One of a 500, One of 100, One of 25. Limited editions are an established part of the shoe market and have been since the mid-90s. I guess it’s a pretty smart concept and you can see the appeal of owning something which you know not everyone has on their feet. Also sports shoe companies often pull out the stops when it comes to creativity, quality of materials and packaging on these kind of projects. But I often wonder if there is much if any profit at all for them, once the design, marketing and production costs have been taken into consideration. But of course it’s all about brand promotion – sneaker magazines and social media are awash with the hype proceeding and long after the product has sold out. Even if you didn’t manage to grab a pair you’ll be buying something else made by them some time soon.
Now I do buy new adidas shoes, but I’m known for my love of past models. As a vintage collector you might think I miss out on the fun, but that would be far from the truth. For most people it normally starts like this – while leisurely scrolling through social media posts or Google images you come across a picture of an old shoe you’ve never seen before, which you simply must own. And so it begins; - you ask friends to look out for them, you spend hours searching auction sites, you post begging messages on social media, you drive 15 miles out to a car boot sale with the insane theory in your head a deadstock pair will be sitting on someone’s trestle table waiting you for to snap them up for £3. You hear ‘folk stories’ that some bloke in Glasgow has a pair but “he will never sell them” and you find grainy images of the shoe on Yahoo Japan from 5 years ago and wonder where they ended up. It’s the kind of quest that Indiana Jones or King Arthur would probably turn down because it’s too hard, but yet that’s the fun it. You live for the thought that maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll land a pair.
But if limited editions are a relatively new concept, then why are certain vintage shoes so hard to find? Were these sports shoe companies secretly doing limited edition way back in the 70s and 80s? Let’s start by saying all vintage shoes are hard to find. Ok so type vintage adidas into Ebay and you’ll find something – probably a Rom, Universal, Dublin, Samba, Stan Smith or Gazelle. And that’s because adidas made millions of these. So by a simple law of averages, the more you make, the more are likely to have survived. The very nature of a shoe means they are an endangered species. We walk everywhere in them, play sport in them, scuff them, stain them, abuse them. None of anything I owned in the 80s and 90s I still have, they all ended up in the dustbin - gone but not forgotten. But that doesn’t answer the question, why were some shoes rarer than others? What was the reason certain shoes were produced in more limited numbers? To answer that here a 10 of the rarest adidas shoes you will come across, so rare that maybe only a few pairs still exist in the world.
The Prototype shoe – Dublin Mk II circa 1980
Not everything adidas dreamed up made it the shops. Some shoes didn’t work, didn’t look right or simply were never chosen for production. Of course adidas made a mock up or prototype of the shoe to test it or see how it looked and from that prototype maybe modifications were later made and the shoe became commercially available. What happened to the prototypes? Well I guess some were taken home by the designers or marketing men only years later to be discarded and for some to wash up in collector’s circles. Bobby McDassler (the owner of these shoes) contacted adidas and they thought that these shoes are probably a never released prototype. Stamped with the article code for Dublin, they are called by collectors ‘Dublin’ mark II and produced in the exact same shape ‘Bern’ Mk II and ‘Jeans’ Mk II. Why they were never released no-one will ever know, but I don’t think many (if any) other pairs of it exist.
The Special Make Up [SMU] – SL 72 University of Texas circa 1974
We tend to think of adidas as churning out mass produced models for the commercial market but athletes were at the core of their business, even after their shoes became everyday wear for the everyday person. Adidas kitted out whole football squads, handball teams and Olympic delegations. Owned by Funkyadiadi these SL 72 were produced at the request of the University of Texas Athletics team in their own colours – burnt orange and white. Interestingly, aside from the colour their actually quite different from a typical SL 72 of the time with the sole being a wedge hexagonal microcell rather than the standard sawtooth Metzeler sole. How many were produced it’s difficult to say but these are extremely rare.
The foreign licence shoe – Vulkano circa 1976
Adidas were produced all of the world in many different countries. The reasons why are specific to each country but generally tended to for economic or logistical reasons. Licence agreements allowed shoes to be manufactured and sold in regional areas often bypassing expensive import duties that certain countries may have levied on adidas. Production in Brazil began in 1974 when adidas signed a contract with a pre-existing shoe company called Vulcabras SA of Sao Paulo (a licence agreement that still exists to this day). Generally the licence agreements worked around royalty payments. So for every pair Vulcabras made they paid a fee to adidas. How many were made? Well it’s Impossible to say but I imagine they were produced in limited numbers in comparison to European models. As an example a former production manager for M. O’Brien & Co Ltd (the licensee for adidas in New Zealand) said a good seller would be only several thousands. These came into my possession via a good friend Anders Pettersson and at a good price. How a pair of Brazilian made adidas ended up in Sweden though is anybody’s guess…
The shoe that falls apart – Miami circa 1986
In 1975 adidas commissioned a manufacturer of rubber and plastic to come up with a polyurethane [PU] sole for training shoes. Semeperit AG of Austria designed a hard wearing sole which could be cast in different measures of hardness depending on the process. PU soles were used on training, tennis and to a lesser extent running, indoor and football shoes. The problem was that unless stored in optimum conditions PU will over a time become sticky and tacky before hardening, cracking and crumbling altogether. This meant that PU soles had a typical life span of 10-15 years. Virtually no PU soled shoes from the seventies still exist, 80s ones are rare and many of the 90s ones are starting to go. If you found a pair of old PU soled shoes in your garage and they were falling apart I imagine they would end up in the bin – it’s only been over the last decade that collectors have been purchasing these unwearable shoes and either preserving them for historical purposes and getting them resoled. This particular pair are owned by super collector Kenny Manton and I think they were part of a large old sports shop stock purchase that emerged last year. The Miami are a leisure training shoe from the mid 80s made in my favourite factory adidas Austria and featured a slim-line PU sole as was fashionable during this period. Adidas have never re-issued any of the models with this sole to date and it’s such a shame that due to the material of the originals sole these shoes are so incredibly rare today.
The regionally exclusive shoe – Cord circa 1979
I’ve mentioned regionally exclusive shoes before, but to recap adidas produced shoes at the request of national distributors and based on what they thought would sell well. So for instance in the UK you could get lots of different cricket shoes and rugby boots because the sports are popular here, but you couldn’t get those products easily in the US. I’m pretty sure the Cord was an exclusive to the UK. I’ve got a lot of catalogues from this period and the ‘Cord’ only appear in the UK 1979 and 1980 brochures. The ‘Jeans’ model was extremely popular over here and that is what the ‘Cord’ is based on, albeit in a corduroy brown colourway. Because the shoes were made for the UK only they were no doubt produced it limited numbers. These shoes aren’t actually as rare as some of the other models featured on this post, I know of at least 9 pairs and it is likely more exist out there. But they are still pretty rare and extremely sought after. I used own this pair but sold them on and as they were too big for me.
The athletes shoe – Special circa 1970
For sportsmen on their roster, adidas produced shoes using premium materials and to the exact shape and size of an athlete’s foot in their Scheinfeld factory (they still do to this day). An athlete could also ask for design changes, different colours or modifications, for instance if the athlete was recovering from an injury they could ask for additional protection or padding to be inserted into the shoe. I picked these shoes up from a seller some years ago. The upper is the design of an ‘Olympia’ but the sole unit is actually a microcell ridge sole like on a ‘Mexicana’. Interestingly the shoe also bears the tag ‘Special’ reserved for shoes for specialist sporting disciplines. Intrigued by the shoe and not being able to locate a picture of it in any of my catalogues I contacted the adidas archive in Herzongenaurach. Martin at the archive told me they are what adidas call a ‘Frankenstein’ model, meaning they were an SMU made up from several different models and probably at the request of an athlete. Whether this is a one of a kind shoe or adidas made similar for others I do not know, but they certainly are special and I often wonder who owned these shoes before me?
By the way if you to look at other SMU’s and models for specific athletes then check out the amazing adidas archive at
The one season only shoe – Saphir circa 1970
Ok, you seen these before and as mentioned I’m pretty sure they were only produced for a single year, possibly with only a couple of production runs. There soft crushed patent look I guess was quite startling for the time and maybe they didn’t sell as well as adidas would have hoped. But they’re a great example of why some shoes are rarer than others. The typical life span of an adidas model was only a hand full of years at best, as shoe technology and fashions changed with rapidly. Even something like the ‘Rom’ which was mass produced for decades had a number of make overs will retaining the basic look of the model. When shoes are produced for only a limited time there are bound to be less of them available in the collectors market.
The did it even exist shoe – Malmo 1976
Sometimes you come across a shoe which is so rare no-one has ever seen it in person. Only a picture in a catalogue exists and leads to the question was it ever made or merely a pre-production design which never made it to the shelves? Of course if it’s in a product catalogue you’d like to think it did exist, but these catalogues were made months before and sometimes feature early version of the shoes which ended up looking slightly different upon release. The Malmo was released in 1974 and this Dutch catalogue image is from 1976, so it’s certainly not a pre-production version, however that doesn’t prove it actually exists. I do hope that it does and one day someone uncovers a pair as the net nylon finish on these makes for a stunning shoe.
The hidden shoe – Stockholm circa 1976
Ok, I’m cheating a little here as I’ve already talked about foreign licence shoes, but I love the ‘story’ on this one. These are Stockholm made in Australia and don’t look anything like the European version with the exception of the colourway. Why are they so different? Well adidas gave the licensees all the technical plans, lasts and design information for the shoes, told them where to buy the machinery to make the shoes and told them where to buy all the materials like the suede, leather and even who the stockists were for things like the laces. But the foreign licence companies were allowed a certain amount of leeway and artistic licence in what they produced, often buying locally sourced leather or changing designs to suit regional tastes. Sometimes they weren’t prepared to import in the soles or buy the (rather expensive) machinery to produce them and ended up sticking different soles onto different uppers as is probably the case here. Onto the story;- these were found in the bottom of a wardrobe by an Australian lady a few years ago, completely unworn and in their original box (the really great 70s Australian ones with the picture of the shoe on the front). When I got talking to her I asked her how she came about them. Apparently her brother bought her them following an argument, but to spite him she just threw them in a cupboard and refused to wear them only discovering them nearly forty years on. So we have a family argument to thank for saving a pair of extremely rare trainers in deadstock condition!
The don’t even know what it is shoe – adidas unknown circa 1974
I’m finishing with a shoe that only one pair is known to exist and their identity is not even known. This shoe has been around a bit, originally with a collector named Craig and now I believe the property of another collector called Joe. They are simply known as adidas ‘unknown’ and are probably the most famous pair nameless model but certainly not the only one. What we do know is that they were made in Austria, around about 1974 and in a pretty intense colourway. Were they actually released or were they a sample? For now we do not know, but we can certainly say they are one of the rarest pairs of adidas in existence and possibly one of a kind.