Determining the date of production of American Masis
often leads to confusion and misunderstanding among the
inexperienced and expert alike. Granted, perhaps not the
degree of confusion one may encounter when dating Italian
Masis... at least the Yanks were considerate enough to use
serial numbers from the very beginning. Unfortunately, the
serial number schemes changed several times over the years.
Not only is misinformation about these numbers widespread,
but not every scheme referenced the date of manufacture. So
before we proceed to the topic of production dates, we
should describe the various numbering schemes that are found
stamped on the bottom brackets of American Masis.
By the way, one such stamp we
do not need to concern ourselves with is the "+GF+" that is
seen on many Masi bottom brackets from the 60's and 70's.
This is the symbol of Georg Fischer, the company who cast
the bottom bracket and has nothing at all to do with Masi.
When Carlsbad's first group of 25 frames was produced toward
the end of 1973, they had numbers stamped on the downtube
tang of the bottom bracket. The format was 1Sx, where "x"
was the frame number, from 1 to 25. "1S" supposedly stands
for "1st Series". Also stamped on the tang was the frame
size in centimeters, with the letter "A" preceding it. More
than likely, “A” was meant to stand for “America.”
After that first batch of 25 frames, Masi decided that the
numbering scheme was a bit cumbersome. For the second
batch of frames they stamped the frame size above the oval
window on the BB downtube socket, and the serial number
followed by "MC" below the window. The meaning of these two letters has been
the subject of some speculation over the years... some say
it stands for "Masi Carlsbad" while others favor "Masi
California." Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of is
that it does NOT stand for "Mario Confente" as more than one
less-than-knowledgeable eBay seller has asserted. In all
likelihood, “MC” represents “Masi California” as evidenced
by the “Masi California” jersey that was given away with the
earliest bikes (yellow with blue side panels and yellow
sleeves. “MASI” was embroidered on the jersey with a smaller
“CALIFORNIA” below it). Note too that for this second
batch of 25 bikes, they started numbering again from
scratch. This means that from here on, you would add
25 to the serial number to find the actual production number
of your Carlsbad Masi.
On the third, fourth, fifth and part of the sixth batch of frames (from
at least #28 to at least #106), the “MC” prefix was moved in front of the
serial number rather than after it. As with the first
and second batches, the frame size stamp was
placed above the window on the downtube tang of
the bottom bracket, while the serial number was placed
below. Sometime between #106 and #124, the serial number was
the cutout and the size below. This was probably done
at the same time that they began placing the "MC" prefix in
front of the frame size (as Masi had been doing in Italy all
Things get a little complicated when, or more accurately
after, production reached 1000 frames. I suppose anyone
with a bit of common sense would have opted for "1001" as
the next number, but it was not to be. Sadly, their failure
to do so has been the source of much confusion in the
intervening years. Apparently, their choice was to let a
single leading zero represent 1,000, and so the next few
hundred bikes appeared with numbers like "01," "042,"
"0155," "0643," etc. Anyone who collects or is fond of
Masis has no problem with this but the inexperienced
certainly do. Masis continually appear on Ebay
misrepresented as being older than they really are. This
often happens after the seller contacts a Masi collector to
ask for a date on (for example) frame 185 when he is
actually in posession of frame 0185 (which is nearly two
years newer). Naturally, there's a world of difference (to
collectors at any rate) since 185 will be a pressed-lug
frame with a twin-plate crown and 0185 will have a Fischer
crown and investment cast lugs.
the 0300's, the serial number and frame size swapped places
again. The MC/frame size moved to the top of the
cutout, and the serial number went below. Just
before this time, it had become routine to put a rather
large space between the "MC" and the frame size, so the "MC"
and frame size were placed on either side of the tang
rather than centered below it. When the frame stamp
and serial number changed places this space remained, so it is
not unusual for example to see serial number 0663 appear as
"06 63." There is no special
significance to the space.
Towards the end of (and for a year or so after) the “Carlsbad Days” several
subcontractors supplemented production by building Masi
frames in their own facilities. Albert Eisentraut built an
undetermined number of frames, as did Keith Lippy and Ted Kirkbride.
The Eisentraut frames appear to have been numbered
conventionally. Two examples I know of are #0370 and
#0414. I suppose it is safe to assume that other frames
close to these numbers are also Eisentrauts, but this is
uncertain. One recognizable feature of these frames is the
fork… the Eisentraut fork has a smooth graceful bend but it
occurs at the lower part of the blades and does not continue
in a smooth fashion up to the crown as the Carlsbad fork
For now, the Lippy frames are a mystery. Three bikes have
shown up that have been attributed to him by various collectors and fellow builders but Keith has not
confirmed this. The frames have no serial numbers,
just a frame size (no prefix) stamped above the "M" cutout
on the bottom bracket in a much smaller size than Masi's
usual stamps. Another recognizable feature of these frames
is the distinct 'dog-leg' bend in the fork that is
noticeably different from the smoother bends found on both
American and Italian Masis (for the record, Keith's wife did tell me that the frames they built around 1978 had pre-bent Reynolds blades).
The highest number in the old Carlsbad scheme that I have
run across so far is frame 0906. How many more frames were produced under
this numbering scheme is still a mystery... probably not
many. Production at Carlsbad was slowing down, soon to
Before we leave Carlsbad, there are a handful of unique
frames we need to be aware of.
First, there are a few unnumbered frames that turn up now and
then that appear to have been built by Masi employees,
either for themselves or friends. They are rare, but you
should be aware of them.
Second, Mario Confente produced a small group of “special
build” frames just before he departed. These are
numbered with an “M” and a single digit. M1 was built
for Mike Wootten and M2 was built for
Jerry Ash. One lucky collector has
owned M3, and presently owns M4 and M5. M6 and probably M7
were built under the Masi roof but received Confente decals,
so perhaps one could argue that these bikes were the first
Confentes in spite of the fact that they have Masi lug sets
and “M” cutouts in the bottom brackets.
In 1978, painter Jim Allen came up with a new numbering
scheme consisting of a letter from A-D (signifying the
quarter of the year), followed by two digits (signifying the
year), and two more digits for the production number of the
frame. This is a rather elegant scheme because it
immediately tells you, within a three month window, when
your frame was produced. One can even narrow it a bit
further by the last two digits since lower numbers would
obviously fall towards the beginning of a quarter (the
highest number I’ve seen so far for a given quarter is 60).
Unfortunately, this scheme has caused some confusion of its
own. Some individuals, unsure of the meaning of the leading
letter, decided that they stood for all manner of things
such as the name of the framebuilder ("D" representing David
Moulton, for example).
In 1980 (first example I have seen
thus far, C8033), the "SMC" frame size
prefix begins to appear ("San Marcos, California").
This is probably when production began at the San Marcos
facility. Following the closing of the Carlsbad shop,
production had moved temporarily to a barn at Roland Sahm’s
home in Rancho Santa Fe. After production began at San
Marcos, David Moulton tells us that Rob Roberson continued
to build at “The Ranch” for a while. Since a few "MC"
frames have shown up with later numbers than the first "SMC"
frames, it does seem to indicate that production was going
on at both locations for a time. "MC" frames seem to end around the last quarter of 1980, from there until 1984 they are all "SMC."
to the new numbering scheme, 1978 also brought a change in
the location of the stamps. They were moved from the
downtube tang of the bottom bracket shell to the
circumference of the bottom bracket shell, just inboard of
the bearing cups. On the Rancho Santa Fe frames, the
serial number is usually stamped on the drive side and the
frame size on the left side, and the tops of both stamps face outward. On the SMC frames, this is usually
reversed (serial number on the left side, frame size on the
drive side, tops of the numbers facing in).
In 1984, the numbering scheme changed again. First, the leading letter in the serial number was dropped, leaving a four digit number (first digit being the year, the other three being the production number). Second, the prefix on the frame size stamp was shortened from
“SMC” to “M.” In addition, there was some change in the orientation of the stamps... though this was to be only temporary. Joe Starck,
who arrived in December of 1983, tells us that Ted Kirkbride
had obtained a pantographing machine. Since it worked in a
straight line, the numbers were reoriented so that they went
across the BB shell rather than around the circumference
(first example, 4033). The serial number was engraved above
the “M” cutout and the frame size was engraved below the
cutout. Joe said the pantographing machine
was only in use for a year or two and they soon returned to
stamping the serial numbers in the previous location
(parallel to the BB cups). This serial format (four numbers, first being the year) would continue well into the 1990's.
There are a few notable
exceptions to the four digit serial number convention of the
late 80's. The Nuova Strada, introduced around 1985,
sometimes appears with five digit serial numbers.
Quite a few track bikes from the late 80s have turned up
with dates (mm dd yy) rather than serial numbers.
Early 3V's (until '88 or so) were sold by Masi USA but were
built in Italy and had Alberto-style stamps: Frame size with
two letter prefix, a three or four digit date code (yymm, in
a smaller size stamp, only 1/8" tall, somtimes obscured by paint), and occasionally a three digit serial
number or tube type code.
Gran Criterium serial numbers followed the four digit convention until
1990 when the shop became snowed under with orders for
3V’s. When a bike appeared on eBay
with a “MM” prefix on the frame size (#0119), I wrote to
Jim Allen about it. He explained that they had boxed up a
bunch of GC parts and sent them to Mondonico for assembly so
that San Marcos could concentrate on 3V production.
The assembled frames were sent back unpainted and given an
“MM” prefix to distinguish their origin.
In the early 90’s things begin to get a bit hazy. Joe left
San Marcos and at some point a decision was made to
discontinue GC production. In the 1994 Torelli catalog, the
GC is being advertised as a “closeout” and apparently had
been so for some time since only 48, 50, 59, 60 and 62 cm
frames remained. It is not clear to me at this time whether
production of the GC had returned to the US after being
subcontracted to Mondonico in 1990, I have no examples to
look at and the catalog does not state whether these
closeout frames were imports.
In the Fall-Winter 1995 Torelli catalog, the Gran Criterium
appears once again as a regular item and they are described
at this time as imports. I have two examples of these later
frames and each has a different numbering scheme (1996, serial # 6CU
AG / 56M5 and 1997, serial # 97884 / 56M7).
I have been trying to gather some information to make some
sense of these later dates but I must admit I have not been
too aggressive about it since interest among collectors in
these later frames is not very great.
One further note: After 1985 or so, you will probably see
the same numbering schemes on the other models that became
part of Masi’s line (not all of which were built in San
Marcos… some were subcontracted to Mondonico or Billato).
These include the Gran Corsa, Nuova Strada, Record Crono,
3V, Team 3V, and a few elusive Titanium frames. While some
of these bikes retained the four digit numbering scheme that
had been in use with the Gran Criterium, some did not.
In addition to the previously mentioned exceptions,
some of the special edition bikes had unusual numbers as
well. These special editions include the “Russian” 3V, the
“Barcelona Olympic” 3V and the 60th Anniversary “Jubilee”
In those cases when the numbering system was consistent
(the first digit being the year of manufacture), I cannot
say if the entire year's production was numbered
consecutively or if each model was numbered consecutively
(if the latter case is true, there are probably bikes of
different models out there with identical serial numbers).
I hope that the above information has helped make some sense
of American Masi serial numbers. Now let’s move on to
dates. After 1978, the dates were included in the serial
numbers so the only ones we need concern ourselves with are
the earlier Carlsbad Masis.
At present I have photos of about 70 Carlsbads, that's
about one of every thirty bikes produced. They
number enough to give a good visual representation of the
incremental changes in lugs, decals, and other details but
they don't help much with production dates. That’s because
only a very few of these bikes have dates that are confirmed
by sales receipts. Most are dated by the hazy recollections
of their owners, and sadly there are precious few bikes that
still remain with their original owners so some of these
recollections have even been passed on second- and
One bike I feel fairly sure of is #0207 because the owner
had the paperwork when he put it on Ebay, and he even
revised his listing when he looked at his receipt and saw
that he had been off by two weeks in the original listing.
Another date I feel sure of is John Jorgensen's #0682. He
received it on October 19, 1976, his sister's birthday.
Now for the beginning of production (forgive my jumping
around like this, hopefully it will make sense in a
minute). Brian Baylis said that when he came back from
Thanksgiving vacation (1973), the first batch of 25 was just
getting ready for paint. Soon, all the Italians (Faliero,
Mario, Roberto and one other guy) went home for Christmas
and not everyone came back. Taking this into consideration,
my opinion is that total production by the end of 1973 could
not have been very high, and most frames that come up for
sale claiming to be '73's are in fact '74's. One can only
guess here, but I think it is reasonable to assume that
frames with serial numbers over 75 are probably 1974
So let's for the sake of argument say that from October '73
to October '76, nearly 1700 frames were produced. We are
looking at a production of between 5 and 600 frames a year,
right? Not necessarily... production was probably more of a
lopsided bell curve. Early in production, personnel were
being trained while towards the end things were slowing down
(at first because Mario had departed, and later because they
were shutting down for the move).
So on the basis of this, I've made a few estimates... let's
assume that the production from the end of 1973 (75 frames or so, but
combined with all of 1974 production may have put them
around #700 or so in January 1975. By January of 1976,
another 700, (#0400 or so)... which would agree with #0207
being in late summer, (remember, production was already
beginning to slow after Mario's departure). In 1976 things
were really slowing down fast… I believe this was when Brian
returned to Carlsbad and at that time it felt pretty lonely
there. Brian, Mike Howard and Ted Kirkbride shouldered the
burden until 1977 when they began preparing for the move and
in-shop production ceased. The highest Carlsbad number I
have a confirmed date for is #0682, and as I said, it was delivered
October 1976 so actual production was probably a month or
two prior. That means we're probably looking at around 400
frames for 1976.
My numbers and dates will probably get tighter as more
frames with better documentation show up. But for now, here
is the timeline I use as a rule-of-thumb for dating
1973: 1Sxx to 75
1974: 75 to 700 (as stated, production was ramping up so
the middle of this range (around # 400) was probably after
June rather than before).
1975: 700 to 0400 (here, the reverse is true… production
was probably beginning to slow at the end of the year so the
middle numbers (around #050) were skewed toward the
beginning of the year, perhaps May or so).
1976: 0400-0??? (highest number so far, 0806 probably
produced late in the year, or perhaps early 1977)
Let me close by saying that the above dates are just
deductions based on very little hard data. I welcome any
reliable information, (preferably in print, as in sales
receipts or shop records) from Masi owners, bike shop
employees and Masi employees. Also welcome are
recollections and word-of-mouth information… every bit
helps. Contact me on the CR list or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to: Jim Allen, Brian Baylis, John Jorgensen, David
Moulton, Rob Roberson, Richard Sachs, MikeSchmidt, Joes Starck.