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Early 60's Arrarex Caravel, "Version 1.1" -- Sold!

Caravel levers are known for three things.  Their astounding level of industrial design (the main components are machined to fit together without tools!)  Their crazy, totally dedicated cult following.  And the exquisite little shots of espresso they pull.

The first two are somewhat objectively measurable.  


The design is ridiculously cool by any standard.  The craftsmanship, the material qualities, the way the pieces fit together like a military grade weapon, even the piston action "feel" when you pull the handle down, are all kind of amazing when you first come in contact with one. 


Google "Arrarex Caravel" and you will come across pages of rabid testimonials, user tips, historical lore, and worshipful declarations about the "original intent of inventor Dr. Emidio Saladi."  So yeah, there is definitely a "cult" out there.  


The last thing ("exquisite little shots") that is often claimed by Caravel devotees with adjectives like "goopy, sweet, and lucious," is pretty subjective.  


Americans are prone to proclaiming "The best (blah, blah, blah) is..." like it's a birthright to engage in pissing contests about "the best" of everything and anything, no matter how trivial.   And espresso nerds can be just as guilty.


So we've always been curious to see how much "truth" there is to the buzz about Caravel shots.   


And we've wanted to get our hands on one to rebuild, just to check out the legendary engineering.


So we finally got a chance to answer our curiousity.  We went all through this one, checking the electrics (a potential weak spot on Caravels because of the light gauge wiring and components, not to mention the '60s "Italianess") and for stuff like rust, scale, etc., then after cleaning everything up, we installed new seals, and converted it to run on US 110 voltage with a new custom heating element.   (Arrarex never exported 110 versions that we're aware of.) 


So what's the verdict?  We already mentioned we're sold on the design.  It's for real.  As for the results in the cup, we'll try to upload a video showing the "Caravel goopiness."   (Ask if you're interested but it's not up yet.) 


Obviously the taste of "goop" is ultimately dependent on the roasted beans, as with any other machine.  But all things being equal, even when compared to the bigass commercial beast we use most days, the shot quality on the Caravel turned out to be pretty frickin awesome!


This Caravel is one of the "early" examples.  From a time shortly after the Milan headquartered Arrarex company stopped calling them "VAM" machines, in the early 1960s.   This is a "version 1.1" to be exact.


And a nice "1.1" one it is!  Virtually no rust.  The original paint is intact.  The stainless and chrome still shiny.  The cool ship ("caravel" in Italian) logo is perfect.  The decals are undamaged.  The cute suction cup feet are all in great shape and original.  The drip trays are there. The electrics all work like new.  (Though the "thermal strip" thermostat was always a bit unruly.  Even new they tended to meander around tempwise.  But the machine does turn off when it gets hot, which is the most important electrical feature on a Caravel! )   We have the temp adjusted as close as possible to "about right," but it's easy to play with the adjuster knob on the back. 


It doesn't look like this machine has actually been used much.  Even though it's pushing 60!  


In fact, what makes this Caravel so cool is that you see so many for sale that are missing parts, rusty, have damaged chrome, don't fully work, or are just generally beat up after years of use.  These were such special little machines when they were built, it's awesome to have one that holds up to that original charm. 


When you add the sweet condition, with the new seals, and the fact that this will now run on US 120 voltage, this one is a "no brainer" if you've been thinking about a Caravel.  


This comes with an original double basket, a custom tamper (good luck finding one this size!) and the original bean scoop that came with these for presumably the "perfect" Caravel dose.


The only "flaws" are a  slightly scuffed portafilter handle, some spots of thinning paint on the body, and a chipped end of the bakelite lever handle.  


Caravels look larger in pictures than they really are.  Maybe it's the elegant, almost theatrical "deco" styling.  But the size is comparable to the Europiccola.   So they are compact, and with the streamlined design, seem almost "petite" in person.  There should definitely be no worries about them "fitting into your kitchen."  (And they score high on "spouse appeal.")  


Like La Pavoni, only minor changes to the design happened over the years.  From the mid 50's original "VAMs," to the mid 70's iterations sold by Zerowatt.  The changes mostly involved adding and changing switches and knobs, while the body stayed the same.  Thus you need to be "versed" in Caravel history to discern the year and "version."


This was first year of the plastic "on/off" switch, and a knob to release the boiler tank.    


Which brings us to the "other thing" that always set a Caravel apart from it's peers.  


The heating element is OUTSIDE the "boiler." 


The boiler is not "closed," or pressurized.   So it's kind of like a stainless tea kettle sitting on an electric range!


Which obviously means there's no steam wand with Caravels, but it also means heat is easy to keep in the "espresso range" below boiling, which is probably one of the "secrets" for these pulling such sweet shots.  (Especially notable compared to hotshots like the Europiccolas.)


Of course "no steam wand" is only a problem if you're making milk drinks!


But you want a straight shot?  It's hard to do better. 


The Caravel is aimed at you.

Early 60's Arrarex Caravel, "Version 1.1" -- Sold!

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