Waterford’s Founding / The Premier Edition
Waterford was founded as a result of the banking crisis of 1991-1992. The former crown jewel of Schwinn Bicycle Company, the Waterford factory was where Schwinn had built its legendary Paramounts for the prior 12 years. Schwinn had filed for bankruptcy in October, 1992, and the creditors were forcing the sale of the company. Marc Muller, who had built the Paramount factory all through the 80’s, and Richard Schwinn head of Schwinn’s manufacturing, had put together a plan to grow the factory, which had made modest profits during the 80’s. When the Schwinn’s management and creditors expressed no interest in the factory, Richard and Marc put in a bid for the factory and won control. The official date of the founding was February 27, 1993.
Part of the original purchase agreement was the right to continue building Paramounts under contract to Schwinn. Though there were orders coming in, for every call discussing a new order, there were two or three asking if the factory was still in business. As Marc, said, “We thought we were buying a going concern, but it wasn’t going by much.”
Marc had also set about tooling up Waterford’s Low Profile lugset – the enhanced version of the OS lugset he’d designed for Paramount. Creating a new lugset not only takes time but also expense. So the slow sales represented a major issue for the company. In response, Waterford introduced it’s Premier Edition models – a road bike and a track design, while continuing to build the slowly recovering Paramount sales.
The road model, dubbed Aurora after the super-secret spyplane, used the same OS heat treated tubing and Paramount lugset as the Paramounts (most of the time trimming off the Paramount’s point). The track bike, the Comet, used old Columbus tubing from Schwinn’s pre-OS days. Sales continued to build, allowing Waterford to prepare for the 1994 Model year.
The 1993 Interbike show in Las Vegas marked the real introduction of the Waterford line in its recognizable form with four models:
- 1200 Road Racing
- 1400 Off-Road – Hard Tail
- 1500 Off-Road – Dual Suspension
- 1600 Triathlete / Time Trial
To emphasize the technology, we presented the bikes all in silver with red decals.
Sales were disappointing the first year – especially from the show itself (which has never turned out to be very satisfactory, saleswise). The company limped along, pinning its hopes on two contracts.
The first was a contract with the new owners of Schwinn to build a large number of Paramounts. Waterford built 2-300 Paramounts over the winter of 1993-4. The second was a contract with a small BMX company named Standard. Those bikes were delivered at the beginning of 1994.
The Paramount contract fizzled out and sales turned out to be disappointing to Schwinn. Schwinn had so many of their own issues surrounding their own rebuilding effort that there was no focus on the US-built Paramount program.
The relationship with Standard came to dominate Waterford over the following decade.