'Vintage' is an overused adjective nowadays; we're certainly culpable. Today though we have every right to use the word, as we introduce to you this genuine 'vintage' Meca Dural Duralumin, potentially dating as far back as the 1930s.
Firstly, just in case you don't know, Duralumin is an early type of hard alloy, made up of 90% aluminum, 4% copper, 1% magnesium and 0.5% to 1% manganese. It was used in the cycle trade as it was lighter than aluminium but twice as strong (initially Duralumin was used in the construction of aircrafts).
It may sound crazy to read that aluminium was being used to make bicycle frames in the 1930s, but in fact it was being used as far back as the late 1800s. The difference between then & now however was in the way they were constructed.
Meca Dural produced frames from the 1930s through to the 1950s, and would supply them to bicycle builders & constructeurs alike who could then assemble the bikes with the kit of their choice. Two of the more famous marques who offered Meca Dural cycles to the mass market were La Perle & Mercier. The interesting thing about these frames is the way in which they were constructed. Built using internal expanders, much different to the welded aluminium frames we know today, the expanders work in a similar way to how a quill stem expands inside a frame. The bolts that tighten the expanders are accessed through a hole in the tubing. Some are hidden, such as on the headtube where the headbadge needs to be removed to allow access, but the rest of the construction is proudly on show.
So the whole frame is held together by friction. Insane huh?
Insane it may seem, but these unique machines are both safe and highly collectible. We can't pin down the exact year of this model, but it's full of interesting parts, many of which date back to the late 1930s, so we could well be dealing with a very early example.
The earliest part we managed to date is the rear gear lever, an early example of the L.J. Simplex. Made from chrome plated brass as they were in the 1930s. Simplex then went on to use aluminium instead, a change that most likely happened after the 2nd world war. As it happens this Meca Dural also features the later aluminium version too, providing shifting for the front derailleur via the clamp-on down-tube gear lever. The rear shifting is handled by the Simplex Route Leger changer, a model seen below in the 1939 Simplex catalogue & used into the 1940s.
This leads us to the conclusion that it started life as a 4-speed with a single front chainwheel in the late 30s/early 40s, and was subsequently 'upgraded' at a later point to allow an extra chainring for tackling the hills. At this point the chainset would have been changed to the later Stronglight 49D, along with the introduction of the Simplex Type 39 front changer with the chainguard that allows shifting. As you can imagine the shifting is far from smooth, but this whole set up is fascinating.
Another early feature comes in the form of the Gloria Corsa Special brake calipers, one of the earlier examples of aluminium side-pull calipers. These are accompanied by the 1st version of the wonderful CLB Guidonnet brake levers.
The list of special components keeps on going. The wheels feature an incredibly rare example of Felix Boehm Super Legger aluminium hubs laced to 650B alloy rims that we've not been able to identify, but are beautiful whatever they may be. The only parts of the Meca Dural we couldn't salvage were the tyres. It came with Wolbers but we freshened it up with a set of Grand Bois Hetre 650B x 42s.
The finishing kit is as you'd expect from artisan French bikes of this era, wonderfully over-engineered. The Lefol Pratique mudguards are always a sight to behold, but the rear rack is the final bit that gets us going. Bearing the Prym makers mark, the platform is so beautifully constructed & the tangs carry the classic French 'Modèle déposé' stamp (the French version of our Patent). Oh, and let us not forget that Wolber pump.
We could go on and on about this one, but you're probably feeling a tad dehydrated after all that drooling, so we'll wrap it up (that reminds us, the Velox cloth tape is blue & shellaced for that authentic touch).
We hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoyed working on it.
See you all next week...
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