Claud Butler Avant Coureur Special - 1955
Posted: Wednesday 12th August 2020
How it was acquired
This ‘genuine Claud’ was bought as just the frame and forks. The paintwork had a few chips here and there and it needed some of the transfers replacing but was otherwise in pretty good order. I decided not to have it refinished and have had great pleasure building it up into what has turned out to be a wonderful machine to ride. Some of the componentry I already had, while other parts were gradually acquired from cycle jumbles and via ebay. Initially it was built it up with anything that came to hand, but I have progressively replaced non-period parts with more appropriate classic componentry. There are still one or two items that aren’t period correct at the time of writing (the wheels and gears, for example) and the lugs have yet to be lined, so this is really an on-going project.
Features that make it special
Genuine Claud Butlers of the pre-1957 era (before the Holdsworth takeover, after which most CBs were badge-engineered Holdsworths) as yet appear to be unrecognised by many collectors as top quality machines. This is puzzling to me, because an original Claud Butler frame – a ‘genuine Claud’ crafted in the days when the company was owned and run by Claud Butler himself – is a fine piece of workmanship. Indeed, the Claud Butler name was held in very high regard and the quality shows through even with the cheaper CB models with fillet-brazed frames; they really were beautifully finished, with neat detailing too.
It is those frames which feature Claud Butler’s ‘Bilaminated’ lugwork which are arguably the most special. The Avant Coureur (also called the AC53 and the Avant Coureur Special) was the top of the range for the road models with Bilaminated lugs. In fact, they aren’t really lugs at all in the conventional sense. I understand that the frame is first assembled by bronze welding after which decorative sleeves are added to the joints which, as well as looking attractive, also improve the strength of the joint. In the 1955 CB brochure this method is claimed to be 25 per cent stronger compared to a conventional brazed joint. Bilaminated lug construction was race-proven on CB frames used in the World Championships and the Olympic Games after WW2. Whether it is truly ‘the greatest advance in frame building since the evolution of the safety bicycle’, as claimed by Claud Butler, is perhaps over-stating the case!
Although Claud Butler was amongst the first to use bilaminated lug construction, Harry Rensch (Paris cycles) is generally credited as the innovator. It is quite possible that Les Ephgrave may have brought with him the technique when he worked for CB after leaving Paris/Rensch.
My own Avant Coureur Special was built from double butted 531 tubing with the top tube the same 1 1/8″ section as the down tube. This was not uncommon on bronze-welded (fillet-brazed) or bilaminated frames, especially in the larger sizes, and it certainly contributes to a stiffer frame. This machine has a particularly responsive feel to it and is very reassuring even on those scarily steep downhill hairpin bends.
|Frame||Built 1955. Reynolds 531 double butted tubing throughout with oversize (1 1/8") top tube. Claud Butler Avant Coureur Special pattern bilaminated 'lugs'. Curved brake bridge with reinforced mounting hole. Wrapover seat stays. Braze-ons: brake cable and gear cable eyes, pump pegs on down tube, single gear lever mount (not used). Bottle cage mounts on seat-tube are later additions. Finished in Oxford blue with red/white/blue chevrons on seat tube.|
|Dimensions||Seat tube 24 1/2", top tube 23", chainstays 17½", Wheelbase 41 1/2"|
|Wheels||Campagnolo Record large flange quick-release hubs with Mafac 700C rims and chrome-plated double butted spokes. These are not in period and will be changed for a 27" wheelset.|
|Chainset||Stronglight 49D cotterless cranks with 38/52 TA chainrings|
|Pedals||Holdsworth Allez aluminium pedals with AVA toeclips and leather straps|
|Gears||Campagnolo early Record rear derailleur with Record front changer and double down-tube levers. 14-26 block|
|Brakes||Mafac Dural Forge centre-pull with GB Arret levers, CLB hoods|
|Stem/Bars||Milremo 4" stem with GB 'Map of Britain' engraved bars 15 1/2"|
|Saddle||Lycett L15 'Swallow' style with chrome clamp and dural seatpin|
|Extra details||Ventose aluminium 18" pump, Bluemels Tour de France aluminium mudguards (when fitted)|
Components worthy of note include the early-type Campagnolo Record rear mech. This was only made for a few years from 1963 so it’s not strictly period correct for this machine but it does look very similar to the Gran Sport with its chromed steel body and cage. It copes easily with six gears and fairly wide ratios and this makes it suitable for hilly rides. The Allez pedals are quite rare too. These were marketed by Holdsworth and are very light being made of aluminium alloy.
Mafac centre-pull brakes are used in combination with GB levers. These levers are closer reach and also seem to provide improved braking power compared to Mafac items. Finally, the classic Stronglight 49D used as a double with 38/52 rings was chosen because it is not only period-correct and superb quality, but also because it is easily converted to single, double or even triple configuration simply by changing rings, bolts and spacers. Sometimes I fit Bluemels aluminium Tour de France pattern mudguards, but the Avant Courieur Special seems to have a character more suited to the racer look without mudguards.