The mid-1980s were a disturbing time for Campagnolo. Tullio Campagnolo had died in 1983, SunTour's slant parallelogram derailleur design was clearly established as the dominant derailleur geometry, Shimano's SIS offered consumers reliable indexing and the mountain bike, an alien object that Europeans knew nothing about, was sweeping all before it. Campagnolo's, long successful, strategy of producing ever more refined variations of the 1951 Campagnolo Gran Sport, using ever more exotic materials, was suddenly exposed as being intellectually and even commercially bankrupt.
The obvious response would have been to produce a beautifully polished, obsessively engineered copy of the Shimano Dura-Ace 7400. And that is what Campagnolo belatedly ended up doing in the form of the 1990 Campagnolo Record (RD-01RE). But first Campagnolo had two goes at reinventing the derailleur on their own terms - the 1987 Campagnolo Croce d'Aune and the 1987 Campagnolo Chorus. In some ways these two wildly contrasting experiments were admirable efforts, even heroic failures. But they also remind us that, in the words of P. J. O'Rourke, hubris is one of the great renewable resources.
The Campagnolo Croce d'Aune started with the classic geometry of the Campagnolo C-Record (and the Campagnolo Super Record and Campagnolo Nuovo Record before it), in an attempt to retain its legendary reliability and its parallelogram pivots that were evenly loaded. Then it added a cable clamping system and an exquisitely manufactured stainless steel tie rod that swung the main parallelogram backwards as the pulley cage moved inwards. By doing this the derailleur maintained a fairly even chain gap and delivered a crisper, more accurate, gear change than its illustrious forebears.
The resulting derailleur had everything, it was a visual mess, it was significantly heavier than the obese Campagnolo C-Record and all that over-complication meant that it had lost the intrinsic reliability that was the whole point in the first place. Ugly, heavy and unreliable - it's a tough act to beat - but for some reason I can't help loving it.
By way of an aside, although Campagnolo held patents for the basic designs of both the 1987 Campagnolo Croce d'Aune and the 1987 Campagnolo Chorus, these designs had curious echos of two Shimano patents from the late 1970s (Japanese Patent # S54-138252 and Japanese Patent # S54-15240 respectively). In the late 1970s Shimano had been struggling to escape the tyranny of SunTour's patents for the slant parallelogram design in much the same way that Campagnolo was wrestling with Shimano a decade later.
This example is a short caged version that Campagnolo claim will handle a 28 tooth sprocket - although, based only on intuition, I would be reluctant to run it over anything bigger than 26.
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