American Masi Serial Numbers
 and Production Dates


Revised Sept 2011

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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 moved above 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 along).

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.

Somewhere in 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 does.

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 cease completely.

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."

In addition 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” 3V.  

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 third-hand.

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 production.

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 probably less) 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 Carlsbads:

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  Thanks!

Thanks to: Jim Allen, Brian Baylis, John Jorgensen, David Moulton, Rob Roberson, Richard Sachs, MikeSchmidt, Joes Starck.



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