The 'Zap MAVIC System 800' (MAVIC Zap ZMS 800) derailleur was a marvel of its time. It was the first commercial electronic derailleur.
It worked in an exceedingly clever way, using the rider's power, driving the guide pulley wheel, to, in turn, drive the gear change. Unlike Shimano's Di2 designs, electric motors were not used for the primary power. But electronics were used to direct the rider's power by extending or retracting small teeth that engaged in helical grooves. It was a bit like an electronically controlled Le Cyclo. You can see an image of a cutaway model here.
It was a wired system that used very high quality, and ultra-modern, materials. The pulley cage plates were Kevlar composite and the all-important guide pulley and many of the small bolts were titanium. The tension pulley had a beautifully smooth sealed bearing. The whole caboodle weighed a very reasonable 243g, which compares very favourably with the 255g of the first Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 (7970), launched a mere 16 years later by the largest, richest and most technically sophisticated derailleur manufacturer in the world.
The side-on photo, above, of the MAVIC Zap does not really do justice to it as a sculptural object - please glance through the additional photos for a better impression of its space age looks.
Today MAVIC electronic derailleurs are almost regarded as a weird, slightly eccentric, technical joke in the history of the bicycle.
But at the time, although I did not have that much experience of the MAVIC Zap, I considered it to be a top-quality system. Chris Boardman, who was riding the Tour de France for GAN, used one for his record-breaking prologue-winning ride. Chris has also praised the MAVIC Zap system and has commented that it worked reliably and well for him.
Perhaps the reputation of the, wired, MAVIC Zap was blighted by the performance of the later, wireless, MAVIC Mektronic. But I have to say that my, even more limited, experience of the MAVIC Mektronic was also fairly positive.
I do believe that the MAVIC Zap system was not a runaway commercial success, but, again, my memory of this was that it had to do with it being an almost unimaginably expensive road racing component launched at the peak of the Mountain Bike boom. It was a time when demand for any kind of road component was at an historic low. I do not remember customers expressing anything but awe for its technical performance - but then expressing even greater awe for its extraordinary price.
I think that this example is a very early version of the MAVIC Zap. It has a hand engraved serial number of '028'. It is just possible that it is the 28th commercially available electronic derailleur in the whole history of the world - imagine!.
Some of its attributes are:
Cooler than the other side of the pillow...