Olympia Express Club rebuild (+ introduction)

Equipment doesn't work? Troubleshooting? If you're handy, members can help.
Sw1ssdude
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#1: Post by Sw1ssdude »

Hello,

I'm new to the home-Barista forum, and I'd like to set off my membership with a completed report from a rebuild of a 1969 Olympia Express Club.

I'm also quite new to the art of espresso making. I mean, I did work for a startup in Zürich (Switzerland) which produces really great espresso machines in the midst of the city, where tasting a shot or five a day accounted as 'quality control', not 'coffee break'. But at home I still use a small 'la piccola - piccola'-E.S.E.-pad-machine.

This might be blasphemic, but I don't have the space at the moment to run a machine with a footprint bigger than the average postcard, and pad coffee beats bad coffee, or no coffee at all. I'm a mechanical engineer, and I appreciate a fine crafted, precise operating machine when I see one, so even if I don't use that Olympia at the moment, there are other ways to enjoy a machine as fine as an old Olympia Club. Like just marveling at that design. And I will take care that this machine will be put to use, if not in my kitchen, then in someone else's.

So how did I end up with this machine in the first place?
To make a long story long: A good friend of my parents is a civil engineer and a coffee fiend. He used to have good espresso machines in his office, and he was (still is) a big fan of lever operated machines. At a younger age he decided to get one of his own after he 'tasted blood' at a friends place, who happened to be a ticinesi and owned a cubic cremina from the first generation. Shortly after he called one of the very first creminas ever made his own. This espresso machine served well, until he had to do service in the swiss army again (we have a militia, so there are repetition courses for every branch of the armed forces every year), where a fellow officer brought his Olympia Club along. This Club used to be set up in the officer's quarters, for free use by all the 'intermediate brass'.

So a few years later, as his civil engineering office grew prosperous, he decided to add an Espresso machine to his meeting room. After a couple horrendously expensive machines from various espresso machine manufacturers were declined due to be horrendously expensive, he remembered the Olympia Club he used during his service. So he called the Olympia company in the swiss canton of Ticino, where he was told that they no longer sell Clubs, since their production was moved to pump operated machines. However they take old machines back from time to time, as a down payment for said newer, automatic machines, and those returned machines will be refurbished and sold again. So he immediately subscribed on the waiting list for a refurbished Club, doubting that he will ever hear again from Olympia Express in Morbio, TI.

Three weeks later he stumbled over a package at his front door. In there was a perfectly fine, newly rebuilt, dark brown Olympia Club. Looking upon this machine he feared that this will cost him a fortune. Also this machine was delivered without any previous notification whatsoever, and he never struck an actual deal with the company. So he called them up, asking whether they always conduct business like this, sending enticing, but seemingly unaffordably expensive machines to inquierers without notification? After a short rant he dared to ask what this Olympia would cost him? The nice lady at the companies office replied: 280 bucks. Delivery is on the house.

280 bucks, that's not a deal, that's a steal! So he immediately asked whether they could keep his name on top on the list for a little longer? They sure could, and in the next two years he acquired 4 (!) more Clubs.

That was in the late eighties.
He used to give those machines to friends and family members, with the only condition that they must be returned to him if they're ought to be sold or thrown out. All but one machine found their way back to him eventually. I remember my parents being amongst those lucky few who got one of those Clubs (which they eventually replaced for a Bialetti Moka Express.... What a change of pace... The only things those two coffee makers had in common were the word 'Express' in their respective names...) from there on my career as a coffee aficionado stagnated, until I moved out, got to use my flatmates extremely tricky Lelit PL 41 and finally found comfort and caffeine in my trusted 'piccola'...

So this guy remembers that I, too, was a big fan of this Olympia Club. And 20 years later, more or less out of the blue, after he got my number through my parents, he calls me, telling me the same story I just wrote down in an even more colorful and elaborated fashion, concluding with '...so I got this spare machine, it served me well for the last couple years, but it needs a service, so for 400 bucks, it is yours, if you want it'.

...What else was I supposed to do? Would you turn down such a machine with a background story like this?

I always wanted to lay hands on an old Olympia lever action machine. And now I could. So I did.
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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#2: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »



Here it is, in good condition, no major scuffs in the chrome, the stainless steel unscratched and still shiny, with most of the original equipment. Apparently in working condition, but I didn't bother to try it out.



I was warned that the power switch 'is odd', and I also noticed a small bearing ball taped to the drip tray. More about that later...

I immediately looked for replacement gaskets. As a tinker in other disciplines (Motorcycles, turntables, you name it) I know that most times good new gaskets do the trick for malfunctioning machinery.

The guy who sold me the Club looked well after his machines, he even has a small stash of spare parts, and he knew some people who might help out. Unfortunately most of those were out of business or retired. But I very soon found the Webshop of Migg Frei in Switzerland, who sent me a complete gasket set including silicone grease for the piston and new circlips for the lever pins. He even threw in an additional portafilter gasket 'to cover for the expensive shipping'! Great service, Merci viu Mau, Migg!

All set with a machine to work on and new gaskets, I started right away.
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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#3: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

The group came off easily. The allen screws could be turned out with the rounded tip on the allen key. They were pretty loose, this might be the reason why the group gasket was seeping.



That gasket didn't put up much of a fight. I was glad about that because I could only hope that the letters 'SBES' once stood in 'aSBEStos-free'. And I was impressed how much material around that dipping tube was gone. The brass body was like etched away from corrosion in that area...



The piston came out easily as well. I compressed the spring with a valve spring compresser, unscrewed it and pulled the piston out. The lever fork is worn out. I just flipped it upside down, now its good to go for the next fifty years.



Mmmmh, as in 'maximum disgustitude'...



The gaskets were completely disintegrated, and ground coffee was replacing the chunks of missing rubber. And what the hell is this white stuff?!?

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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#4: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

Under the remains of the portafilter gasket, I found the remains of yet another gasket, made from a different material. And lots of verdigris.



Luckily, there is not one problem that citric acid, steel wool and elbow grease can't solve. I got all the crud out, re-polished all the brass to a shiny finish, and tediously poked every little hole of the sieve free with a needle. Then I greased the rubber gaskets up, mounted them in place, and slid the whole assembly back into the cylinder of the group, where it belongs. The difference is like day and night if the piston is lubed by silicone grease instead of a muck of petrified coffee residue.



A-Ha, that's more like it!

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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#5: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

Next up, the water gauge that 'somehow didn't work'...



I got a hunch why it is not working...



It's clogged up. And rock solid at that. Well then, let's see what years of condensation do to a dead-end water gauge...



...It turns it disgusting. I had to boil the whole assembly in water for the glass to come loose. What you see as a slimy surface in the picture IS actually a slimy surface: they basically glued the glass with silicone putty into place.

The glass is new, and has a ground surface with an etched in company logo from Klinger on the front. It is also dated with 1986, the year when the machine must have been refurbished. So I guess this was actually assembled like this at the Olympia Express factory.

Once that gooey silicone was wiped out, the soggy paper gasket came out easily, and so did the remains of the blue color, which peeled away very easy. Apparently there was a layer of red paint underneath it?



I decided to leave the raw brass instead of repainting it blue. Again, citric acid rushed to help to get rid of all the crusty crispiness. With the lower connection tube bored out, the water level gauge now works fine. And with the brass backing, it has quite a 'Jules-Verne-Captain-Nemo'-feel to it.
Klinger still sells these glasses (Klinger A0). Apparently, they are pressure proof up to 340 bars, that should be sufficient for the puny atmosphere this gauge is subdued in this case...
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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#6: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

Next up: the boiler.
The stainless steel bolts on the lid came out easily, but the lid was stuck on the boiler, I had to tap it loose with a rubber mallet.
Fortunately, the dreaded asbestos insulation of the boiler had long gone, I found only some leftover shreds stuck on the underside, so handling was easy. After a couple strokes with the mallet a clearly audible -CRACK- indicated that the stuck gasket has broken free. I lifted off the lid and peeked into pandora's box.



Check out that crispy crustitude... I doubt that this is all build up from tap water. It seems like this coffee machine spent some years underwater.
Luckily, buildups like this one don't require any special tools. A beach shovel from your neighbour's kids will do... I could have set up a nice fish tank with all that sand... note how the gasket shrunk around the bolt holes. Seems like there was a vacuum in the boiler that sucked the gasket right in.



Somewhere under layers of prehistoric barnacles is a heating element to be found. That sandy buildup deposited even in the pstat tube. And the boiler gasket that stuck on here decided to remain there: It basically bonded with the brass, making it painfully hard to remove.



So off into a bath of citric acid. This stuff is absolutely great! It even eats away the black soot-like copper(II) oxide. If given a couple of hours of soaking. This stuff (CuO) is not very healthy, but luckily, its not soluble in water. But it stands no chance against citric acid, and I don't mind it gone out of my boiler.



That really cleaned up well. Check out those brass dimples around the flange hole at ten'o'clock. Those are not indents, those are protrusions of solid brass. How did they got there? This surface ought to be turned flat... one might never know...



I really like the look of raw copper or brass, but other than the pretty water gauge this bare boiler looks like a plucked chicken. The people at Olympia must have been aware of that and thought: 'damn, our brazing work is really shoddy, better cover that up with a layer of asbestos'....

I decided to give that boiler a nice coat of heat-resistant stove pipe matte black color. This step was quite enjoyable, since I just set up a new hi-fi-system in my shop. What song fits better for painting things black than rolling stones 'sympathy for the devil'?



Together with the freshly cleaned stainless bolts, copper washers and nickel plated lid this boiler turned out really nice! (Actually, another rebuild of a Club here in the forum got a black powder coated boiler, and I really liked the look of it, so I drew some inspiration from there...)
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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#7: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

Back into the frame, which was in a good overall condition, so I left that as it is.



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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#8: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

Next up, the pressostat.
What I learned so far is that this must be a very early pressostat from Olympia, since later ones often used a small knurled wheel for adjustment instead of an adjusting screw with a long shaft.



As you can see, the pressostat has some very suspicious crusty buildups, and a badly bent adjuster shaft. I read so much about how precisely those things work, and now it seems like mine has a pinhole... Damn! (The copper balloon is supposed to expand under pressure and then pressing against a switch to cut out the heating when a desired pressure is reached. With a pinhole, the heating will never be interrupted).



I cleaned that expansion balloon very thoroughly, inside and out, as I decided to have it soldered in a car radiator shop because it seemed that the pinhole is in the crease at the very tip of the balloon. If I'd solder there, the lost flexibility might be negligible. Plus I had a piece of M4 threaded rod laying around, so I replaced the bent brass adjuster rod (who and how bends this part anyways?!)

The more I cleaned the expanding balloon the more I grew suspicious whether this thing was actually shot. I couldn't blow some air through. But I am also not capable of building up a decent pressure. Only one way to find out, so I quickly came up with a test pressure gauge:



A cut off valve from a punctured tire tube from the bicycle shop around the corner, plus a couple of wooden washers cut with a laser plotter, glue that stuff together with 2k-glue, mount a piece of hose and:



Ta-Dah! A homemade pressure tester. I made the hose that big because I was afraid that one bicycle pump stroke generates way more pressure than the 1 bar this expander balloon has normally to endure. I immersed this jerry-rigged balloon in a bucket of water and slowly built up a pressure of 1.3 bars. It bubbled immediately, but only from the hose connections. The copper piece itself was airtight, it works perfectly fine! So I assembled the pressostat and put it on the pile with all the other refurbished components. (Still: how did that crusty buildup build up, then???)
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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#9: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

Now, the safety valve was up next: it came apart easily, it just looked bad, and I wanted to clean it out. The gasket inside on the other hand was as white, as hard and as brittle as an aspirine.





I cleaned it out with citric acid and reinstalled the new gasket. Then I adjusted it with my trusted hose-adapter and a bicycle pump to 1.5 bar. With the new crush-washer from Migg's gasket kit, it went straight on the boiler, looking good being all clean and shiny and functional.
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Sw1ssdude (original poster)
Posts: 301
Joined: 6 years ago

#10: Post by Sw1ssdude (original poster) »

Up next were the steam wand and the hot water tap.
The chrome on both was fine, but the gaskets inside were rock hard. And the steam outlet holes were clogged. At least the tiny brass screw in the valves came loose on both taps. So again: citric acid for the win, de-greasing, re-greasing, re-sealing, re-mounting, re-joicing.



Everything on this machine is built to last. As long as one does not use brute force to pry out gaskets, the brass holds up forever.
Interestingly, the taps are swept upwards. Didn't very early Clubs have straight taps?
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