1980 Olympia Cremina Rebuild

Equipment doesn't work? Troubleshooting? If you're handy, members can help.
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#1: Post by wreckfish »

Late one afternoon, I received a text and photo from my brother. He had been following with interest my Olympia Club restoration through the spring and summer. On the exact opposite side of the country and with little to no knowledge or experience with espresso and espresso machines his text included a picture of a Cremina, neatly packed in the back of his car. His only words were - "Does this do anything for you?" While visiting a friend of a friend, he noticed this 1980 Olympia Cremina and recognized the familial resemblance to my Club. The machine had been unused for many years. After a little discussion, a deal was struck and the Cremina was in the trunk of his car.

From the pictures it looked in great shape and I was worried that a poor packing job would take its toll on this 36 year old beauty. I quickly put together a sketch and some notes about how to pack it and emailed it to him. Several texts and a call later, the machine was double boxed and winging its way across the country. A week later it arrived and I spent the afternoon unwrapping it from its cardboard and plastic cocoon.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#2: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

It took a couple of afternoons to break the Cremina down. It was in good shape overall. The case was in great shape with no dings or dents, but a few areas of chipped paint on the corners. The chrome was in good condition as well. The bakelite showed the usual wear of time and use, and with the exception of a small ding on the steam handle, was in fine shape.

The boiler was insulated with asbestos so the disassembly was done in two stages. First, I took all the stainless pieces, the steam valve, group, pstat and electrical wiring off.

Then I took the boiler, still mounted in the frame, to a licensed service that removed the asbestos. With the boiler cleaned up, I finished breaking the machine down, removing the boiler from the frame and taking the element and gasket out of the boiler.

Two design elements caught my eye during this process. The first was the "wire hook" that holds the wiring away from the boiler. I had replaced the gaskets on a 1986 Cremina and it didn't have this feature.

The other was the design of the steam path itself. Unlike the 1986 model which has the steam valve connected to the boiler with a pipe and fittings, on this version the brass cross bar that attaches the boiler to the frame acts as the steam pipe and is drilled with a hole the length of the bar. The steam valve, which has small holes in the leg, passes through the cross bar with a gasket on either side. The cross bar essentially becomes a small steam chamber, allowing the steam from the boiler to pass into the valve. A cap is used to close off the end of the valve, tighten the valve in place, and provide the compression for the copper crush washer that seals the valve to the cross bar.


#3: Post by Katoci »

Good job, and great photos. My '74 Cremina looks the same from inside. May I ask the price of the asbestos removal? I did it on the other side of the world (central Europe), and I'm curious about the price difference.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#4: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

Thank you. The asbestos removal cost $100. I didn't think about it until now, but it was the most expensive part of the rebuild, but to me it was well worth it.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#5: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

With all the major components disassembled, it was time to break each down to their individual pieces. I planned a complete restoration - everything from new gaskets to new finishes for the painted pieces. The Cremina clearly lived in a place with hard water and the effects of it could be seen on every piece I worked on. While ever present, the scale presented itself as a light film, as opposed to the alarming ½" thick layers we see in many of the rebuild threads. I assume this was due to extremely light use of the machine, but could be wrong. The scale was most noticeable in the boiler itself as well as on the group cylinder and piston. The group screen had scale along with the typical coating of old coffee oils and grounds. The heating element had an unusual mix of scale and a very furry mold, remnants of a partially filled boiler left unattended for many...years? Clearly, everything was going to need a thorough descaling and cleaning overall.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#6: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

Before taking the frame and case for powdercoating, there were a few details to take care of. I widened the hole in the frame for the powercord to accommodate a modern strain relief grommet and I removed the name plates from the frame and the case itself. The name plates came off with some heat from a heat gun and a cheap steak knife slid underneath the plates. The plate on the frame was glued on, but the Olympia badge on the case had been mounted using double stick tape.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#7: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

I learned on my Club rebuild that cleaning consumed most of the effort in these projects. At one point, seeing a picture of all the parts spread out, my brother expressed his shock at how many pieces were packed into such a small machine. Taking a cue from a post from Paul Pratt that mentioned his use of an ultrasonic cleaner, I did some research and picked one up for around $80. I was surprised at how many were available, some as inexpensive as $30. I chose the one I purchased in part because it could accommodate the entire Cremina group.

The ultrasonic cleaner was used in several different formats. All the brass pieces and fittings were cleaned using a brass cleaning fluid mixed with water. Having never used an ultrasonic cleaner, I was a bit skeptical, but to my relief it worked extremely well. Having spent an hour or two cleaning up the piston on my Club (descaling followed up with a dremel and wire wheel), 30 minutes of work in the ultrasonic cleaner for the Cremina piston was a treat.

All the stainless and chrome pieces - the group screen, boiler bolts, portafiler and basket, steam valve - took a bath with JoeGlo in the ultrasonic cleaner. I followed this up with the group itself which cleaned up nicely with the exception of some scale on the inside of the group cylinder. Later, I would use some 00 steel wool to remove that thin film.

All the bakelite pieces, the steam valve cap and the red reset button went into the ultrasonic cleaner with some dishwashing detergent to get 30+ years of dirt and oils removed. Overall, the ultrasonic cleaner was a great investment for this and future projects.

The boiler was descaled in a large stainless cooking pot on the stove, the citric acid solution kept warm by a very low flame.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#8: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

The frame and case were in very good shape but showed their age with minor scratches and chipped paint. I had each powdercoated, selecting a hammertone grey for the frame and a white for the case. I didn't try to match the existing finishes but tried to keep the color selections within the realm of the current Cremina offerings. I was inspired by Specht Design's use of white for his custom espresso machines as well as a PV Lusso in white that I had had for a number of years. The hammertone was a classic color, and from my Club project, I knew it matched what Olympia had used on some machines in the past. The trip to the powdercoater also gave me a chance to look at some orange color samples for a future project, an Ater (Bezzera) Familia, that is waiting in the wings.

Different options for white.

Final color selections on top of the existing brown case.

Lots of orange -- for a future rebuild.

Frame and case complete and dry fit.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#9: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

The boiler was coated in a high temperature spray paint. After the insulation was removed, the brass was very attractive but I knew it would tarnish over time. Also, the brazing on the top of the boiler left it a bit patchy and inconsistent in finish. I carefully masked the boiler and applied several coats of paint. Then, after the paint had dried, I cured the paint in the oven for about an hour.

The silver paint (barbecue paint) has an even, consistent finish, with a slight bit of texture.

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wreckfish (original poster)

#10: Post by wreckfish (original poster) »

I made a complete new wiring harness for the Cremina. New wire along with insulation sleeves and some heat shrink tube were used, using the old harness as a model. A new terminal block and a new powercord rounded out the selection of new components.

Old harness

New harness


Unfortunately, when dismantling the machine, I broke the spade connectors on the indicator light. Having no luck finding an OEM light that would fit, and only finding lights that required increasing the hole size in the stainless mounting plate, I decided to open the light up for surgery. The bulb was functioning, so I re-soldered the spade connectors on and reinserted the bulb into the orange housing. A little heat shrink tube holds the assembly together. The fix is not perfect, but serviceable until I find an OEM bulb to replace it with. Thanks to Stefano for the wiring and insulation and for doing some legwork on finding a replacement light.

The light switch was in good shape, but one of the screws holding it to the mounting plate was completely frozen. I dremeled the head of the screw off and then used a screw extractor to remove the tiny threaded bit from the switch itself. In retrospect, I would just use the screw extractor, but not having one on hand at the time, the dremel was the first step in separating the two. New stainless screws replaced the brass screws that originally held the switch and the mounting plate together. The scratch on the mounting plate was there when I got the machine.