Fausto Coppi on his Bianchi during the 1952 Tour de France
In 1953 at the age of fifteen I saved all my paper route money to buy a new bike. I had a custom frame built by local South London builder Stuart Purves and had it finished in Bianchi celeste with chrome lugs. I started to equip it with the best equipment that I could afford. Campagnolo had recently introduced their revolutionary Gran Sport derailleur and I was determined to set up my dream bike with one. The regular price on this derailleur was 3 pounds 12 shillings, which was about three times the price of the very popular Simplex Tour de France. However I managed to get a deal at Claud Butler’s shop. They had one that had the fancy drilled out pulleys removed and replaced with Simplex pulleys and sold it to me for two pounds. This new Campag derailleur was without doubt one of the finest pieces of bike equipment ever made and when I had fitted it to my celeste Purves I was the envy of all my club mates.
I used that derailleur on a succession of different frames over the next few years and eventually, when it got rather worn, replaced it with a later model Gran Sport. However, I kept that original one. It would now fetch quite a good price on ebay.
My fascination with Fausto Coppi never waned. I bought a Bianchi very similar to the one Fausto won the 1950 Paris-Roubaix on and always wanted to put together a replica of his 1952 Tour de France bike.
Fausto Coppi winning the 1950 Paris-Roubaix with Campag Paris-Roubaix equipped Bianchi
Many years later in the nineties I found an advertisement for the correct 1952 Bianchi frame in the British magazine Cycling, and had a good friend in England pick it up for me and bring it to Toronto on his next trip. I had the derailleurs and slowly managed to piece together all the other parts.
Eventually the bike was complete and I proudly displayed it in our Toronto store.
Then one night, I was woken by the alarm company. Someone had broken in. When I got to the shop the front window was smashed and two bikes were missing. One was the Bianchi. Whoever stole it probably had no idea what they had stolen as it was just one of the two bikes closest to the window. I let the other shops around town know about it and asked them to keep their eyes open.
About a month later a friend and mechanic at a downtown store called to say that he had what seemed to be the rear wheel of the Bianchi. I rushed to his shop and there was no doubt that it was the wheel. Someone had brought it in to have a new tubular fitted.
At that point I made the first of three mistakes in the stolen Bianchi saga. I called the police. Two very polite and pleasant constables arrived and waited around until the fellow that had brought the wheel in returned to pick it up. He was arrested and charged with steeling a bicycle wheel. They made no effort to see if he had the bike. If I had waited for the guy and offered him a few hundred bucks I’m sure that I would have had the bike back.
We all went to court and he gave a sob story that he had needed the wheel to get his bike going as he was out of work and had no other way to get to job interviews. He said that he paid fifty dollars for it to a guy on the street. Case dismissed.
Then I made the second mistake. I should have gone up to him outside the court and offered the few hundred bucks but I was so mad that I didn’t. I am sure that he had the complete bike.
That was all about ten years ago and I had given up all hope of ever seeing the Bianchi again. Then about two years ago a customer named Will came to our shop asking for celeste cable casing. He explained that his girl friend’s uncle had given him an old Bianchi that he had found by the side of the road in Oshawa. That is about fifty kms from where the bike was stolen. He described it and it sounded very much like my Bianchi.
That is when I made the third mistake. Instead of asking to buy it from him and driving to his house there and then I persuaded him that he should bring it to the shop and we would see if we could help him restore it. He agreed to this and for the next few weeks I anxiously awaited his arrival. He never came and I again gave up hope of ever seeing the Bianchi again.
Then a few days ago I got an e-mail from a fellow named Josh. He had just bought a fifties Bianchi from Craig’s list. He said that the serial number had been filed off so he felt sure it was a stolen bike. As our shop was the most likely in the Toronto area to have restored or dealt in such a bike he contacted me. He described the bike and immediately it became apparent that it was mine. He had paid four hundred dollars for it and refused my offer to pay him twice that to get it back. He insisted that I pay him only the four hundred dollars even though he knew that the rear derailleur alone was worth much more than that.
The Bianchi as I received it back from Josh.
And so I have the Bianchi back. It is almost complete except that the Campag. ‘bar end levers had been removed and replaced by a fine pair of Shimano SIS stem shifters.
I'm not sure what Fausto would have thought of these.
It came back with a rather nasty rear wheel but I have the original which was returned to me by the police after the court case.
That may have been the end of the story but the day after I got the bike back I got a call from Will, the guy that had been in the shop two years ago. It was he that had sold the bike on Craig’s list. He heard from Josh that it was a stolen bike and that it belonged to me. He insisted that he return to me the four hundred dollars that he had received for it. He said that he didn't want to make money from stolen property.
What a couple of great guys these two turned out to be. Josh knew that he had a valuable bike and that he could easily have sold all of its components for a substantial profit on e-bay. Will didn’t realize the bikes value but was certainly under no obligation to return the money he had received for it. The 1952 Campag Gran Sport Extra derailleur. The missing bits came back in a plastic bag.
For me the bike is irreplaceable as I put it together with a childhood vision, dream, and hard work. Like an old song that reminds you of your teenage years the bike brings back emotion and a million memories for me. It is not only a bike but also a piece of my youth.
Now that bike will be restored again. It has suffered a bit over the years but there is nothing that a little TLC will not fix.
It does need a bit of sprucing up but overall it is in pretty good shape.
It would be nice if the bike could talk and could fill in the missing gaps in the last ten years.