Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Torpado Project.

I’m notoriously bad at not throwing anything away. Mostly that isn’t a good trait to have but occasionally it pays off. The Campag. Gran Sport derailleur described in the previous post is a good example of an item that I am pleased that I kept around for the last fifty odd years. There is also another derailleur that I have had that long. It is a Lucchini, which I had been given in the fifties. The Lucchini derailleur

It is interesting in that it is rod operated from a shifter on the seat stay. I had the derailleur but had never even seen the shifter until friend Steve Maasland turned up at the Cirque du Cyclisme with an old Italian bike with a complete Lucchini fitted. Now at least I knew what the shifter looked like and as it was virtually impossible to find one I decided to make a replica, which turned out reasonably well.

Left: Original Lucchini shifter on Steven Maasland's Soncini.
Right: The Barry version.

The Italians did have some funny ideas.

Good friend John Palmer has also been known to hoard a few treasures from the past. He had one item that I had lusted after for quite some time. It was a pair of Palladini hubs. These are unusual in that when the rear wheel is removed the sprockets remain in the frame. John’s father had owned a bike shop south of London which was bombed in the Blitz. One of the very few items to be rescued from the rubble was the pair of Paladini hubs. John kept these for the next sixty years despite moving to Canada, the US, Holland, back to the UK and finally to Manitoba. Those hubs always stayed with him. Then a year or so ago he asked if I would like them. I jumped at the offer and was determined to put them to use.
That was the start of the Torpado Project. I had the derailleur and the hubs and had a suitable old Torpado frame, which although not as old as the hubs and derailleur wasn’t too far out of keeping. The frame was repainted by Noah Rosen ( and the hubs were built into a pair of old wood rims. Friend and vintage bike enthusiast Peter Cridland has refinished the rims. He’d spent hours sanding them down and applying coat after coat of varnish. I found an old Italian “Invincibile” saddle, which was brought back to life with a bit of TLC. A pair of Cinelli steel ‘bars were fitted to an English lugged stem. I know it isn’t correct to fit an English stem to an Italian bike but it’s lugged construction when painted to match the frame, seemed to be just right. A Torpado crankset and Italian “Super Rapid” brakes completed the project.
I intend to make a rod operated front derailleur for the bike and I have some nice Italian stainless fenders which will be fitted but it is almost complete and has been greatly admired by all those that have seen it.

The almost complete bike, it just needs a front derailleur and fenders.

Noah Rosen did a good job with the paint.

John Palmer’s story of the Palladini hubs.

My great grandfather started a bicycle business in Bromley, Kent in 1888 and the shop was in the original location until one evening in November 1940 when a Luftwaffe bomber decided to jettison its bombs over Bromley rather than continue to the original target of the London Docks. My grandfather George had been working late in the workshop that night, and had just left for home on his bicycle when the bomb exploded on the shop.
The next day George, my father, and some of the neighbours started to clear out and salvage what they could from the bombed building. On the opposite side of the road was a derelict pub, scheduled for demolition as part of a road widening scheme which the War had postponed. My father contacted the owners and made arrangements to store all the bits and pieces in the old building for a few weeks.
Fourteen years later the shop, was still in the old pub, not exactly luxury accommodation, but it worked and the public was buying bicycles to get to work or school, and business was good. I left school and started to work in the workshop with George, while Dad had a small office upstairs. One day I was rummaging around upstairs and found a broken wicker basket originally from a butcher’s bike, covered with dusty cardboard.Inside was a collection of bicycle parts which had been rescued from the old shop, a few steel cranks and rusty BSA inch pitch chainrings, a pair of Stronglight 49D cranks, some Osgear parts, and in a battered dark red cardboard box with embossed gold writing, a pair of Palladini hubs. The Stronglight cranks went onto my racing bike and saw many years of service, the Palladini hubs stood on the shelf and I thought that one day I might build them up into a bicycle just for fun.
In 1968 I moved to Canada, bringing with me two racing bikes and the toolbox which I had used as a mechanic in the 1958 Tour of Britain. In the bottom of the toolbox I had put the Palladini hubs. Mike and I met up again in Toronto; we had raced together as juniors in England in the 1950's. We were both very much into bikes, and we started building Mariposa frames together in a friends basement in 1969, we have been the best of friends ever since.
The hubs accompanied me through my wandering working life in England, Canada, USA and The Netherlands, like some kind of talisman, connecting me to my roots,....and one day they would be built into a bicycle. In 2006 Mike was restoring a 1950's racing frame for me and it was then that I realized that the hubs should go to Mike, as he was the one person who might actually use them on one of his restorations. They were too interesting for me to keep in the bottom of my toolbox any longer.
The Palladini front hub.

When the rear wheel is removed the sprockets remain in the frame.

The "QR" skewer is unscrewed and withdrawn releasing the wheel.

The 'Invincibile' saddle was in pretty rough shape when I got it but it is amazing what a bucket of water and some Proofide will do.


Anonymous said...

Mike, you say "I found an old Italian “Invincible” saddle, which was brought back to life with a bit of TLC." Would you care to divulge exactly what this "TLC" was? There are a lot of old wives tales and Brooks edicts about what you should and should not do to rejuvenate an old, hard leather saddle. I've had good results using neatsfoot oil, but there are lots of people who warn against that. Your take on this with your vast experience would be invaluable.

Anonymous said...

The "Invincipile" saddle was in pretty rough shape when I got it. It had sagged quite badly and the front adjusting screw had been tightened to the limit.
I slackened the screw right off and removed it so that the leather top had no tension. I then immersed the saddle in water for a few days. The leather was then quite pliable and I molded it back into shape with my hands. I then stuffed the underside with newspaper and put a toe strap around the middle to hold it all in shape. It was then allowed to completely dry for a couple of days. When dry I applied a liberal amount of Brooks Proofide to the top surface and kept doing so until the Proofide stopped being absorbed. At that point the adjusting screw was reinstalled and the surface was given a good polishing with shoe polish.
It seems to me that neetsfoot oil softens the leather too much and it soon sags. I never put the dressing on the underside. The adjusting screw should only be tightened as a last resort. Overtightening pulls the curvature out of the sides of the saddle making it triangular shaped and consequently uncomfortable.

Trevor said...

Hello Mike
I was just googling my way through a search for vintage Torpado bikes and came across your blog. The reason I was looking is a just happen to pick up a vintage Torpado frame for $80. I have been searching for the year it might be from. It almost matches your bikes lug work to a tee. There were no components on it other than the 3TTT stem and bars and a unnamed headset. The color looks to have been a blue, although hard to tell as the person before me had almost stripped all the paint to the chrome. Its definitely a fixer upper and needs lots of tlc, but it has so much potential. I thought it might be in the 1950's range. What year is yours? Any information you could share with me would be great, as the Torpado seems to be a bit of a mystery.

Anonymous said...

It should be pointed out that the Lucchini derailleur is indexed with detents, so there is no searching for a gear but rather a smooth shift each time.


daniele vallisa said...

Buongiorno a tutti e complimenti per caso mi sono imbattuto nel Blog e non ho potuto fare a meno di vedere il cambio LUCCHINI fantastico io abito nella città dove lo costruivano dal 1946 al 1953 PIACENZA però non ho mai visto questo modello fantastico
sono il titolare del Blog
BICICLETTE EPOCA BY VALLO64 chiedevo è possibile pubblicare le foto anche
sul mio blog? Ringraziandovi anticipatamente CORDIALI SALUTI DANIELE

Anonymous said...

I just bought a torpado built in thé 50 thé test brake cable is Hudon in thé frame and Aldo Orly one câble is hidden in thé frame Would like to know more about thé bike thanks