Aurora Duo Cart Review
Inspired by a previous Aurora design from the mid-twentieth century, the Duo Cart was re-issued in 2017. With its hooded nib and vintage aesthetic, this pen sets itself apart from other pens in my collection. But is it unusually good, or just unusual?
Note: This review covers a pen I purchased used and, as such, may not be entirely representative of the product. However, as the Duo Cart is no longer generally available at retail, I do feel there's still value in the review for those who may be interested in picking one up on the secondhand market.
I don't usually delve into the history of the pens I review or their manufacturers, but the Duo Cart does have a bit of an interesting story behind it. Essentially, the pen is a re-issue of a previous Aurora design from the 1950s/1960s. Matt Armstrong of The Pen Habit does a great job describing that history in his review of the Duo Cart, and I highly recommend checking it out if you'd like to know more about this pen's origin.
Materials & Construction
The Duo Cart is available in two different color schemes: a black and chrome model, and the burgundy and gold "Bordeaux" model covered in this review. Both versions make use of acrylic and metal components.
Let's start with the cap: it's metal with thin walls which would seem to keep it lightweight, but at around 12 grams, it makes up almost half the weight of the pen. The clip on the cap is quite springy and flexes with ease without feeling cheap or flimsy. Moving on to the barrel, it's made of acrylic in a pleasing burgundy hue. Inside the barrel there's a metal liner, so eyedroppering this pen is probably out of the question. Finally, the section is also acrylic, with a small set of metal rings where it meets the barrel.
The pen uses a cartridge/converter filling system and I believe it did include a converter out of the box when new. It also includes a set of blue and black ink cartridges. Interestingly, the name of the pen derives from the fact that it was originally designed to hold two short cartridges in the barrel: one in use, and one spare. However, the longer design of Aurora's current cartridges precludes this arrangement in the modern iteration of the Duo Cart.
Build quality on the Duo Cart leaves something to be desired. Both the barrel and cap have accumulated micro-scratches galore. Certainly, some of these may be the result of the previous owner of the pen, but even in the time I've owned it, it's gotten pretty scuffed up despite mostly gentle use.
Aesthetics aside, what's most disappointing about this pen is that it has a serious issue with what I can only describe as "sweating" ink. If I let this pen go unused for even short periods of time, even in temperature-controlled conditions, the next time I go to use it I'll remove the cap and find ink condensation all over the section. I don't believe the pen is full-on leaking, as I have yet to find ink inside the cap, but ink is definitely somehow escaping the nib/feed area and making its way onto the section. And even though I can't find noticeable volumes of ink inside the cap, trace residue of the ink must be present, because posting the pen results in that same residue making its way onto the back of the barrel. It's a bizarre feat that I've not experienced on any other pen I own and has irritated me to no end.
On the plus side, the design of the Duo Cart is quite charming. You can tell from one glance that this pen comes from a different era, and I like that uncommon aesthetic. Starting with the cap again, it has a flat, unadorned top with subtle striations that run down it. Two small inscriptions reside at the bottom of the cap: "AURORA" on one side, and "MADE IN ITALY" on the other, both in blocky all-caps lettering.
The section and barrel are mostly plain and are polished smooth. The barrel has a whisper of transparency to it, which I would normally enjoy, except for the fact that the aforementioned metal liner renders the majority of the barrel opaque. That means light only really passes through the very tail end of the barrel, which allows the piston on the converter to show through under certain lighting conditions. I really wish Aurora had opted to make the barrel either entirely transparent or entirely opaque, but the decision to use both transparency and the metal liner in the barrel allows for a mish-mashed look that doesn't really please me.
In the Hand
At around 133mm capped, the Duo Cart is one of the shorter pens in my collection (pocket pens excepted) but never feels too short. Regardless of where I place my fingers on the section, the back end of the barrel always meets the crook of my thumb and forefinger, allowing for a comfortable writing experience.
One of the best aspects of this pen is its streamlined design. Much like the Parker 51, the section transitions neatly into the barrel. A small set of rings lies where the two meet, but the rings themselves are polished smooth and never feel uncomfortable or abrasive in use. This element of the design is much appreciated, as it prevents the sort of abrupt "step up" that I tend not to prefer. The long section allows for a variety of grips, so regardless of whether you tend to hold your pen closer to the nib or farther back on the section, you should be able to find a grip that works for you. I absolutely love that, as I often hold my pens differently depending on what writing style I'm using (e.g., closer to the nib for print, farther back for cursive).
Though the pen can technically be posted, the cap on my pen never seems to get enough purchase on the back of the barrel to post securely. I've become quite annoyed at this fact on several occasions now, and I would much rather have a pen that clearly does not post than one that gives me the impression that it posts, only to betray me under even gentle use.
Material & Design
The Duo Cart features a hooded stainless steel nib, but it's only available in one size: medium. Though I tend to be flexible with nib sizes, and medium is a size I generally prefer, the lack of choice may be a dealbreaker for some.
As with the design of the pen, the nib's design is also a bit of a mixed bag. While I am normally a huge fan of hooded nibs, the design approach on the Duo Cart doesn't particularly strike me. For starters, unlike the design on the Parker 51 or its various Chinese "homages," the cut-out for the nib on the Duo Cart is rather large and exposes a significant portion of the feed. I can somewhat understand the approach; after all, on any pen with a hooded nib, some portion of the area near the nib must be cut away or flattened out to prevent contact with the writing surface. But the Parker 51 (and LAMY 2000 for that matter) manages to do so with a more elegant design that conceals the majority of the feed. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if the feed itself were designed to complement the rest of the pen, but that isn't the case. Rather, the feed on the Duo Cart is blocky and has a large, square-shaped channel cut into its underside, and both of these design elements contrast with the soft curves and gentle tapers found on the body of the pen.
The nib on the Duo Cart allows for quite an enjoyable writing experience. It's a very wet writer, and makes shading inks even more pleasant to use. The medium nib is generally true to my expectation of a Western medium. It's also quite smooth, which came as a bit of a surprise to me because of the design of the nib. Most of the tipping material lies below the plane of the tines, so I was expecting the Duo Cart to have a "sweet spot," but in my testing it has written consistently no matter how I vary the angle at which I hold the pen.
If it weren't for the ink sweat problem, I could see this pen being one of my go-tos for extended writing sessions. It's lightweight, has great ergonomics, and the nib is smooth and writes wet. But the ink issue has been a nightmare, and despite my efforts to tune and adjust it, I can't seem to find a fix. With that said, these issues may be unique to the pen I am testing, and because I purchased it used, I'm reluctant to totally condemn the pen for these peculiarities. But it may be something you want to inquire about from the seller if you're looking to pick one up.
At the time of its debut, the Aurora Duo Cart retailed for a little over $150. At that price, I would not be inclined to deem the pen a good value, particularly if the troubles I've had are widespread. However, the pen is no longer widely available at retail, so you'll likely have to look to the secondhand market to find one.
As of the time of this writing, used Duo Carts in good condition tend to sell for around $90 - $110. If you can snag one for under $100, I think there's decent value to be had, provided you enjoy the design. With that said, I think there's better value to be had with inexpensive Parker 51 homage pens from Chinese manufacturers, as long as you don't take issue with copycat design. For example, the Wing Sung 601 can be had for under $20 and has many of the same ergonomic perks of the Duo Cart (but with lower quality materials). For me personally, I think I'd much rather buy one of these inexpensive options and pocket the extra $70-$90.
Final Thoughts & Score
- charming vintage-inspired design
- comfortable ergonomics
- hooded nib is chic; writes smooth and wet
- ink "sweats" onto the section when pen goes unused, even for short periods
- cap does not post securely
- poor value, particularly when compared to inexpensive Parker 51 homage pens from Chinese manufacturers