October has been a good month! It has also reinforced something I say a lot; “you cannot guarantee anything with the Specialist Bicycle Development Unit”. Just as I published my blog post about the unique SB662 with Nervex Professional lugs, another one has come along. After a decade of research and viewing over a 1000 frames, and never documenting one before, in the space of 23 days I now have two! Here is SB95, a 1975 SBDU frame with a difference.
I had driven to London on the 26th September to collect SB662, and blogged about it a week later on Sunday 3rd October. Then the very next day, Monday 4th, I received an email! I was on holiday at the time, and didn’t pick up the email immediately. But soon after, 22 images came through and showed a lovely, and very different early SBDU frame and fork. The wording in the email didn’t mention any details, but hang on, this one also had Nervex Professional lugs.
The seller was a guy called Mike. He had taken the frame to a local bike shop and they told him about my blog. Mike was looking to sell this frame, and had sent through the frame number, which he wrote as ‘SB 5 56’. I knew it wasn’t SB5, the format of the number stamp was wrong for it to be such an early frame. Up until my SB9, the numbers were written in a line (with no frame size). They swiftly moved to ‘SB’ above the number (with no frame size), and then ‘SB’ above the number AND frame size.
It looked like there was a very faintly stamped number before the ‘5’. If there was a possible number before the ‘5’ then there could easily have been another, possibly a 3 digit frame number? The faint number could have been either a ‘5’ or a ‘9’. Whatever the number was, Mike had indicated that he was looking to move the frame on. After seeing images of the rest of the frame, I was keen to buy it. We agreed a price and then a date and time for me to pop down to Nottingham to collect it.
After a marathon 13 hour drive to collect SB662 a few weeks earlier, a drive to Nottingham wasn’t too bad; a relatively short 5 hour round trip if the weather and traffic was kind to me. I always check Google Street View before I leave, my sense of direction is terrible and I rely heavily on my sat nav, so having an idea of where I’m meant to be is always a good idea.
Mike was great and we had a good chat. I always enjoy the handover, it’s possibly your only opportunity to learn about the history of what you are buying. No amount of research is as good as listening to an owner giving you first hand information.
He said he had been persuaded by a friend to buy a bike, and had travelled to a shop in London sometime in the late ’70s, where he picked up SB95. Mike confirmed that he hasn’t changed the appearance of SB95. the current colours and chrome are original to when he bought it.
After 10-15 minutes, I was off and heading back up to Newcastle.
A Closer Look at SB95
It really is a beautiful frame with well over 40 years of history locked in the paint and chrome.
Paint and Chrome
The chrome is suffering. It’s not rust, there is only a touch of corrosion and no loose flaking chrome, it is dirty, tarnished and dull chrome. I’m not sure it will ever be bright and shiny again, but it will look better. The paint is aged and there are spots of corrosion in places, but all very commensurate with the age of the frame.
The transfers share that aged appearance. They are all there and all legible but with that 40+ year old look. The Reynolds 531 frame transfer is in great condition. There are also some small remains of the strips that would have separated the seat tube panels.
Quality of Repaint
I’ll cover more of this in the next blog post. SB95 is a repaint, but one that was carried out not long after it was originally built. That wasn’t an unusual occurrence. The build date would be early 1975 and I believe the repaint was done at some point early 1977. Mike has already confirmed he bought the frame later in the 70s and the frame was already painted like this, but the SBDU chain stay ovals were never present on this age of SBDU frame – those SBDU ovals, and the ‘4 star’ Reynolds transfer, are the key indicators of the repaint.
It’s clear to see that the quality of the repaint, even now after all this time, was very good. The paint coverage is quite thin and the finish is still excellent (taking age into consideration). The detail is also very good. An example of this is the neatness of the mask around the Nervex lugs and the contrasting head tube colour. It is sharp!
I wasn’t too sure what this item was before I collected SB95. Whatever it was, it looked period.
A quick reference to velobase.com and it identifies the headset as a Stronglight V4 Competition (later version). Even though the exterior appearance is heavily corroded, the grease inside is remarkably fresh.
The dominant fork crown of this period was the sloping internal type, the same seen on SB9 and SB518.
The semi sloping external crown started to creep in during the SB400s.
I’ve no reason to doubt that the fork on SB95 isn’t original. It’s 100% an SBDU fork, it’s also confirmed to have been on this frame since the later 70s when Mike bought it. The fork blade section is also the earlier 531 Reynolds type used up until later in the 70s when the wider continental type became the standard on SBDU 531 .
Some early SB forks either have ‘SB’ stamped or have nothing stamped – this fork has nothing. So this is an extremely early example of a semi sloping crown on an SBDU frame, and probably chosen because the smooth feature of the fully internal would clash with the detail of the lugs.
Campagnolo Frame Ends
For the first few years of the SBDU, their 531 tubed frames used the long Campagnolo 1010A frame end.
No surprise, SB95 uses the same 1010A end. But in this case, it shows a common SBDU modification. This is where the lower edge point is filed and removed. You can see the difference the modification has made in the image of SB95 below compared to the image above.
Seat Stay Ends
SB95 is no different to 99% of it’s period SB 531 counterparts, and has the scalloped seat stay ends.
That image also shows the work done by the SBDU to shape the seat lug profile, leaving the majority of the lug opening flat, with a distinctive point at the front.
I’m always amazed at how different the first 10 SBDU frames were. From a distance they were similar to later frames, but they shared some small unique details that were only present on the first few frames.
The bottle bosses on SB9 were formed by a small circular threaded boss, brazed to the tube.
This small detail, as far as we know, only existed on the first 10 frames. It had changed by SB14. So SB11, 12 or 13, which are still to be found, introduced the change. SB14 shares the same bottle boss type as SB95. The change is evident; the small square base.
That’s All For Now
I’m over the moon to have added SB95 to my collection. The detail and colours of this new addition are amazing. SB662 proved to be very short-lived as a unique Nervex Professional lugged SBDU frame.