Dating your La Pavoni Europiccola, or Professional
Although not the "first" home lever espresso machine, as is often reported on the web (Faema had been selling their Faemina since the early 50s, and La Pavoni actually bought the design rights to the Europiccola from a small espresso machine company that was already selling them) when La Pavoni got into the game in 1961, the Europiccola would launch them on a path to dominate the world's "domestic" lever espresso machine market.
This was especially true in the US, where they sold so many of these sexy Italian beasts, they became virtually synonymous with the lever espresso machine.
La Pavoni's success spawned competitors in the 60s and 70s, with some attempting to knock off the Europiccola design, while La Pavoni actually allowed other companies to re-badge Europiccolas, and sell them as their own.
So when considering a vintage lever, you're probably looking at Pavonis. Most people probably think of La Pavoni as THE "vintage" lever espresso machine. They still look as timeless and gorgeous as they did exiting the factory over 50 years ago, and untold numbers of decades old Europiccolas are pulling shots in kitchens around the world every morning.
In fact, the Europiccola has transcended mere "coffee machine," or kitchen appliance, to become a 20th Century design icon.
But La Pavoni has been so successful, and sold so many machines, with so few obvious design changes over the years, it can be a challenge figuring out what vintage machine you're looking at.
The uninitiated can be forgiven for seeing a dusty Europiccola at an estate sale, or a blurry pic on ebay, and have no idea whether it's a 1968, or 2008.
Though some Europiccolas, and Professionals (post 2000 normally) have stickers with the production date on the underside of the metal base (under the rubber or plastic sub-base) the earlier ones were not always marked. Sometimes you'll find numbers in felt pen written on the metal underneath. Other times a heating element stamped with a date will be the only clue (it usually correlates with the birth of the machine. Unless it's been replaced!)
It could be a Frankenstein (not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that!) of cobbled together new and used replacement parts, like a 2014 base on a 1986 boiler, with a 1996 switch.
The good news is that the quality has (almost) always been there, and the ability to retrofit new parts onto older components has a lot to do with keeping the mystique of the La Pavonis alive.
All but the earliest models remain easily "re-workable," with parts and support still available in the US.
But despite this, it's been notoriously difficult to find a comprehensive or accurate list of machine changes over the years (especially for the US market) in one place. Maybe there's a problem with the translation from Italian, or some other cultural issue, but American Pavoni owners, both recent and longtime, are constantly surfing for new information about their old espresso machines.
This has led to some misconceptions and "fake facts" being circulated by people who "heard" it from "somebody" (probably online, from somebody else who "heard" it online.) Even the coffee geek blogs are full of conflicting "info" and arguments about classic espresso machines in general.
By all means hit the Google, because there are all kinds of labors of love websites devoted to La Pavoni levers out there, with tidbits of random information and opinions about them. But keep the old "telephone game" in mind, where an original statement changes as it's whispered from person to person. Just cuz you read something online, doesn't mean it's true.
So here's a small attempt to fill some of the void, by putting info into one place, in English.
First a quick "Cheat Sheet" for dating La Pavoni levers, using the most obvious changes, followed by a more detailed listing of model evolution below.
While by no means "archival" (send us an email if you spot an error, or want to add some factoids) hopefully the list below will help prospective new Pavoni buyers with a few facts about the often opaque world of "dating Pavonis." (After the wife leaves you for obsessing over vintage espresso machines, it may be the only date you can get!)
QUICK LA PAVONI MODEL CHEAT SHEET
GAUGE -- If it has a pressure gauge, it's a Professional, no gauge, Europiccola (although it is possible to retrofit a gauge on some years.)
BOILER -- A Europiccola boiler is about the same diameter as the group (and about half the size of the Professional) while the Professional boiler is about TWICE the group diameter (much larger.)
GROUP -- "Pre-Millennium" -- The group has sharp edged, square "shoulders.
"Millennium" model -- The group has rounded shoulders, and "fatter."
EUROPICCOLA DATE CHEAT SHEET (using most obvious component changes)
BASE: Aluminum base, with shallow stamped drip tray (no "grid") 1961-1963
Aluminum base, with deep stamped drip tray, with aluminum "grid" 1964-1969
with chrome steel "grid" 1970-1974
Steel base, painted, gets plastic drip tray insert, with chrome steel "grid" 1975-1983
(Steel base becomes available in chrome, brass and copper 1978+)
Steel base, chrome, brass, or painted, with plastic drip tray, plastic tray "grille," and dread "screw hole" through drip tray to attach plastic sub-base, 1984-2007
Steel base, removed tray screw hole, sub-base attaches under, 2008+
SUB-BASE: Blue rubber, early 1961
Black rubber, 1961-1984
Black ABS plastic, screwed from top through drip tray, 1985-2007
Black ABS plastic, attached with screw from underneath, 2008+
SWITCH: Metal two-way toggle, with "red" minimo/massimo labeling, 1962-1973
White plastic three-way rocker switch (finally an "off!") with chrome trim, "-" & "=" graphics, 1974-1977
Red (power) and White (hi/lo) plastic rocker switches, with "I" and "II" graphics, 1978
Red (power) and White (hi/lo) plastic rocker switches, with "-" & "=" graphics, 1979- 1991
Red and white plastic rocker switches, power on/off and heat on/off (with addition of pressurestat) 1992
SUB-BASE: Black rubber 1978-1983
Black ABS plastic, attaches with screw through drip tray, 1984-2007
Black ABS plastic attaches from underneath, 2008+
SWITCH: White plastic rocker switch, with red "on/off" power light, on some early 1978s
Single red on/off switch, 1978-1997
Single green on/off switch, 1998+
DETAILED MACHINE CHANGES, EUROPICCOLA
1961- Initial year characterized by no sight glass on the boiler. A shallow "drip tray" indent is stamped into base (with no drip tray "grid.") A two position metal toggle switch controls the dual heating element, "minimo" denotes 200 watt element on, "massimo" the 600 watt one. There is no off position! Chrome boiler cap with female internal threads, and black plastic knob. The boiler (brass) had a brass sleeve insert, with the shower screen attached, which was screwed into the boiler bore with a special factory tool, making changing the screen or
seals difficult and/or expensive. The chrome plated brass group was fixed from inside the boiler. The aluminum base had a "hammered" effect silverish paint job. The rubber sub-base
was blue. The first 400 or so Europiccolas had a silver metal logo on the front of the base, after
which Pavoni went to a decal sticker. The 49mm portafilter had a left hand thread design. Serial #1-1100.
1962- Added the sight glass, with a chromed bolt on top. Black rubber sub-base. #1101-2500.
1963- Covered the top of sight glass with chrome "shroud." #2501-5000
1964-68 Deepened the stamped drip "bowl" in the base in '64, and added an aluminum drip tray "grid"to cover it. #5001-A5000
1968-70 Chrome 12mm "cap" screw put into top of sight glass eliminating chrome tab on boiler. Red raised pot metal logo badge on base. #A5001-B0000
1970-73 Shower screen becomes removable. Drip tray "grid" becomes chromed steel. #B0001-35000
1974- Three way white plastic rocker switch with chrome bezel, finally allows unit to be turned off without yanking cord from wall! (Less charming? Less Italian?) Black horizontal line graphics on switch, and red warning light. "'70s Italian Brown" becomes popular painted base color scheme. #35001-51000
1975-77 BIG changes for Europiccola, often referred to as "Version/Generation 2," include new bolt- on group, with new piston design and seals, no longer has the brass insert, and new style portafilter gasket. Boiler cap becomes all black plastic, with male brass threads. Base becomes stamped steel. Plastic drip tray appears under new chromed steel "grid."
1978- Mid '78. On/off switch change to dual plastic toggle (red/white) with "Minimo" and "Massimo" in black lettering on rectangular stamped steel surround. Logo goes from the red graphic to black.
1978-83 '79 model saw heating element changed from screw in, to "3 bolt" style (a big deal to be aware of since early elements are currently unobtainable new! Some retrofit heating element options available depending on how early your boiler is. Some thoughts on that issue will follow.) On/off switch was dual plastic with white plastic surround. "I" and "II" position graphics. Peak of "Italian Brown" era painted bases. Chrome bases become available. Also some copper/brass colored boiler models that were plated over chrome, which often have peeling issues.
1978 INTRODUCTION of the PROFESSIONAL model. A machine that expressly tackled many of the "issues" with the Europiccola. The boiler is almost twice the size. 1.1 liter against .6 liter for the Europiccola. (The US Pro models are called "16 cup" and Europiccola is "8 cup.") Meaning you can easily get more than 2 or 3 shots and some steam power, before "recycling." It also incorporated a pressurestat, and had a pressure gauge installed on top of the sight glass. Set around 1 bar at the factory, the pressurestat, along with the extra mass of the bigger boiler meant it was possible to leave the Pro on without fear of a "Pavoni meltdown" happening from running dry and getting too hot. Professionals also came in copper and brass, but most bases sent to the US were chrome.
1984-90 Added thermal fuse in center of new 4 prong heating element. Changed sub base from rubber to ABS plastic, attached by dread screw drilled through metal drip tray (Ugh! Rust! Wtf thought this was a good idea!?) Upper drip tray becomes plastic (chrome is still an available option) except on brass/copper models, which use similar brass/copper plated steel.
1991-92 Pressurestat finally added to Europiccola (some automatic thermal control, finally) which allows a change to a single heating element, a single plastic on/off switch (red) with green power light. Set at .8-1 bar (espresso industry standard.) Plastic cover/protector is added over sight glass, and attached with screws. Factory deluxe wooden handles and knobs available on some models.
1993-96 An ingenious"quick change" steam arm replaces fixed one (to interchange the dubious plastic "cappuccino" frother contraption.) Mostly chrome bases by this point on the Europiccola. Black, white, and gold plastic/resin logo on base. Lever handle gets smooth plastic grip from earlier grooved style.
1997-00 Hi tech "plastic" (actually a polymer, Polyphenylene Sulphide) in an apparent attempt to manage heat transference to the group from boiler water, rather than rank "cheap out" as was (and still is) common "wisdom" among many fans in the coffee crowd. These new pistons were not "cheap," but did end up having some issues with "unscrewing"from the steel piston shaft, apparently because of heat differentials. "Unscrewed" pistons would eventually push the shower screen off. Also reports of some pistons breaking eventually from heat and pressure fatigue. (These are replaceable with current brass piston.) A real brass base became an option. A re-settable overheat cutoff switch was added underneath. A change to stainless steel heating element. These are the last versions of the "Pre-Mellinnium" style.
2001-06 Despite the moniker, The "Millennium Edition" did not appear until 2001 model with a major group redesign. The top of the group is rounded instead of more square shouldered, and bell is wider. A polymer insert was added to the piston bore in yet another attempt to control heat, and resulted in larger diameter group, and new 51mm portafilter. Earlier portafilters will NOT fit the Millennium models!
2007- In apparent "quality contol" effort, Pavoni abandons plastic piston, and goes back to brass, although the plastic group sleeve remains. Also mercifully gets rid of screw under drip tray, attaching plastic base from underneath, correcting 24 years of a basic design flaw.