Roma Olimpiade and the Gran Premio: What were the differences between the first and second tier road bikes?

I often receive inquiries regarding factory-correct components for both the Roma and Gran Premio road bikes that sat one-two respectively in the Legnano model hierarchy. I wasn’t far into this collection before I also became interested in what differentiated the two frames given that most of the detailing between the two is pretty much the same and both were constructed of Falck tubing (exceptions to follow).

This is a good time to mention that I am bracketing the content of this post to these two models from about 1958 to the late 1960’s. The Tipo Roma model that became the Roma Olimpiade in 1956 has a pretty well defined lineage, however I have not learned exactly when Legnano first designated the Gran Premio model. The earliest Gran Premio that I have come across, that is also in my collection, is from 1958. Noting here that if a reader can add some further definition to the start date for the Gran Premio model it would be appreciated.

On the surface, the Roma and Gran Premio frames appear almost identical. The head lugs, fork ends and stay ends are both chrome plated. They both came in the traditional ‘lizard yellow’ paint colour that defined the Legnano brand. The five bands on the seat tube were shared by both models as well as the decals excepting the round Gran Premio decal that was positioned on the down tube versus the Roma Olimpiade crest-shaped decal at the top of the seat tube. And both models were fitted with the beautiful brass figure of Alberto da Guissano pinned to the head tube. So what differs?

The Frame:

One notable difference in the frame construction for these two models is the termination of the seat stays to the seat lug. The 1959 Gran Premio (first photo below) is typical of the fairly simple termination with the bullet-like end of each stay brazed to the side of the seat lug. In the second photo you can see how the seat stays on this 1958 Roma are mitred to fit the outside diameter of the seat lug and then brazed in position to achieve a more refined look and I also suspect a much stronger connection.  That said, I have never come across a Gran Premio frame that has broken or failed at the seat lug.

The Roma also used a different seat lug than the Gran Premio, with a much long throat for the top tube which I assume is also for additional strength. Both frames shared the unique Legnano seat binder bolt configuration although the Roma seat pin and clearance hole in the lug is about 2mm smaller in diameter than the Gran Premio pin that was also used on the other road and city models. Neither can be used interchangeably.

You can also see in these two photos that the alphanumeric serial number was placed horizontally at the back of the seat lug on the Roma and vertically on the right side of the seat lug for the Gran Premio as with other Legnano models during this time. This location of the Legnano serial numbers on the seat lug began in 1939, prior to that date they were on the front of the top head tube lug.

The other notable difference is the inside diameter of the seat tube for the two models. The Gran Premio accepts a 26.4mm diameter post and the Roma accepts a 27.0mm diameter post during these years with Falck tubing construction. Noting here that the Roma was available by special order with both Columbus SL and Reynolds 531 tubing in the later half of the 1960’s. Which brings us to the frame tubing.

When my curiosity first peaked as to the differences in the two frames, I weighed a Gran Premio and a Roma of equal frame size and sure enough they were substantially different. The 56cm (ctc) Gran Premio fully dismantled of all components, including the headset and bottom bracket, weighed in 3.29kg or 7.25lbs. Actually two 56cm Premio frames (1959 and 1961 production) were weighed and they were within 5g of each other. Moving on, the 1958 Roma Olimpiade frame at the same 56cm (ctc) sizing and fully dismantled weighed in at 2.79kg or 6.16lbs, a good one pound less than the Premio. Worth noting here that the 1958 Roma constructed from Falck tubing at 6.16lbs is almost exactly the same weight as the 1970 Roma on this site that is fully constructed out of Reynolds 531 tubing, tipping the scales at 6.15 lbs.

The 1952 Emilio Bozzi Spa catalog has a good listing of Falck tubing specifications so I will attempt to determine the specific tubing differences between the Gran Premio and the Roma that would account for the weight difference. Although there is also the potential for the stay and fork tubing to be different on the Gran Premio, their are no differences in appearance or construction detailing other than the aforementioned fitting at the seat lug.

Frame lugs and dropouts:

Beyond the differences in the seat lugs noted above, the balance of the frame lugs are the same on the Roma and Gran Premio models through these years. This includes the fork crown and the long stiffeners on the inside faces of the fork blades. The head tube lugs, fork crown, fork ends and stay ends were also chrome plated on both the Roma and Premio models from the late 50’s through late 1960’s.

The long format Campagnolo 1010 rear dropouts with eyelets are common to both the Roma and Gran Premio during these years. The front dropouts on the Roma are the matching Campagnolo 1010 style with eyelets, however on the 1958 and 1959 Gran Premio the front dropouts are forged and unbranded but with a very similar appearance to Campagnolo. On or about 1960-1961 Legnano would seemed to have moved on to using stamped-steel front dropouts (unbranded) rather than the aforementioned forged steel type when the GP model began.

From my research it appears that Legnano returned to using forged front dropouts on the Premio model in the early through mid-70’s, some unbranded and some from Campagnolo. Please note that exceptions can be found to all things Legnano at one time or another including the frame construction detailing presented here.

Hubs and rims:

Initially, the Gran Premio was fitted with the one-piece, low flange Campagnolo steel Sport hubs (first photo below) and the Roma with the early three-piece, low flange Campagnolo Gran Sport hubs (second photo below). When Campagnolo introduced their one-piece, high flange aluminium hubs in 1958 they became the defacto spec for the Roma Olimpiade. Come 1960 the same Legnano branded Campagnolo Record HF hubs (third photo below) were also standard issue on the Gran Premio.

Campagnolo’s cross-branding of their Sport, Gran Sport and Record hubs for Legnano came to an end about 1966-1967 by all accounts. I suspect this was also the case for Bianchi, Atala, Umberto Dei and the other Italian brands that were provided with this service as Campagnolo cranked up their own marketing machine around the world.

 

The Gran Premio was fitted with 700C x 36h Fiamme ‘Cerchi Elmo’ tubular rims for the majority of production. I have also come across Gran Premio models dating from about 1960 that were exported to North America and fitted with 27in x 36h Fiamme yellow label clincher rims for Schrader valves laced up to Simplex high flange three-piece hub (photo below). I have no idea why Legnano changed the hubs from Campagnolo to Simplex for these clincher wheels.

The Roma Olimpiade was fitted with the lighter 700C x 36h Fiamme red label tubular rims, and the ‘go to’ for most top road bikes in those years. Emilio Bozzi SpA also distributed tubular rims from Ambrosio and Nisi, both of which I have come across on Legnano road bikes however Fiamme seems to have been the preferred supplier for the majority of Gran Premio and Roma production.

Rear derailleur:

1n 1958 the Roma Olimpiade and the Gran Premio models were fitted with the 4th iteration of the Campagnolo Gran Sport rear derailleur (first photo below). When Campagnolo introduced the Record derailleur in 1963 (second photo below), the Roma was updated and updated again in 1966-1967 with the introduction of the first Nuovo Record derailleur (third picture below). However once Campagnolo ceased production of the Gran Sport rear derailleur, the Gran Premio moved to the first-generation Valentino front and rear derailleurs as the component differences between the two models started to widen.

Front derailleur:

In 1958 both the Roma Olimpiade and Gran Premio models were fitted with the Gran Sport ‘Matchbox’ style front derailleur (first photo below). The Roma was upgraded to the Record front derailleur in conjunction with the aforementioned upgrade to the Record rear derailleur in 1963 (last two photos below).

The Gran Premio model transitioned to the similar plunger design of the first Valentino front derailleur on or about the same time as the aforementioned change from the Gran Sport to the Valentino rear derailleur.

 

Handlebars and Stems:

The Ambrosio ‘Champion’ aluminium handlebar and stem dates back to at least 1953 by all accounts and it was fitted to the Roma model on or about the same time (first two photos below). The ‘Champion’ was forged and stamped from ‘dural’, an aluminium-copper alloy that could be heat treated and age hardened. The net result was a very strong stem that would survive the rigours of competition.

In 1961, Ambrosio was acquired by the Marsorati family and production continued as T.T.T. (Tecnologia del Tubo Torino) or 3T as we know the brand today. The ‘Gran Prix’ stem was introduced by T.T.T in 1963 and featured a recessed binder bolt. The ‘Grand Prix’ remained as standard issue on the Roma through to the end of the 1960’s.

Both the 1958 and 1959 Gran Premio models in my collection are fitted with a Cinelli steel stem and bars that were branded for Legnano (photo below). The same Legnano branded Cinelli stem was also fitted to the Roma in the early 1950’s.

From 1960 the Cinelli stem was dropped and the Ambrosio Champion aluminium bars and stem were common to both the Gran Premio and Roma models.  Like the Roma, the Gran Premio also transitioned to the T.T.T. Gran Prix stem and bars when they were introduced in 1963.

Brakeset:

Universal was a long-standing component supplier to Legnano over many decades, and here again the brake callipers and levers from Universal were common to both the Gran Premio and Roma during this time period. Both models were equipped with the Universal Mod.51 callipers and levers that came to market in 1951 (first photo below). With the introduction in 1961 of the Universal Mod.61 centerpull brakeset (second photo below), both models received the upgrade.

By all accounts, the rear brake cable stop for the Universal Mod.61 brakeset was unique to Legnano.  In order to facilitate Legnano’s unique seat lug and seat post bolt, a threaded boss was brazed to the back of the seat lug to accept the unique cable stop (photo below). This detail can often be used to some extent to help differentiate between 1960 and 1961 production dates. Regrettably for restorers, this unique brake cable stop is becoming increasingly difficult to find if it is no longer with the frame.

Campagnolo introduced their Record sidepull brakeset in 1968, making a complete group for the first time in their history. However these new Campy sidepulls were quite expensive at the time and I have not come across either a Roma or a Gran Premio that was factory fitted with the new Campy brakes during the late 60’s, although I am sure there were Roma models that were upgraded by their owners. I have also not come across a Legnano from the 1960’s that was factory fitted with the Universal Mod.68 sidepull brakeset when they were released in 1968, although they did find their way to the Gran Premio model in the 1970’s.

 

more to come . . .

4 thoughts on “Roma Olimpiade and the Gran Premio: What were the differences between the first and second tier road bikes?

  1. I have what I belive to be, according to your description, a Legnano Gran Premio. It has the serial number FL1228. Do you have any idea on what the year of production might be? Any help is greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Timothy and thanks for posting.
      The production year based on the serial number you have provided is 1963-1964. If you would like to pass along some photos to info@condorino.com I could probably give you a little more information about your bike.\
      Regards, Mark

  2. These bikes really have a compelling history and appearance! I’m in the process of getting two Roma Olimpiades up and running, and ended up with some spare parts. You’d be welcome to email me at your convenience if you have use for them. I have a Campagnolo stamped Brooks, narrow rail saddle in good usable shape, a Legnano engraved Gran Prix TTT stem and a TTT handlebar, all from a ’66 Roma.

    By the way, I think I’ve mentioned before, one of my Roma Olimpiades is in blue. Have you developed any thoughts as to what percentage of production each color comprised?
    Thanks, this is a great website!
    Jeff

  3. I believe both Gran Permio and Roma Olimpiade were introduced in -58. Despite the fact that Baldini’s Olympic win was in -56 the model name wasn’t changed from Tipo Roma to Olimpiade until -58. This I’ve learned from few Italian resources ( link to one of them below ). I also have a – 57 frame set which is a labeled Tipo Roma like the DY888 bike listed in the link ( mine is a DY878 ).
    http://www.registrostoricocicli.com/rsc/registro-emilio-bozzi/registro-e-bozzi-corsa/
    Best,
    Jussi

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