Let's begin by asking a
another question: If an Italian builder moves to the
US, begins producing his Italian bike design and outfits it
with all-Italian components (except for a set of American
Hunt-Wilde handlebar plugs), is it Italian or American?
Let's ask another question: If the tubes are
brazed in Italy and the frame is imported into the USA
unpainted, then it is numbered, painted, decaled, built up
and sold by Masi USA, is it an Italian bike or an American
Whether a bike is an Italian or an American Masi is a more
complex matter than knowing the country where the frame was
brazed. Most often, the guiding factor is the
nationality of the parent company that is selling the frame.
For example, Masi USA had several models built in Italy
under subcontract (not by Alberto Masi), and while that
might appear to make them American bikes in name only,
anyone familiar with Alberto's work would certainly deny
that these bikes are Italian Masis. So what are they?
These days, we seem to be able to accept the idea of US and
European branded bikes built in Taiwan or China, but back in
the days of lugged steel it was not an unreasonable
assumption that a bike would be built in the country of
origin. Masi may have been one of the first well-known
instances where this was not to be so and even today the
matter causes much confusion.
Perhaps we should begin with the easy cases. If you own a
Masi from 1972 or earlier (this would be an early Gran
Criterium, Masi Special strada or pista, or a Masi Speciale
Corsa) then it is Italian, end of story. If you like
Masi bikes and the whole mystique of Faliero "The Tailor"
Masi and the tiny shop under the Vigorelli, and you are
annoyed by any trace of ambiguity, then these are the bikes
for you (OK, so some of the Gran Criteriums were
subcontracted to other builders, but they were all Italian
and from shops in northern Italy where Faliero could keep an
eye on production quality).
In 1973, Masi production began in the US, first under the
guidance of Faliero Masi, later under Mario Confente. These
bikes began as nearly identical reproductions of the Italian
twin-plate Gran Criteriums that were being produced in Italy
at the time, but while the Italian models only have a frame
size stamped on the bottom bracket (with a one or two letter
prefix) and perhaps a matching size stamp and date stamp on
the steering tube, the US Masis were serial numbered with
only a small handful of exceptions. So here's another easy
case: If you find yourself in possession of a Gran
Criterium with both a frame size stamp (prefix A, MC, SMC or
M) and a serial number, then it is a US-built Masi. The
serial number could be two, three or four digits or four
digits with an A-D prefix. For more specific information on
Masi USA serial numbers, go here.
The third easy case is that of the Masi Prestige. This
one is all-Italian. No argument there. The Prestige was
Alberto Masi's baby, and was not legally sold in the US
(except by rare special order thru High Country Imports for
a very few years in the 80's). We should note here that
Alberto did market a few of his own bikes (mostly Prestiges
and 3V's) in the US under the "Milano" name, a practice that
still continues. Probably identical to their Italian
counterparts, the Masi name was often not seen anywhere on
the bike, not even Alberto's small signature on the top
Another easy call: If your bike is a Team 3V, it is
American. But not necessarily American built... it may have
been built elsewhere under subcontract (probably by Billato
or Mondonico), but it is considered a US bike.
The same goes for
the Gran Corsa and Nuova Strada... they were US bikes, but
were never built
here. They were built in Italy (again, probably by
Billato or Mondonico), imported as bare frames, then
numbered, painted and decaled here by Jim Allen.
Finally, if it is a Gran Criterium built after 1978, it is
American (many people are under the impression that the
Italian Gran Criterium was quickly phased out following the
introduction of the Prestige in 1974, but they were actually
built in limited numbers and sold in Europe until at least
1978). Again, the American Gran Criterium's origin
will be confirmed by a four digit (or four digit with an A-D
prefix) serial number, in addition to the frame size stamp.
After 1974, most Italian Masi Prestiges, Gran Criteriums and
3V's had two or three digit date codes (two digit year
followed by one or two digit month). Some time in the 90's I
believe the year and month were reversed and sometimes a day
was added as well (so in this case the date code might
contain as many as six digits). These date codes are usually
recognizable because they were done with a smaller size
stamp than the frame size stamp. Some 80's Italian bikes,
mostly 3V's, do occasionally turn up with serial numbers.
They are usually three digits and are in the larger sized
stamp that was used to stamp the frame size. These bikes are
immediately recognizable as they are about the only Masis
with three sets of numbers. There is one other
instance of a third number appearing on Italian Masis, most
often one, but occasionally two digits. This stamp is
said to be a repaint number, applied when one took the frame
back to Alberto for a respray. The number is usually
located on the lower drive side chainstay tang of the bottom
bracket, but once in a while it is seen on the BB shell
itself below the date code or frame size stamps.
The 3V (Tre Volumetrica) began as Alberto's design and the
first ones were probably built at the Vigorelli until sales
began to outpace the capabilities of the small shop, at
which time production probably moved to (or was augmented
by) one or more subcontrators. The bike's growing popularity began to
be felt in the US as well, but Alberto was still bound by
the agreement that his father had made in 1973 (that Masi
USA would retain all rights to the Masi name). But
here was a bike design that was popular enough to
potentially heal the rift, or to at least open the door to
allow Alberto's bikes back into the US. Around 1983 or
1984, Alberto and Masi Worldwide struck a deal to allow the
3V to be sold in America.
It is these mid-'80's 3V's that are probably the hardest to
differentiate as being American or Italian. Sometimes there
will be red, white and blue banner stripes (or US flag
banner) on the seat tube
(see the seat tube page of
"Masi Bits") but the earliest bikes sold by Masi
USA in the mid 80's looked exactly like the Italian ones.
That's because at this point in Masi USA's sales agreement
with Alberto, these were the same bikes from the same
builder and had the same paint
(often a pearl or opalescent topcoat) and decals. It
is these 3V's that stretch our basic premise (that the
nationality of the bike is considered to be that of the
company selling it) to the breaking point... here we have
two bikes, one (supposedly) American and one Italian, that
are for all practical purposes identical with no real way to
tell them apart. Any reasonable person would consider
both bikes Italian, but some might argue that technically
(or legally) they were different products.
Around 1987, 3V production began in the US and these 3V's
are more easily recognized by Jim Allen's Imron paint and
the Campagnolo dropouts (the Italian 3V dropouts were
proprietary and socketed, like the lugs) as well as the
Henry James crown. Alberto's 3V's and the earlier US-marketed 3V's had
By the mid 90's most of the American 3V, Team 3V and Gran
Criterium production went to Italian subcontractors (though
a few custom orders continued to be built here, probably by
Ted Kirkbride) so as with the Gran Corsa and Nuova Strada,
we have a case of Italian frames that were sold as American.
Some of the Team 3V's were painted in Italy with a few basic
colors, but the greater majority of these frames were
painted and decaled here by Jim Allen.
A recent appearance of
Alberto's Italian Masi in the US is the model Nuovo
Prestige. This bike is brazed in Italy (with Richard
Sachs' Richie-issimo lugs and a Duomo symbol on the fork
crown flats), and imported painted or unpainted. They've been
spotted here with "Alberto Masi" downtube decals and a "3V"
head tube and seat tube badge (3V in this case refers not to
the bike model but a more generic reference: "La Vera
Volumetrica del Vigorelli," meaning "The true Volumetrica
from the Vigorelli."
These days, it is probably easier than ever to distinguish
the American Masis from the Italian ones. Their logos and
graphics are completely different and Alberto does not seem
to be a big fan of sloping top tubes which the American
bikes use almost exclusively. As for where these new
Italian and American Masis are actually built... well, we'll
leave that for another day.