An ELF with big ideas

French lubricant giant Elf has a long and illustrious history of involvement in motorsport both four wheeled and two. For bikers of a certain age, Elf conjures up images of race bikes with radical chassis configurations, avant-garde styling and advanced engineering oozing from every pore.

Andre de Cortanza was the man at the heart of the project as visionary and lead designer; but the project also owes much to Elf marketing director Francois Guiter who green lighted de Cortanza’s ideas and showed faith over multiple iterations of the concepts from Endurance and Grand Prix racing to solo speed attempts.

De Cortanza’s initial design, the ELF-X, was built in 1978, around a Yamaha TZ750 engine. The ELF-X used the engine as a stressed member and had almost no ‘frame’ to speak of, using the soon to be characteristic 'swingarm” at the front and rear of the machine plus a hub-centre steered front wheel. The core aim was to eliminate the frame, lower the centre of gravity, eliminate fork dive under braking, and reduce weight – quite a shopping list and something most manufacturers were shy of, except Honda.

It was not all about corners though, more about breaking barriers either in design ethos of indeed speed. In that vein, a super-streamlined version of the ELF was built for record-breaking – the ELF-R. A radical wind tunnel developed set of bodywork was designed with a conical ‘dustbin’ fairing and NACA ducts for cooling the motor and brakes, one of the first times these were used on a motorcycle.

With the same HRC-1000 engine as in the endurance bike, in 1986 the ELF-R reached 200mph in Nardo, Italy, and riders H. Auriol, E. Courly and C. de Liard captured 6 World Speed Records. It may not have been pretty, but it was pretty damn fast!

issued: Wednesday, November 23, 2022
updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2022

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