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Manufacturer of Centurion Japan frames?

Old 05-03-17, 03:42 PM
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Manufacturer of Centurion Japan frames?

Just curious, folks, as to who actually built Japanese made Centurion frames such as the Ironman and Prestige models - I know the builds were farmed out, but just looking over the Prestige (89) I just built up and my 87 Ironman, I'm once again impressed by the build quality and surprised I find little on the net regarding who made these frames. Anyone have any first-hand knowledge (or reliable second, third hand) .... I'm sure I'm not the only curious one.
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Old 05-03-17, 04:13 PM
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Paging the expert on these bikes, @RobbieTunes.
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Old 05-03-17, 04:54 PM
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Centurion were manufactured by a number of sources. You can check your S/N against the manufacturer formats listed in post #62 of https://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...atabase-3.html . While you are at it, post pics and the S/N of your bicycles. I'm sure the members would appreciate it.
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Old 05-03-17, 06:59 PM
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Will have to take some pics and do some research. Thanks for the thread link.
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Old 05-03-17, 07:16 PM
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My expert is Google:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centurion_(bicycle)
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Old 05-03-17, 07:53 PM
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Originally Posted by gugie View Post
Mine is Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centurion_(bicycle)
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Old 05-03-17, 08:43 PM
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The Wiki article suggests some of the same manufacturer but doesn't really document sources.
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Old 05-03-17, 11:47 PM
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I'm afraid you aren't going to find many hard facts or concrete sources. Which manufacturers a company contracted with was generally closely held information at the time, and now 30-40 years later, most of the insiders that had that information have moved on to other jobs, or even passed away. What we have are a number of clues. Many of the Japanese contractors had unique serial number formats, which @T-Mar has done us all a great service in compiling in a database, and decoding the format of some of them. Complicating matters is the fact that in some cases, more than one format might fit depending on the specific letters and numbers, and many manufacturers changed formats over the years. Information has been gleaned many sources. There have been occasional tidbits from industry professionals that worked with these contractors, and some of the smaller importers / resellers have sold identical or very similar models to the big names, but with stickers identifying the actual manufacturer in japan. Also, some manufacturers have distinctive locations for the serial numbers, or unique seatstay or dropout treatments.

Generally, the smaller importers simply bought what the Japanese contractors were ready and willing to make -- these are the ones that show a lot of the unique features that can be traced back to different factories. Some of the bigger names -- Centurion, Univega, Schwinn, Nishiki had the sales volume to request changes, or even design the bikes from the ground up. When you are ordering 10,000 of something, manufacturers can be very accommodating.

Further complicating the issue is that some models were only produced by one factory, while others were sourced through several manufacturers, either concurrently, or over different model years.
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Old 05-04-17, 09:39 PM
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That all makes a lot of sense, thanks, was just hoping someone had some inside information or first hand anecdotes from inside WSI. (Like the great article regarding the Cinelli Equipe that's readily available and tells you all you need to know about that rare bird)
But I suppose at this point, most of what's to be found is out there,
unless you go researching and interviewing in Japanese factories ...
The serial database is truly valuable.
Originally Posted by cdmurphy View Post
I'm afraid you aren't going to find many hard facts or concrete sources. Which manufacturers a company contracted with was generally closely held information at the time, and now 30-40 years later, most of the insiders that had that information have moved on to other jobs, or even passed away. What we have are a number of clues. Many of the Japanese contractors had unique serial number formats, which @T-Mar has done us all a great service in compiling in a database, and decoding the format of some of them. Complicating matters is the fact that in some cases, more than one format might fit depending on the specific letters and numbers, and many manufacturers changed formats over the years. Information has been gleaned many sources. There have been occasional tidbits from industry professionals that worked with these contractors, and some of the smaller importers / resellers have sold identical or very similar models to the big names, but with stickers identifying the actual manufacturer in japan. Also, some manufacturers have distinctive locations for the serial numbers, or unique seatstay or dropout treatments.

Generally, the smaller importers simply bought what the Japanese contractors were ready and willing to make -- these are the ones that show a lot of the unique features that can be traced back to different factories. Some of the bigger names -- Centurion, Univega, Schwinn, Nishiki had the sales volume to request changes, or even design the bikes from the ground up. When you are ordering 10,000 of something, manufacturers can be very accommodating.

Further complicating the issue is that some models were only produced by one factory, while others were sourced through several manufacturers, either concurrently, or over different model years.
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Old 05-04-17, 10:00 PM
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as well as liking old bikes, I have a small collection of electric guitars from the 70's - 90's all Japanese made (MIJ). Where a Japanese guitar is actually made can be bewildering, but luckily there are many collectors of these guitars and a little bit of searching will generally uncover the actual factory as there were not so many of them. The quality of these guitars is amazing, especially as in the west manufacturers like Gibson and Fender were going automated and profit was the key.. The Japanese guitars were mostly hand made by traditional craftsmen, who took pride in their work.

I think you will find Japanese bikes of that period are the same, I have recently purchased a "retro" classic from the company Bruno.. obviously not a typical Japanese name, but made in Japan, and really put together with a lot of thought, and really nice quality. As an oldschool indentured toolmaker myself I appreciate craftsmanship, and frankly Japan is one of the few places in the world that recognize these skills (Germany also), sadly the US and UK do not. and Automation and profit gets in the way of detail and care. Sure a few manufacturers will still give you that, but at a very expensive premium. A little off subject...and I'm rambling...
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Old 05-05-17, 08:27 AM
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I know Japanese guitars well and have quite a few. Difference is, I think, many of those companies are still around and histories have been written and painstakingly researched over the decades. I believe the interest in origin is stronger, as many guitar collectors are that first and don't really play, where many (most?) cyclists don't collect. Just theorizing. And rambling as well. Don't want to hijack my own thread.
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Old 05-05-17, 09:54 AM
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The majority of 1980s Centurion use S/N with an N prefix, in conjunction with the standard year-fortnight-sequential manufacturing number format. There's a 2011 Korn Ferry Institute article on Georgina Terry, where it is reported that her supplier, Tano, copied her frame design for use on Centurion models, which they manufactured for WSI. We know that Centurion introduced the Terry style Ironman Expert Women's model in 1987, followed by the LeMans Proportional in 1988. Samples on these bicycles in my database show them having S/N with N-codes. This would seem to be reliable information suggesting that the N-codes represent Tano. However, the sole 1987 Terry S/N I've found is an S-code. While it's possible that Tano used a different prefix for different customers, this does not appear to have been a common practice among manufacturers and is enough to leave some doubt as to the manufacturer of the N-codes. Still, they are currently the leading prospect, in addition to the article statement, they were the original source and are often reported as being WSI's major supplier in the 1980s.
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Old 05-05-17, 12:51 PM
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I've always gotten the impression that H. Tano and Company may have been acting more like a general contractor, coordinating the assembly and exporting of bicycles to American and European companies, and may not have done the actual manufacturing of the frames for Centurion (both WSI and the German company).
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Old 05-05-17, 02:29 PM
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Great information!
Both my Ironmans and my Prestige are N serials, btw. Will post some pics and add data to the database soon.
Originally Posted by T-Mar View Post
The majority of 1980s Centurion use S/N with an N prefix, in conjunction with the standard year-fortnight-sequential manufacturing number format. There's a 2011 Korn Ferry Institute article on Georgina Terry, where it is reported that her supplier, Tano, copied her frame design for use on Centurion models, which they manufactured for WSI. We know that Centurion introduced the Terry style Ironman Expert Women's model in 1987, followed by the LeMans Proportional in 1988. Samples on these bicycles in my database show them having S/N with N-codes. This would seem to be reliable information suggesting that the N-codes represent Tano. However, the sole 1987 Terry S/N I've found is an S-code. While it's possible that Tano used a different prefix for different customers, this does not appear to have been a common practice among manufacturers and is enough to leave some doubt as to the manufacturer of the N-codes. Still, they are currently the leading prospect, in addition to the article statement, they were the original source and are often reported as being WSI's major supplier in the 1980s.

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Old 05-05-17, 02:30 PM
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What gave you that impression?
Originally Posted by Vintage_Cyclist View Post
I've always gotten the impression that H. Tano and Company may have been acting more like a general contractor, coordinating the assembly and exporting of bicycles to American and European companies, and may not have done the actual manufacturing of the frames for Centurion (both WSI and the German company).
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Old 05-05-17, 04:09 PM
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Back when Weiner made the original contract for the Raleigh Grand Prix clones that became the Centurion LeMans, it was standard practice for Japanese manufacturers to do business with foreign companies through intermediaries known as trading companies, who actually did the exporting. Consequently, it's understandable why some would think that Tano was not a manufacturer. Howie Cohen of West Coast Cycle Supply mentions H. Tano & Sons as being an exporter.

However, Cohen himself reportedly dealt directly with Kawamura for his American Eagle and Nishiki brands so there were exceptions. While Tano was an exporter, they also had a manufacturing opertion based on old advertisments. It's possible that Tano operated in dual capacities for Centurion, as early mid and high end models have S/N consistent with Miki of Japan. Unfortunately, the Tano relationship is a still murky, though small bits of new information are periodically surfacing.
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Old 05-05-17, 04:31 PM
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Really interesting.
Originally Posted by T-Mar View Post
Back when Weiner made the original contract for the Raleigh Grand Prix clones that became the Centurion LeMans, it was standard practice for Japanese manufacturers to do business with foreign companies through intermediaries known as trading companies, who actually did the exporting. Consequently, it's understandable why some would think that Tano was not a manufacturer. Howie Cohen of West Coast Cycle Supply mentions H. Tano & Sons as being an exporter.

However, Cohen himself reportedly dealt directly with Kawamura for his American Eagle and Nishiki brands so there were exceptions. While Tano was an exporter, they also had a manufacturing opertion based on old advertisments. It's possible that Tano operated in dual capacities for Centurion, as early mid and high end models have S/N consistent with Miki of Japan. Unfortunately, the Tano relationship is a still murky, though small bits of new information are periodically surfacing.
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Old 05-05-17, 04:33 PM
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About to try and post some pics of the Prestige,
which is the least commonplace of what I have. Is there a database anywhere but in that thread, one where you can compare serials and models/features at a glance?
Originally Posted by T-Mar View Post
Centurion were manufactured by a number of sources. You can check your S/N against the manufacturer formats listed in post #62 of https://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...atabase-3.html . While you are at it, post pics and the S/N of your bicycles. I'm sure the members would appreciate it.
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Old 05-05-17, 05:02 PM
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posted Prestige in - # 2177 in
https://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...atabase-3.html

Last edited by msl109; 05-05-17 at 05:02 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 05-05-17, 05:15 PM
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There was a magazine article somewhere in the late 80's that featured a red/white Panasonic DX 5000, I think, and went on to list the close similarities or matches of some Japanese frames built at the Panasonic National plant. That list included Panasonics, Centurions, and a couple of others. I don't recall it being more specific.

I've had my hands on dozens and dozens of Centurion models, and I go by feel.

There is little difference between the 84 Lotus Classique and the slightly earlier Centurion Semi Pro. The Classique was by Tsunoda, doubt if the Centurion was.

There is almost no difference between some of the Panasonic models and some Centurions, notably the Prestige-framed DX6000 and the Prestige by Centurion, in 1989. However, the 1985 Prestige seemed to be a different bird altogether.

I've not found a Panasonic that I can say is identical to an Ironman, but the DX5000 and the Lemans RS of later years are very, very similar.

The paint layers and quality are also very similar between the Panasonics and the Centurions, and I'd also toss in some of those great Japanese Schwinns of the same era. With the paint blasted off and built up, many are hard to tell apart.

Dave Scott's book says the Ironman was spec'd, in part, with his input. No clue. I've not found another Japanese bike that rides "just like" one, but tires, wheels, etc all make a difference. I have ridden excellent Japanese-made bikes. I'm just so used to an Ironman ride, my mind is not going to let me admit there may be no better, worse, or similar frame.

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Old 05-05-17, 07:40 PM
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Originally Posted by RobbieTunes View Post
There was a magazine article somewhere in the late 80's that featured a red/white Panasonic DX 5000, I think, and went on to list the close similarities or matches of some Japanese frames built at the Panasonic National plant. That list included Panasonics, Centurions, and a couple of others. I don't recall it being more specific.

I've had my hands on dozens and dozens of Centurion models, and I go by feel.

There is little difference between the 84 Lotus Classique and the slightly earlier Centurion Semi Pro. The Classique was by Tsunoda, doubt if the Centurion was.

There is almost no difference between some of the Panasonic models and some Centurions, notably the Prestige-framed DX6000 and the Prestige by Centurion, in 1989. However, the 1985 Prestige seemed to be a different bird altogether.

I've not found a Panasonic that I can say is identical to an Ironman, but the DX5000 and the Lemans RS of later years are very, very similar.

The paint layers and quality are also very similar between the Panasonics and the Centurions, and I'd also toss in some of those great Japanese Schwinns of the same era. With the paint blasted off and built up, many are hard to tell apart.

Dave Scott's book says the Ironman was spec'd, in part, with his input. No clue. I've not found another Japanese bike that rides "just like" one, but tires, wheels, etc all make a difference. I have ridden excellent Japanese-made bikes. I'm just so used to an Ironman ride, my mind is not going to let me admit there may be no better, worse, or similar frame.

Humans are as humans do. Let's ride 'em all.
Maybe we can get Dave Scott on the forum...
Interesting what you say - I've not had the opportunity to make as many comparisons, but I have had my hands on high end Japan made Raleighs (Huffy period) and one Lotus (with a Columbus Frame - did they really ship those tubes to Japan?) and have to say they were all impeccably done. I'm thinking the minor differences you speak of could have been spec'd by the company placing the order, so those differences don't necessarily suggest a different manufacturer. I know Panasonic built a lot of bikes ...
I suppose the only thing that could really give away origin would be a telltale mark left by the factory's tooling. Notice anything like that?
Would love to check out the original Prestige - obviously structurally different than mine, most obviously in the fork and seatstays of course. And it certainly looks like it's a less tight geometry. Seems there are very few out there.

Thanks for the input!
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Old 05-07-17, 01:52 AM
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Wifey has a Centurion mixte and it might have the highest production/build quality of any bike we own in the stable. It's a big stable with x3 tandems alone.

The paint fit and finish on the Centurion is just first rate. The strong dollar and low yen days that Grant Peterson so loved with Bridgestone.

Hers is a dusty rose with gold accents. Just a beautiful bike and very light and fast. I saw a Panasonic 500 (?) women's bike at a Play it Again this weekend in Pink. I thought of this thread. All I know is that Panasonic was closer to a stovepipe Schwinn Suburban than her Centurion and the bike was a boat anchor in comparison. The paint and finish on the Panasonic was pretty low rent.

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Old 05-07-17, 08:19 AM
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Originally Posted by deaninkl View Post
as well as liking old bikes, I have a small collection of electric guitars from the 70's - 90's all Japanese made (MIJ). Where a Japanese guitar is actually made can be bewildering, but luckily there are many collectors of these guitars and a little bit of searching will generally uncover the actual factory as there were not so many of them. The quality of these guitars is amazing, especially as in the west manufacturers like Gibson and Fender were going automated and profit was the key.. The Japanese guitars were mostly hand made by traditional craftsmen, who took pride in their work.

I think you will find Japanese bikes of that period are the same, I have recently purchased a "retro" classic from the company Bruno.. obviously not a typical Japanese name, but made in Japan, and really put together with a lot of thought, and really nice quality. As an oldschool indentured toolmaker myself I appreciate craftsmanship, and frankly Japan is one of the few places in the world that recognize these skills (Germany also), sadly the US and UK do not. and Automation and profit gets in the way of detail and care. Sure a few manufacturers will still give you that, but at a very expensive premium. A little off subject...and I'm rambling...
I love my Matsumoku and Fujigen factory basses and guitars.
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Old 05-07-17, 10:00 PM
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Originally Posted by msl109 View Post
I know Japanese guitars well and have quite a few. Difference is, I think, many of those companies are still around and histories have been written and painstakingly researched over the decades. I believe the interest in origin is stronger, as many guitar collectors are that first and don't really play, where many (most?) cyclists don't collect. Just theorizing. And rambling as well. Don't want to hijack my own thread.
Very true, many of the guitar factories are still there as they often produced other instruments. Where as cycle frame manufacturing was probably batch work for many small or large metal working companies that will have come and gone as metal working shifted to other cheaper countries.... Here in Malaysia still a few Panasonic and Bridgestone road bikes around from the 80's and 90's.. tend to be expensive though, and almost always the groupsets are swapped out...
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Old 05-08-17, 06:51 AM
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Originally Posted by msl109 View Post
...one Lotus (with a Columbus Frame - did they really ship those tubes to Japan?)...I suppose the only thing that could really give away origin would be a telltale mark left by the factory's tooling....
The Lotus with Columbus tubes may be Japanese or Italian built. If it is pre-1986, it is manufactured in Japan by Tsunoda. In 1986, Lotus signed a deal with Cinelli, who designed the bicycles and supervised production in Italy. This was similar to the 1985 deal between Western States Imports and Cinelli that resulted in the Centurion Cinelli Equipe.

While the Japanese had gained quick credibility in the entry level markets, the high end markets proved much harder to crack. Names like Columbus, Reynolds and Campagnolo were inbred with the racers and the high end fraternity. Bicycles with Tange or Ishiwata tubesets and equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace or SunTour Superbe were a relatively hard sell in the 1970s. Larger American marketing brands like Lotus and Nishiki reasoned that they could increase their share in this market segment by having their Japanese sources manufacture bicycles using Columbus tubing and Campagnolo components. Consequently, the early 1980s saw a trend of high end bicycles being manufactured in Japan with Italian material. When that achieved only mild success, brands like Centurion, Lotus and Nishiki made a move towards Italian manufacturers in the mid-1980s. However, the transfer was ill-timed. In 1985, Shimano brought out new Dura-Ace with SIS. It proved to be the darling of the yuppie crowd and Japanese high end bicycles gained instant credibility.

The most reliable indicator of the origin of a frame is the serial number format. Almost all the mass volume manufacturers use formats that are identifiable and decryptable. Even when you have decal, a head badge or brand embossing, it is possible that frame was contract manufactured and a serial number will often allow you determine the actual manufacturer and date.

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