For about half a year I've been enjoying this grinder quite a bit. I snagged it off eBay for a great price, did nothing but some light cleaning and it's been my best grinder to date. It got me off the PPF, made normal non-pressurized single shots possible, and is now the best friend of my little vintage manual lever. Upgrade-itus has set in with my pump machine, though, and there are times when great deals on machines involve a set with a grinder. If I were to end up in such a deal, I might think about selling this one, but before I do, I'd like to get to know it better -- for my own satisfaction, and yes, for eventually extolling its virtues in a sales pitch.
It's got no manufacturer logo anywhere, but it does have a rather haphazardly overlayed layer of ornamental hammered brass with the classic cursive name of Victoria Arduino engraved in black. (It's affixed to a plain white metal body by brass flat-head screws.) Unlike the current crop of VA-branded grinders, however, the body and hopper here are round, not square, although the doser does have a metal cuff at the base and a metal portafilter-fork underneath that are similar to the current VA model "MDL." (The round body and hopper do resemble a Nuova Simonelli MDX, however.) The bottom burr is spun by a brass drive shaft; the V.A. name is engraved across the back where on a modern machine you'd find the logo plate. It was made in Italy, runs on 110V, and the electric motor on the inside seems to be in pretty good shape. The capacitor is dated "2/92". The whole thing weighs about 13 pounds and stands roughly 9.5" X 9" X 5".
VA does have a couple grinders with model names "MDL" and "MCF", akin to Nuova Simonelli. It seemed clear that NS is the manufacturer of current VA grinders, but I didn't know how long that relationship had been in place. For all I knew, some enterprising VA espresso machine owner may have found some scrap VA brass lying around and slapped it on any random grinder just to match his machine out on the counter. I reached out to a couple certified VA/NS repair specialists, and one did reply with some info. "I believe from the photo evidence that this machine is in fact an original VA domestic grinder," wrote one friendly specialist from down under. "Victoria Arduino is owned by Nuova Simonelli and as such the MCF/MDL range of grinders are the same with unique casings for their respective brands. The internals are the same."
That clears up some of the mystery, but not all of it. Exact model comparisons remain foggy. Based on my own measurements and photo comparisons, I'd say that the burrs are probably NS's 50mm 3-hole type, which puts it in the MCF class (light commercial caliber; a "decaf" or backup grinder in a relatively mellow cafe perhaps, but easily way beyond capable for >60g/day household use). I'm not sure what the wattage of the motor is -- maybe one of you good readers out there can glean that from the info on the capacitor in the photos above. The doser is solid, with a robust click that can be done slowly enough for almost straight-down delivery (no tossing grinds). From a clean start, retention is less than a gram, and after a bit of light use (i.e. with some grinds caked into its potential crevices) the retention drops to anywhere between .5g and 0. Part of its mystery is that it's stepped, and I don't see any stepped grinders in the NS lineup nowadays. It seems easy enough to just pull out the spring-loaded stopper to make it stepless, but the upper burr carrier assembly seemed unstable when I tried that, so some tape around the threads might be necessary and I didn't think it was worth mucking up the works at this point. It performs perfectly fine for my needs. In fact, like I said before, it's actually the best grinder I've had in my home. Fast, fluffy, neat, strong, small, not too loud, and fits a double's worth in the collar without bothering with the hopper.
What I'd like to know going forward is: How does this seem to stack up against the other popular grinders of the day? (Mazzer, Rocky, et al). Does the Victoria Arduino brass job make it seem any more or less appealing (the "conversation piece" quality, the looks? Kinda sloppy up close, but from a few feet away, quite handsome...)? I'd sooner just replace the burrs than think about an upgrade, but like I said, if I fell into a machine+grinder combo deal that netted a grinder worth keeping, I'd probably bump this one on down the line.