On or about 1907, Emilio Bozzi at the age of 34 entered into a business relationship to distribute bicycles with the Milan entrepreneur and industrialist Franco Tosi. Reports suggest that Tosi had acquired some patents from the British automotive company Wolseley and the new venture was named Wolsit, a contraction of the words Wolseley and Italia.
The photo below from 1912 is the Wolsit factory where Wolsit and Legnano bikes were produced along with Wolsit motorcycles and automobiles (source). All that remains today of the factory is one of the perimeter walls. Wolsit ceased operations as a limited company in 1927, continuing on as a bicycle brand in the Emilio Bozzi, Spa production.
In 1910, the Wolsit professional cycling team was created and competed until 1938. As the name would suggest, its main sponsor was Italian bicycle manufacturer Wolsit, Hutchinson tires and Pirelli, also a long-time sponsor of the Legnano and Frejus teams.
The Wolsit team had two riders that won the general classification of the Giro d’Italia, Alfredo Binda in 1928 and Antonio Pesenti in 1932. Wolsit catalogs (below) show Bartali in a Wolsit jersey however there is no clear evidence that Bartali actually road for the Wolsit team, and Bozzi seems to have used all of his celebrated riders over the years to promote the three brands.
Wolsit is the least known and shortest lived of the Bozzi brands which is interesting considering it was the brand that started it all off. Perhaps it was the joint-venture with Tosi that never quite made it feel like Bozzi’s own child.
Looking at the 1937 Wolsit catalog (above), there were a good selection of general purpose bikes, twelve models in all, for both men and women, two models for delivery purposes (something I have not seen in a Legnano catalog) and both a Mod.54 ‘Corsa’ and a Mod.53 ‘Mezza Corsa’ road models. Interesting to note that these model numbers were the same as those used by Legnano for the equivalent models. Another nice Wolsit catalog from the 1930’s can be found here.
Below are a couple of pages from a 1950 Wolsit Parts Catalog as featured on the Classic Factory Lightweights website. The second last image in the sequence references the six different Wolsit models that were available at that time including the Mod.53 Mezza Corsa and the Mod.54 Corsa.
I do not have a Wolsit bike in the collection and Mr. Google does not have a great deal of visual references. Here are a couple of photos of a 1952 Corsa model that is featured on the ClassicRendezvous website where there is a full photo essay on this restored bike.
All of the components on the bike are pretty much the same as that found on a Legnano, Frejus or any top Italian road bike at the time. Ambrosio bar and stem, Magistroni cranks, bottom bracket and headset, Campagnolo (FB) hubs, Universal Mod.39 brakes, and Simplex (Italia) gearing that was also offered by Legnano as an alternative to Campagnolo.
The image above brings us to the topic of Wolsit serial numbers and you can see that they have the same alphanumeric sequence (and location on the seat lug) as Legnano serial numbers. As both brands were manufactured in the same Bozzi factory, I would speculate that Wolsit and Legnano bikes shared the same serial number system.
A 1949 Wolsit Mod.52 city bike is shown in the next four images courtesy of the blog Paramanubrio. The serial number CI2433 on the right side of the seat lug can be seen in the last photo. All of the component detailing including the fender style/format is common to the Legnano city bikes of the same era.
I have no idea how or why a customer would choose between a Legnano and a Wolsit city bike at that time given that they were both black, fitted with the same components and probably a very similar if not identical price for comparable models. But then again, people like choices.
Paul Zahra in the photo above (courtesy of Sergio Aquilina) is a former bike shop owner in Malta that once distributed the three Bozzi brands. The signage also reflects the prominence that Bozzi gave to the Legnano brand relative to Frejus and Wolsit. The owner has kept the shop for personal reasons however the inventory of Legnano, Frejus and Wolsit bikes is now long gone.
I have not found any record suggesting when Bozzi SpA retired the Wolsit brand however I suspect it was sometime in the 1960’s, with the period from 1910 through the 1930’s being the Wolsit golden years.
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Thanks for publishing that photo of Paul Zahra (the owner) with my Gran Premio. He’ll surely enjoy the fact that he’s now immortalized online 🙂 I’ll show it to him when I see him next weekend.
My pleasure Sergio. You might ask Paul when he first opened the shop and when things started to fall off with the Bozzi brands. I would also be curious to know if he sold very many of the Wolsit bikes and what models his customers were interested in.
Sure, I’ll ask him next time I go 🙂