not) however the restorations would not have been as much fun. There are many claims made about matching the unique ‘lizard yellow’ colour that defined the Legnano brand, however it took Noah Rosen at Velocolour the better part of a year and a lot of experimentation to get it right. And I am sure that Noah would agree that it is only 95% correct as today’s polyurethane paints represent a completely different chemistry than the old solvent-based lacquers that are no longer in use given their carcinogenic properties. Best regards.
      Mark

  3. My son recently brought home a bike he bought from a friend for $100. The components are a rag-tag hodge-podge of old Shimano, Sun-Tour and Sugino gear, but the frame, poorly painted over, has a brass name plate, Legnano, on the head tube. I was not familiar with the brand so started some research and found your site. Based on my research I think it may be a ’60s Gran Premio, but not sure. Can I share pictures with you and get your opinion and advise?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s