The coffee table book is a curious format. They’re not really books, they’re a statement: like an unusual ornament or a prominently positioned souvenir. Coffee table books are really an extension of your “personal brand”. The magazine stylists love to use them as shorthand. Elle Deco, Living Etc, Wallpaper* (mustn’t forget the *) would be dry husks without the nourishment of a few strategically placed coffee table books. Your eye moves from the Eames recliner, then rests on the Noguchi coffee table. There’s a little tower: tomes of Vogue, Bauhaus and Helmut Newton perhaps. So, could “Campagnolo: 75 years of cycling passion” join this stack?
Well, in the cycling community, it’d fit right in. I remember being shown one of the limited edition 50th anniversary Record groupsets, complete with gold detailing in a bike shop once. Unfortunately my paper round salary put it out of my reach, but it established the brand in my mind. The first time I owned Campagnolo kit was on my Condor Tourer, which had an old pair of Nuovo Record down-tube mounted gear shifters and a seat bolt – I thought I’d made it! I’m now a hunter of obscure “Campag” brake blocks and the like to maintain my aging fleet of steel road bikes.
Campagnolo dominated the professional racing scene the second half of the C20th. Almost every year at least one from the Tour, the Giron and the World Championships were won (not just a podium place) on a Campagnolo equipped bike.
Given Campagnolo’s technical wizardry and the brand’s aspitational position you’d expect this book to continue the legend. Unfortunately it’s an incredibly frustrating read. I’ve seen better photography on eBay listings and the translation would appropriate for an A-level homework assignment. These are beautiful products from the “form follows function” aesthetic. The Campagnolo Delta brake for example could grace any sculpture museum.
The reader is subjected to laborious descriptions of the early workings of the derailleur and the quick release wheel mechanism. An obvious omission seems to be that none of the groupsets are shown, nor their evolution. Until recently, Campagnolo’s components had no markings to indicate the model. Where better to rectify this?
The rivalry between Campagnolo and Shimano gets a reluctant acknowledgement. One criticsm of Shimano was the diversification of their business but Campagnolo were just as eager to explore other areas. I know the book is about cycling passion, but there’s only a passing reference to the fact that Campagnolo wheels graced some of the top Italian cars of the 70’s and 80’s. Ferraris, Alfa Romeos and the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Lamborgihni Muria (see the opening scene of The Italian Job) all sported them.
The repetitious fawning over Tuulio Campagnolo’s stewardship reads more like the ramblings of a stalker than the opinions of an aficionado. It appears that as soon as something mechanical frustrated Tuulio he’d invent a new one; coat hangers, corkscrews, nutcrackers – it seems nothing was immune to his touch. I’d have liked to know more about the man behind the brand. After all he was to Campagnolo what Enzo was to Ferrari, but this is a book more about worship than expose.
The text concentrates on developing the folklore of Campagnolo. I’d have liked to know about them in the context of other Italian manufacturers. So much manufacturing excellence stems from northernItaly; Fiat, Olivetti, Alessi, Ferrari and Lamborghini, not to mention the cycling behemoths of Bianchi and Cinelli.
For all my sniping, Campagnolo is the only component manufacturer that’s likely to see it’s products represented in print this way and if I owned a coffee table, it’s likely it’d grace mine.