1974 Mercian Campionissimo
1969 catalog copy
1981 catalog copy
The same frame in original paint
(photo by the Bike Brothers)
(photo by Martin Hanczyc)
1950s catalog copy
The Campionissimo was an off-the-peg design built to Mercian's recommended geometry, corresponding to today's Audax model. It provided prospective buyers a small break in price over the custom King of Mercia. The 1974 example pictured above was one among a shipment of frames made for a Savannah, Georgia bike shop. The specification was Reynolds 531C tubing, 73 degrees parallel, with 2-1/8 inch fork offset. Parts included a Stronglight 49D chainset (typically for the day, taking little advantage of the low-gear possibilities), GB stem, GB Maes handlebars, MAFAC Racer brakes, and Suntour Vx derailleurs.
In 2003 it appeared for sale by consignment in an Oregon bike shop. I acquired the frame - the dirtiest and most neglected I ever saw that was not actually abandoned - refurbished it, and have enjoyed many happy miles of day touring, rough stuff, and general riding.
The 1956 Campionissimo never achieved a complete, period-correct restoration before its sacrifice to orthodontist's bills. The new owner has done very well by it, fitting period lightweight steel cranks and a period derailleur for three or four sprockets, a configuration which would have pleased the original builders more than the S-A hub seen here. Although many touring and rough stuff riders of the 1950s used hub gears, they were very much out of the fashionable mainstream; specialty lightweight builders did not emphasize such mechanisms in their brochures.