Mention of these frames/bikes and the American importer's links with the Bernard Dangre company in northern France certainly brings back a number of amusing reminiscences.
Dangre's company produced a main range of bikes under the brand of STARNORD, but also produced the same frames with the brand names PARIS-SPORT, FRANCESTAR and STARFRANCE. Not surprisingly most of the head-tube decals bore a star on them. The company also had the rights to Eddie Merckx's name for France.
Much of the company's production was destined to be sold in large supermarkets, under the STARNORD brand, which is where I first came across them, in the late 70s,all tightly shrink-wrapped up in polythene. Within the Dangre range were two "kit" bikes, which were frames with all bearings in place, set in a large cardboard box, and packed around with the fully assembled wheels, chainsets etc etc, spanners and instructions.The box itself was shrink wrapped but had a full plastic window at the front so that the prospective purchaser could eye up the goods. These two models formed the bulk of my first ever imports in October 1979, as I thought that they would be wonderful Christmas presents for kids and fathers alike to find under the tree. And what better way of spending Christmas morning than building up a bike with your dad - all that discovery learning and good parenting - and then going for a ride after dinner to wear off the excessive eating. They were a great success.
I drove a large van over to Valenciennes, a large industrial city on the Paris-Roubaix route, in March 1980 to collect my first really large order. Arriving late at night I slept in the van outside the factory's front door. In the early light I discovered that the factory was a row of about five or six red brick houses on the side of a road, that had had industrial workshops grafted on the back. The front entrance had been the entrance hall to someone's house..so it was quite small, as was the canteen which was formed from the dining room and lounge of the house next door. What was quite remarkable was that one family must have refused to sell its house, and the members continued to live there surrounded on three sides by a "factory".
On my reconnaissance visit in the October before I had discovered to my surprise that Dangre-Starnord never carried any stock of bikes..they just didn't have the room. Every bike ordered from the smallest childs model up to the top-of-the-range Reynolds/Simplex/Stronglight/Mafac/Mavic/Normandy could be ordered to be sprayed in any of the range of about 20 colours available. And every bike was ordered before it was built.....no stock at all. Every frame was built by the same few builders in the same way with the same degree or lack of skill. Only the tubing and lugs varied. Even the paint job was the same on every one..and the decals. I suppose that the factory was too small to permit the creation of an SSC frameshop. Perhaps if Dangre Snr could have bought out that remaining house things would have been different
I had arrived at the factory on an agreed date at an agreed time to collect my full order of all manner of bikes. As Bernard Dangre Jnr showed me round the small but very industrious factory, the last bike on my order was being shrink-wrapped. On the guided tour I suggested that I would like some of my next bikes to have the new ranges of Shimano gears etc. To his credit Mr Dangre didn't lose his temper but told me in no uncertain but very polite terms that no bike would ever leave that factory with anything but 100% French equipment on it. "We French bike-builders have to be loyal to our brothers in the accessory industry..or whatever will become of the French cycle industry?". I thought I had just met the reincarnation of Charles de Gaulle...only the "Marseillaise" was missing.
Loyal to the bitter end I last saw Bernard exhibiting his " TOUTE FRANCAISE" wares at the Milan Show in about 1987, and I think the company folded not too long after...but I.m not sure. I recall that every StarNord had a decal on the top-tube bearing the proud boast "Fabrication Francaise"..No "Made in France" for them...as De Gaulle would not have approved.
All the French exhibitors at that Show were invited round to the French Trade Embassy in Milan for a champagne reception to celebrate the manufacturers' dynamic marketing efforts in penetrating the difficult Italian market. Ironically many of the Italian exhibitors are still trading nearly 20 years later, but only a handful of the French. Luckily my old friend J-M Duret of "Geliano" renown (on the mainland of Europe) who took me along to the reception is still going strong, from the back streets of a small town a couple of hours south of Paris where his grandfather had created the first workshops by converting the barns of his farm. The barns still stand there proudly carrying on their job of being workshops, stores, assembly line and showroom. Quite marvellous.
Norris Lockley...very nostalgically..Settle UK