Updated September 11, 2022
For those that don’t care to read the complete article that follows, here is brief pictorial summary of Fiamme rims through the years. Noting that the dates presented are reasonable approximations, however they are not definitive in the absence of company records.
1934 to 1940 Road rim. Note the French patent engraving in addition to the English patent engraving. The engraving would appear to read ‘Importée d’Italie’ suggesting this rim and its engraving may have been specifically for export. Note also the * before and after the word ‘Milano’ in the engraving on the right side.
1940 to 1945+ Red label road rim retaining the ‘Milano’ engraving as the origin of production and S.A. Fiamme as the name of the company, a legal convention that was officially dropped in 1942.
1945 to 1960+ Yellow label road rims with ‘Brevetto Longhi’ patent engraving, Fiamme only as the company name and the start of ‘Made in Italy” as the origin of production.
1945 to 1960+ Green label ‘Cerchio Elmo’ road rim bearing the ‘Brevetto Longhi’ patent engraving, Fiamme only as the company name and ‘Made in Italy” rather than ‘Milano’ as the origin of production.
Early 1960s Red label road rim. Longhi patent reference removed from the engraving however it is still included on the decal, due in part perhaps to existing label inventory and a change with the next reprint.
Early 1960s to 1970+ Red label road rims. No Longhi patent reference on the rim decal or the engraving. Made in Italy engraving has been reduced to simply ‘Italy’. The size of the ‘Fiamme’ engraving also reduced.
Where the story begins for those that want to read on.
A fellow Legnano enthusiast in the Netherlands is in the process of restoring an early Tipo Roma cambio corso model and the online conversation turned to the period-correct rims for his project. And with that an interest on my part to update the site with some additional background on one of Legnano’s long-standing component suppliers, Fiamme.
I have yet to find a reference that dates the founding of S.A. Fiamme of Milano, a component maker that is best known for the production of aluminium rims but also produced high-quality stems and handlebars. What is available of Fiamme’s history takes shape in the early 1930’s when Mario Longhi patented the double eyelet, hollow aluminium rim on January 5th, 1934 just two hours prior to a similar patent being filed by Mavic of France (source: Hilary Stone; Mavic).
Longhi licensed the patent to Fiamme until its expiration and also to Mavic until 1947 according to the Mavic website. Although the January 5th date for the Longhi patent (IT416249X) is widely referenced, the date listed on the European Patent Office (Espacenet) website is January 19th, 1934. This may be the date the patent was approved as opposed to the filing date that pipped Mavic to the line by a couple of hours, or so the story goes.
According to the historical account by Hilary Stone, on the Classic Lightweights website, the introduction – the design and actual rims were exhibited in England at the Lightweight Cycle Show in November 1933 two months before the patents were taken out.
The PA Press website adds to the Longhi innovation in the post, Wheels: A Short History:
“For the 1934 Tour de France, the ever-innovative French firm Mavic supplied leading professional road racer Antonin Magne with double-wall or box-section hollow aluminum rims of a revolutionary new design featuring pressed-steel reinforcing eyelets let into the rim. Each eyelet comprised a top-hat shape stamped out of sheet steel with a nipple-sized hole in the crown. The eyelet sat in a hole in the rim outer wall the same diameter as its sleeve section with the brim resting against the outer wall and the face of the crown resting against the inside in the inner wall. Thus the brim and crown shared the pull of the spoke nipple between the rim’s inner and outer walls. Without the eyelet, the inner, hub-side wall of the rim’s box section needed to be thick and therefore heavy to resist the pull of the spoke.
As such novelties were forbidden by the race rules, the rims were painted to look like wood to avoid detection. Although comparable in weight with wooden racing rims, they proved much stiffer and gave Magne a huge competitive advantage that he used to win the Tour in convincing style, beating his nearest challenger by over 27 minutes and recording an average speed of more than 19.3mph (31kph) for the first time in the event’s history.“
The Commercialization of Fiamme rims.
Below is a drawing of the original aluminium Fiamme sprint rim incorporating the Longhi patented construction as illustrated in their 1935 catalog (source: Hilary Stone) and following that an advertisement for the Fiamme sprint rims in the March 2, 1934 issue of Cycling magazine (source: Classic Lightweights UK).
The first image below is from the extensive 1950 Emilio Bozzi SpA parts catalog, offering the Fiamme tubular rim with and without eyelets. Note the Fiamme logo incorporates an image of Pegasus, the mythological winged horse, as opposed to the illustration of a helmet that we are most familiar with. Also the label is in the shape of a ‘marquis’ rather than an oval. I have yet to come across a tubular type rim with the Pegasus illustration on the label, however it was widely used on the Fiamme clincher rims that you will see further on in the post.
The second image below is the Fiamme rim with eyelets on the 1946 Legnano Tipo Roma in my collection. The ‘Brevetto Longhi’ license stamped above the ‘S.A. Fiamme’ branding can also be found in the identical format on my original 1958 Roma and my 1963 Roma. However, the Fiamme rims (with eyelets) on my original 1966 Roma are simply stamped ‘S.A. Fiamme’ with ‘Made in Italy’ below, suggesting that the Longhi patent had expired by that time. I should also mention that the valve hole on all of the above rims has a reinforcing eyelet.
The third image below is courtesy of a post on Bike Forums by ‘iab’ who references it to a 1948-1949 Viscontea Pista. What is notable is this early Fiamme red label rim is without the reinforcing spoke eyelets and is simply engraved ‘Fiamme Milano’, and without the words ‘Brevetto Longhi’ as the rim does not make use of the Longhi patent.
I am limiting this review to pre-1970 production however Fiamme went on to produce rims well into the 1980’s. Unfortunately like so many dominant Italian component manufacturers that got their start in the 1920s and 1930s, changing European trade laws along with the Japanese invasion of lucrative foreign markets may have proved too much for Fiamme and they went out of business. It is reported, but not certain, that Fiamme’s assets were purchased by FIR of Italy (Fabbrica Italiana Ruote).
Prior to 1970 I have come across Fiamme rims with four different label types in three colours. The first image below is the red label Fiamme pista rims fitted to a 1952 Fiorelli track bike that is featured on on the Classic Cycle website.
The red label rims were also produced in a road profile, widely used and highly rated. The yellow label rims (oval shape label) were of a lighter weight (approx. 50-60g) and were also available in both road (second image below) and pista profiles for special events, time trials and/or lighter riders.
The green label rim marked ‘Cerchio Elmo’ rather than ‘Cerchio Fiamme’ was a heavier or more robust rim than the red label rim. The green label rims are factory spec on many of the Legnano Gran Premio models in my collection dating back to 1958.
As many of the Legnano bikes in my collection are imports to North America, the more robust green label Fiamme rim may have been better suited to the mixed road conditions in NA at that time. It is interesting that the word ‘elmo’ in Italian translates to ‘helmet’ in English, derived perhaps from the illustration of a helmet in the Fiamme logo.
Not to be missed, Fiamme also produced aluminium clincher rims that were designated with a yellow marquise-shaped label with the resurrected Pegasus logo as discussed earlier. The image below is of a 27 inch clincher rim (with Schrader valve holes) original to the 1961 Gran Premio on this site, a Legnano import to the United States with clincher tires and Schrader valves that could be ‘pumped up’ at any local gas station. Online reports suggest these Fiamme clincher rims were in production until approx. 1975.
The third image below is from the 11th Edition in 1974 of Gene Portuesi’s ‘Cyclopedia’ catalog (source). Given print production practices at the time, I suspect the Fiamme illustrations were produced much earlier than 1974 and carried over from one catalog to the next as bicycle components did not change up on a yearly basis as they do today.
Wim Hermans of the Netherlands is a vintage bike enthusiast and he was kind enough to pass along a photo of a very early Fiamme rim (photo below) with a rarely seen rim decal and a production year that we estimate to be sometime between 1934 (when Longhi registered the patent) and 1945.
The engraving to the right of the rim decal is common to Fiamme rims in the mid-1930s to 1940s by all accounts (more on the engravings later), however the engraving to the left of the decal is not. Breveté SGDG was a a form of French patent that ceased to exist in 1968. The name was a common abbreviation for “Breveté Sans Garantie Du Gouvernement“. (Wikipedia).
Coincidentally, Wim Hermans is a patent professional and he wrote of SGDG, “It seems it was some kind of untested patent. Quick and dirty or just a way of registration. The validation then had to be tested in a possible later dispute. We have the same system still here in the Netherlands.”
As mentioned earlier, Longhi only eclipsed Mavic by two hours in filing the patent for the double-eyelet, hollow cross-section design of his rim, so the SGDG engraving may have been a bit of a warning to the French cycling manufacturers that the design was also protected in France or in other words “hands off”. If a reader has any additional information or samples of this early Fiamme rim I would enjoy hearing from them.
Dating Fiamme Rims: Decals and Engravings
As previously mentioned, this historical accounting is for Fiamme rims leading up to the 1970s and relies mostly on original examples. However the dating of Fiamme manufacturing is something that restoration aficionados grapple with the most, including myself when putting right a historical bike. So here is what I have managed to ascertain thus far in my information gathering.
Tubular Rims: Corsa and Pista
Post-war or post-1945 (and perhaps earlier) Fiamme offered 3 models of rims at 700c diameters. Fiamme also offered a 24in diameter tubular rim for junior racers, unclear if it carried a label colour.
For Corsa and Pista Use:
Yellow Label with a rim width of 21mm in 32,36 and 40 hole configurations, each weighing 300g
Red Label with a rim width of 21mm in 36 and 40 hole configurations, each weighing 360g
Green Label with a rim width of 21mm in 36 and 40 hole configurations, each weighing approx. 400g
Noting the Green label rims were branded Cerchio Elmo and may have entered the model range a little later than the Yellow and Red label models.
For Pista or Track use only:
Yellow Label with a rim width of 19mm in 24,28,32,and 36 hole configurations, each weighing 270g
Red Label with a rim width of 19mm in 28, 32 and 36 hole configurations, each weighing 310g
Dating Fiamme Rim Production: Evolution of the Rim Engravings and Decals
Dating Fiamme rim production from 1934 through to 1970 is anything but concise and there are no factory records to draw upon for certainty and very few published advertisements or catalogs. The most that we can do is to follow the differences in production that have been left behind.
Bicycle rims are one the most fragile components of a bicycle and next to tires and cables may have also been one of the most frequently replaced components given the varied conditions of roads more than 50 years ago.
So it is not commonplace for a bike from the 40s, 50s or 60s to still have it’s original rims and I have been mistaken myself with hubs predating the rims on a vintage bike. To the point, the date of the bike is very often not the date of the rims.
I would also not rely solely on rim decals for dating purposes as replacement and/or quality reproduction decals have been around for a long time and with some honest wear and tear may look like the original when they are not. Rim engravings on the other hand can be relied upon. The image above shows a reproduction label with the Brevetto Longhi designation on a more recent rim based on the engraving and overall condition.
To be fair, the owner of this bike may just have enjoyed the style of the older decal and is not particularly interested in historical accuracy. The confusion surfaces at some time in the future when the reproduction decal is no longer pristine and someone less knowledgeable believes it to be original to the rim and period.
1934 to 1940+
The first image below (courtesy of Wim Hermans) is the earliest Fiamme rim that I have come across to date. The decal references the Longhi patent and shows the company name as ‘Soc. An. Fiamme’ or ‘Sociata Anonima Fiamme’ which references Fiamme as a publicly limited company or what we know as a corporation today, limiting claims against the individual(s) that own the company. The engraving is abbreviated to ‘S.A. Fiamme’. This rims also bears an engraving for the French patent reference that was described earlier. There is no way of knowing if the French patent engraving was applied to all Fiamme rims during this time. The engraving would appear to include the words ‘Importée d’Italie’ suggesting that this rim was produced for export.
In supporting our dating efforts, it is worth noting that Italy replaced ‘Societa Anonima’ with ‘Societa per Azioni’ or ‘S.p.A’ after 1942. That said, the rim engraving die may not have changed immediately and it is impossible to know how much inventory was in place at the Fiamme factory. This would perhaps explain the 1946 red label rim that is next up.
It is also worth noting the blue-green colour of the rim decal. This may well have been the only rim decal that was used by Fiamme in the early years with the red, yellow and green decal designations coming at a later date, as I have not come across any reference to this rim decal in another colour
1940 – 1945+
The next two images below are red label corsa rims that are original to a 1946 Legnano Roma that is in my collection and presently undergoing a very slow and gentle restoration. Here we can see a slight difference in the typeface of the engraving, most noticeable in the letter ‘M’ and also missing the asterisk symbols before and after the word ‘Milano’. This suggest that the engraving die was replaced, most likely due to wear as none of the wording has changed. There is also the possibility that the French patent engraving was integral to the initial tooling and there was some decision to drop it. There is no way of knowing for sure and my best guess is that the die had to be replaced due to wear. This early rim also includes a ferrule at the hole for the valve stem.
1945 to 1960+
The end of World War II in 1945 brought a lot of changes to production in Italy as companies turned their facilities back to commercial production from war time production. The post-war period in Italy was also part of the Marshall Plan implemented by the U.S.A. in 1948 to help rebuild Europe after the devastation of the war. Exporting was also on the rise as European companies recovered and rebuilt their production capacities. With some speculation and no certainty, this may well have been the reason that the Fiamme rim engraving was changed from ‘Milano’ to ‘Made in Italy’ as the origin of production. When this change was made is uncertain however I am speculating the timeframe to be late 40s to early 50s.
The first two images below are of a rim that is original to a 1958 Legnano Gran Premio in my collection, currently awaiting restoration). It is engraved simply ‘Fiamme’ rather than the earlier reference to ‘S.A. Fiamme’ includes the ‘Brevetto Longhi’ patent engraving. It is also engraved ‘Made in Italy’ rather than ‘Milano’ as found on the earlier production rims. The Elmo rim also has the reinforcing ferrule for the valve stem. The third image below shows the same engraving on a yellow label corsa rim (image courtesy of Mr. Google).
My conclusion is that Fiamme rims produced with the ‘Brevetto Longhi’ and the ‘Made in Italy’ engravings began in 1945 and may have continued on for a number of years after the formal expiration of the BL patent in 1954, and perhaps through to the end of the 1950s. There are numerous examples of graphic changes being made at the start of a new decade, and this may have been one, or they just waited until the engraving die needed to be replaced and deleted the BL reference.
I would mention again that even when the engraving die was eventually changed to delete the BL reference, it is impossible to know how much inventory existed in factories and bike shops around the world that could have lasted well into the early 60s. And it was not unusual for top end road bikes to stay in retail shop inventory for several years until a buyer came along with deep enough pockets.
This is where the dating game gets tricky.
In the image below we can see a red label rim with what appears to be an original decal that includes the acknowledgement of the Longhi patent however the engraving has changed to be ‘Fiamme Made in Italy’ excluding ‘Brevetto Longhi’.
So what’s going on here? We can only speculate that a new engraving die was made by intent, or due to necessary replacement, and this took place at some point following the expiration of the Longhi patent in 1954, twenty years from its filing date in 1934, the duration of Italian patents.
But why was the decal not changed? I think we can attribute this to the practices of the day, and particularly in Italy, where disposing of good rim decals would not have been considered good business. And what’s the harm? Someone probably said, “Let’s use them up and make the change on the next order”. And so it was.
In the second image below we can see a yellow label rim that bears what appears to be an original decal that includes the ‘Brevetto Longhi’ patent acknowledgement. However the rim engraving has changed again to simply ‘Fiamme Italy’ rather than ‘Fiamme Made in Italy’ with no reference to the BL patent.
The speculation here becomes a little more difficult. The yellow label rims were much lighter in construction and my guess is that they were not as widely sold as the red label rims, and so the stock of yellow label decals could have lasted longer than the red label decals before being reprinted.
As for why ‘Made in Italy’ was reduced to simply ‘Italy’ may have been tied to growing export markets that were not English speaking. Reducing the engraving to ‘Fiamme Italy’ has not need to be translated and covers the bases where the customer is English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, etc.
In the last image below we see that the rim decals where eventually printed without the ‘Brevetto Longhi’ reference fixed to rims that were also engraved simply ‘Fiamme Italy’ now that the BL patent was no longer valid and many companies including Fiamme were no longer required to license the double eyelet innovation that remains to this day. Worth noting that I have not come across any original rims that have the decal with the BL reference but with an engraving the includes the BL reference, and I can’t imagine a scenario where this could have been the case.
Fiamme Handlebars and Stems:
And to conclude this post and as initially mentioned, Fiamme also produced a fine line of aluminium handlebars and stems. I am estimating the stem in the image below (courtesy of Speedplay) was produced in the late 50’s to early 60’s based on the exposed detailing of the binder bolt and overall design which is very similar to the stems from Ambrosio during those same years, another favoured supplier of stems and bars that were widely used by Legnano on the Roma and Gran Premio models. But we will keep Ambrosio for another post.
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What a fantastic site and resource!
I have a beautiful 1976 Specialissima, which came with Fiamme tubular rims and Campy Record hubs. I’m looking to purchase a set of clincher rims for a long tour and wanted to check which rims would period-correct. Your advice greatly appreciated.
Thanks for writing. Since the Specialissima was not available with 700c clincher rims, I would not bother attempting the period-correct route with clinchers as there are not a lot of rim options and they are not ‘high pressure’ in the modern meaning of the term. The clincher tires at this time were also ‘wire bead’ format and options here are also limited.
If you want to rebuild the wheels to clincher format, I would use either the 36h rim from H-Son (first choice) or Velo Orange (second choice) depending on your budget:
Both are traditional polished aluminium, box-style rim profiles that are very similar in appearance to a vintage tubular rim. They will also enable you to use modern 700C tires which is the real advantage. Here I would use the tan sidewall tires with extra light casings that are distributed by Compass Cycle. Either the 32mm Stampede Pass or the 35mm Bon Jon Pass depending on the frame clearance of your Specialissima.
In fact, you could consider sourcing/buying another set of Campy hubs of the same type and general timeframe that are fitted to your Specialissima. That way you will still have this Legnano 100% original should you ever decide to sell it down the road? Something to consider.
Hope this helps. Best regards,
Thanks so much for your detailed reply. It’s much appreciated. I tried finding a set of Velo Orange, but ended up buying an old pair of Mavic Module E rims with Campy Record hubs and have fitted them with 27×1 tan wall Panaracer clincher tyres. Not ‘tutto Italiano’ I know, but at least the wheels have Record hubs and period correct rims.
I need to darken your door once more. My Specialissima was sold to me as a 1976 model, but I have a feeing it might be earlier. If you don’t mind I’ll send you photos via a separate email and would appreciate your evaluation?
Sounds like the project is going well. Happy to look at the photos and pass along what I can on the production year.
Am trying to send you a few photos, but can’t seem to paste them in the body of this message. How do you attach photos please?
Here are photos of my Olimpiade Record Specialissima, which I bought a few years ago. I’d be hugely grateful if you could have a look and let me know what the production year is. It was sold to me as a 1976 model and all the components fit that period. However, I think the inside frame seat bolt suggests it’s a bit older. Is it possible that the frame sat in the factory for a few years before being assembled with the components in 1976? The Nuovo Record rear derailleur patent is 76. I’ve recently swapped the original wheels for a set of Mavic clinchers for a long ride I’m doing next month. The original wheels were Fiamme sprint rims (red rectangle decal) with Record hubs and Regina Oro freewheel.
Thanks in advance for your assistance
Regrettably you can not attach files to comments. Please email the images to email@example.com and I will do my best to sort the date of this Legnano for you.
Hi Mark. I found a set of Fiamme Hard Silver 36 hole rims NOS however the are not stamped with the logo into the metal. Are they still “the real deal” thanks . Rick
Hi Rick. From my experience with Fiamme rims they are engraved. Aftermarket decals are easy to come by so this may be what you are looking at having been applied to another brand? regards, Mark.
I bought a few years ago tandem-pista I’d be hugely grateful if you could have a look and let me know what the production year is.
The last no. I am not sure.
Having looked at quite a few Legnano serial numbers I would say it is EX3306 from the photo you provided . . . putting the production year at 1961. The tandem pista bikes were all special orders at Legnano and I haven’t come across very many. Interestingly, there was one posted on eBay recently from a seller in Russia that once belonged to either an Olympic or World Championship medallist. Do you have any history on this tandem? Would enjoy receive a few more pictures for the website if and when you have the time.