Dating La Pavoni Europiccola and Professional Espresso Machines
"How old is my La Pavoni?"
La Pavoni wasn't the "first" home lever machine (the Gaggia "Gilda," sold here, was probably first in the late 40s, and the Faema "Faemina" has been around since the early 50s.) In fact, La Pavoni didn't even design the iconic Europiccola. They bought the patent from a small company that was already making them! But when they did get into the game in 1961, La Pavoni started on a path that would come to dominate the world's "domestic" lever espresso machine market.
This became especially true in the US, where La Pavoni sold so many of these sexy Italian beasts, that La Pavoni, and the Europiccola, became almost synonymous with the lever espresso machine.
La Pavoni's success in the US spawned competitors in the 60s and 70s, with some companies trying to knock off the Europiccola design, while others were actually licensed by La Pavoni to re-badge Europiccolas, and sell them as their own.
So many people have come to see La Pavoni as THE lever espresso machine, that almost everybody considers one when looking at vintage options. Especially since they look almost as "modern" as they did when first exiting the factory over a half century ago.
Pavoni "leverheads," with decades old machines, pull shots around the world every morning. And thanks to the intensity of the cult, vintage ones usually sell for more now than they did new.
The Europiccola has transcended mere "kitchen appliance," to become an icon of 20th Century design.
But La Pavoni sold so many machines over the years, with so few obvious changes, that like a VW bug, it can be a challenge figuring out what year you're looking at. The uninitiated can be forgiven for seeing a dusty Europiccola at an antique shop, or blurry pic on ebay, and have no idea if it's a 1968, or 2008.
Some Europiccolas and Professionals have stickers with the production date on the underside of the metal base (under the plastic sub-base) but early models were usually unmarked. Sometimes you'll find dates written in felt pen. But often a date stamped into the heating element is the only clue (usually correlates with the birth of the machine, but the element could have been changed later, or even made the previous year.)
It could even be a "Frankenstein" machine (not that there's anything wrong with that!) of cobbled together new and used parts from different years, like a 1986 boiler on 2014 base, with a 1998 switch.
The ability to retrofit most new parts on older machines, and the enduring quality of the most of original La Pavoni components, has a lot to do with keeping the mystique of La Pavoni levers alive. All but the earliest models remain "re-workable," with parts and support readily available in the US.
Despite this, it's been notoriously difficult finding a comprehensive or accurate list of machine changes over the years in one place (especially for the American market) and in English. Maybe it's a problem with translation from Italian, or some other "cultural" issue, but American La Pavoni owners, both recent and old school, are constantly searching for (and arguing over) new info about their old machines.
This has led to some misconceptions, and "fake facts" being circulated by people who "heard it" from "somebody" (meaning they probably read something on the net, posted by somebody who read something on the net.) Even the coffee nerd sites are full of conflicting "info," and inaccurate history by self appointed experts.
By all means hit the Google, because there are all kinds of websites with La Pavoni lore (and info on other levers as well.) Just keep the old "telephone" game in mind, where a statement can completely change as it gets whispered from person to person. Just because you read it on the net, doesn't mean it's "true."
So in a humble attempt to fill some of the void, here's a quick "cheat sheet" for dating La Pavoni home levers, followed by a more detailed listing of the machine's evolution for hardcore Pavoni geeks. While by no means archival (send an email if you spot an error, or have a comment) we're trying!
QUICK LA PAVONI MODEL "CHEAT SHEET"
GAUGE -- If it has a pressure gauge, it's a Professional model. No gauge, a Europiccola. (Although it IS possible to retrofit most Europiccolas with a gauge, and you will occasionally see one for sale here.)
BOILER -- The Europiccola boiler is about half the size of the Professional. (The Europiccola boiler is roughly the same diameter as the group bell, while the Professional boiler is about TWICE the size.) The Romantica models can have either boiler, with the top cut off "flat," and covered with a "fancy" dome.
"PRE-MILLENNIUM" MODELS -- La Pavoni lever machines made before 2001 (the title "Millennium," is a bit confusing because your 2000 La Pavoni may or may NOT be a "Millennium" model, even though is was made after the calender "millennium.") Pre-Millennium models are most easily recognized by the group (the thing your portafilter locks into) which has sharper edges on the shoulder, and a slightly smaller diameter than the Millennium.
In an attempt to reduce high brewing temperatures, La Pavoni re-designed the group for the model year 2001, and branded it the "Millennium" model (more about the re-designed group below.) The group was slightly "fatter," with softer curves on the shoulders.
EUROPICCOLA DATING "CHEAT SHEET" (using obvious component changes)
"La Pavoni" BASE BADGES: Silver metal circle, with white "la Pavoni" logo on white, early 1961
Red and white sticker, 1961-1968
Red and white plastic logo, 1969-1978
Black and silver logo, 1979-1992
Recessed black and white badge, 1993+
Aluminum, with "shallow" drip tray, no cup "grid" 1961-1963
Aluminum, modern "deep" drip tray, aluminum "grid" 1964-1969
Aluminum, with chromed steel "grid" 1970-1974
Steel, painted, plastic drip tray insert appears under chrome "grid," 1975-1983
(Steel base became available with chrome, brass and copper plating, 1978+)
Steel, plastic "grille" replaces chrome grid, tray "screw hole" for plastic sub-base, 1984-2007
Steel, "screw hole" removed, plastic sub-base attaches from underneath 2007-present
Steel base, 1975-1983, 2008+
Steel base, with drip tray hole, 1984-2007
Blue rubber, early 1961
Black rubber, 1961-1984
Black ABS plastic, attaches with screw through drip tray, 1985-2007
Black ABS plastic, attaches underneath base, 2008+
Metal "2-way" toggle, with "minimo/massimo" graphics highlighted in red, 1962-1973
Chrome trim around white plastic 3-way rocker, 1974-77
Red power light, white "hi/low" rocker, "Minimo/Massimo" on silver trim, 1978
Red (power) white (hi/low) rocker, with "I" & "II" graphics, 1979-1991
Red power switch/Green light, 1992+
Black rubber, 1975-1983
Black ABS plastic, attaches with screw through drip tray, 1984-2007
Black ABS plastic, attaches from underneath drip tray, 2008+
White plastic rocker switch, red "on/off" light, pre 1979
Red on/off switch, 1979-1997
Green on/off switch, 1998+
DETAILED MODEL CHANGES, EUROPICCOLA
The initial Europiccola is characterized by a chromed brass boiler without a sight glass. The stamped aluminum base has a "shallow" drip tray indentation, without a "grid." The chrome plated brass group neck screws into the boiler, and the group itself had a brass sleeve screwed into it, with a brass piston installed, that requires a special tool to remove. The two position metal toggle switch controls a double ("high" 800 watts, and "low" 200 watts) heating element, screwed into the base of the boiler. The base has a "hammered silver" finish, with a blue rubber sub-base, and a handsome cast metal "la Pavoni" badge on the front. The 49mm portafilter tightens to the left (presumably to help right handed operators steady the machine when pushing.) #1-1100
The sight glass arrives, with a chromed bolt on top. Black rubber sub-base. #1101-2500
Top of the sight glass gets a chrome "shroud." #2501-5000
Drip tray is stamped deeper, and aluminum grid added to cover it. #5001-A5000
Flat top 12mm chrome screw replaces "shroud" on top of sight glass. #A5001-B0000
Shower screen becomes removable. Tray grid becomes chromed steel. #B0001-35000
Three way rocker switch finally allows machine to be turned off! #35001-51000
1975-77 "Second Generation"
The '75 model year brings big changes to the Europiccola. Often referred to "Generation/Version 2," the group bolted onto the boiler instead of screwing in, the brass cylinder insert removed, and piston dimension increased, making it easy to remove for servicing. The portafilter gasket changes. The boiler cap becomes all black plastic, and gets male threads, instead of female. The base is changed from aluminum to stamped steel. The black plastic drip tray insert appears under the chrome grid.
On/off switch changes to "dual" one, with red "on/off" and white "high/low."
'79 saw the heating element changes from screw in to bolt-on (on a carrier ring that screws into the boiler. The early screw in elements are no longer available! So don't run them dry! There were also AT LEAST two thread pitches on the carrier ring for the heating element. Make sure to confirm which version you have before ordering a new element in this late 70s early 80s era. Chrome bases become available, including some that were plated over brass or copper bases, and these saw problems with peeling chrome plating.
Added thermal fuse, and new 4 prong heating element. Changed sub-base from rubber to plastic, and drilled the notorious "screw hole" through the drip tray (at low point where water collects) to fasten it, often worsening any rust or corrosion issues, and can allow water into electrical component area.
Pressurestat finally added, which ended the need for "dual" switches and two heating elements, and allows single "on/off" switch (red) with green power light. Pressure set to .8-1 BAR at the factory. (Industry standard.) Plastic protector added over sight glass. Deluxe wood knobs and handles become available.
Quick change removable steam arm (to facilitate dubious "frother" attachment) introduced.
Mostly chrome bases by now, but brass bases become brass. Plastic handle smooth instead of grooved.
Resettable overheat thermal fuse. (A nice replacement for the previous "blowable" kind.)
"Hi-tech" polymer piston (polyphenylene shuphide) introduced (replacing brass) in effort to control brew heat in group. This new piston was not "cheap" but did have some issues with "unscrewing itself" from lever rod because of heat differential with poly and steel. The unscrewed pistons would eventually push off shower screen. The poly pistons can also crack or fracture from heat and pressure stress.
2001-07 Millennium Model
"Millennium" model comes out in 2001, with completely recast group. The "plastic" piston now gets a matching poly insert into the widened group cylinder, in further effort to reduce heat from boiler. (See pic of "Millennium" group above.) The bigger bore meant a wider portafilter (from 49 to 51mm wide) and new seal to go along with new wider baskets. Earlier "Pre-Millennium" La Pavoni portafilters will NOT fit in the later "Millennium" models.
Pavoni gives up on poly piston, and goes back to earlier brass one (but keeps the poly insert in the Millennium group.) They also mercifully get rid of screw hole in drip tray (after 24 years) and attach the plastic sub-base from the bottom instead. Cheers go up around the world.
MODEL CHANGES, PROFESSIONAL
Black rubber, 1975-1983
Black ABS plastic, fixed with screw through drip tray, 1984-2007
Black ABS plastic, fixed from underneath drip tray, 2008+
White plastic rocker, with red "on/off" light, pre '78.
Single red "on/off" switch, 1978-1997
Single green "on/off" switch, 1998+
La PAVONI VARIENTS
Ambassador - La Pavoni's US market only predecessor to the Professional. Basically the Europiccola (no gauge, dual switch elements) with the larger boiler that would become the Professional. Sold in America in the early 80s. But once the Professional was established, there really wasn't a need for this configuration, and it was phased out. If you come across a "Europiccola" with an odd large boiler, you're probably looking at an Ambassador. (Hat tip to La Pavoni aficionado Hank Bates!)
Gaggia - "Factory"
The two "versions" known as models 105, and 106, were the Millenium Europiccola and Professional respectively, with "flat tops" (the Romantica.) Gaggia slapped their own pointy "dunce cap" top (more charitably known by some Factory owners as "the Tin Man") and a cheesy "Factory" logo where the Pavoni badge normally resides, and sold them re-branded as Gaggias starting in the late 90s. No longer sold. A bit pathetic for the company the INVENTED the home lever machine, but since they seem to have been targeted mainly at the US market as discounted La Pavonis, Gaggia apparently decided the reward to their bottom line was worth the risk to their prestige. Gaggia is obviously not the same company it originally was.
MARCFI -- "La Cara," or the "La Graziella" and/or "Picola"
MARCFI was a Spanish company, originally licensed by La Pavoni to make the Europiccola in the mid 60s, under the Franco dictatorship. After a dispute, Pavoni ended the license agreement, but MARCFI continued making "Spanish Pavonis," daring the Italians to sue them in the Fascist Spanish court system. Pavoni apparently decided not to bother, and MARCFI went on making "Pavoni" espresso machines in Spain for years. La Pavoni managed to keep them from exporting out of Spain for the most part, but some found their way into the US via the enterprising La Pavoni dealer in San Francisco, Thomas Cara, Ltd. Cara put his own label on them, until being legally stopped by La Pavoni in around 1980. The Graziella had a large handsome boiler with a stepped top, on a Pavoni style base. The early base was dark gray, the later ones all chrome. The group is basically a Pre-Mellenium La Pavoni with a different bolt on flange. Heating elements are impossible to source new now.
Gaggia "Factory" (Professional)
Romantica - La Pavoni "updates" the look of the Europiccola in mid 90s, and Professional in mids 2000s, by cutting off the top (flat top) and adding a "fancy" removable dome top (sometimes with an eagle) and wood handles. The Pre-Millennium and Millenium group changes were the same.
Stradivari - Yet another La Pavoni effort at "modernizing the look" of the Europiccola, with a redesigned sleeker group, a "figure 8" shaped base, and a "bow" shaped lever (get it? the violin reference.) Launched about 2005. Ho hum. Not sure why anyone would ever buy one of these over the classic Pavoni lever design, but maybe you're a 22 year old dot com millionaire with no sense of history or style.
Zabar's - "Picola" and "Carina Grande"
The old housewares/deli store in NYC, has been re-branding and selling La Pavoni levers for decades. The Europiccola is called the "Picola," and the Professional became the "Carina Grande." By changing the branding they have been allowed to discount their machines to those with the Pavoni label sold at regular dealers, but they are all made by La Pavoni in Italy. (Maybe somebody at Zabar's had a reletive in Italy?!) Be advised that some of the re-branded Zabar's machines may have a cheaper base. Ask if you're not sure.
Zabar's "Carina Grande"