THE FAMILY LINE

Classic Racer - - CLASSIC RACER IN DETAIL -

The 1996 Elf 500 marked the re­turn to the GP arena of the French pe­tro­leum gi­ant with a bike bear­ing its own name for the first time since 1988. How­ever, whereas Elf’s pre­vi­ous in­volve­ment in GP rac­ing was con­cerned with push­ing back the fron­tiers of two-wheeled chas­sis de­sign, this time around the em­pha­sis was on the avant­garde de­sign fea­tures of the Swis­sauto en­gine, housed in a rel­a­tively con­ven­tional ROC chas­sis.the orig­i­nal­ity of many of these fea­tures was thor­oughly in keep­ing with Elf’s em­pha­sis on break­ing new ground tech­ni­cally, which has been displayed down the years by the bikes bear­ing its own name. Here’s a walk down Elf’s mem­ory lane:

1978: French car de­signer An­dré de Cor­tanze, an en­thu­si­as­tic biker, builds a rad­i­cal hub-cen­tre racer for the French oil com­pany with atz750yamaha en­gine, known as the Elf X. It’s never raced, but the en­thu­si­as­tic pub­lic re­sponse dic­tates a fol­low-up.

1981-83: Elf links with Honda to pro­duce the Elfe en­durance racer, de­signed by de Cor­tanze and pow­ered by a Honda RSC 1000 four-stroke en­gine, and raced by top rid­ers like Dave Al­dana, Di­dier de Radiguès, Wal­ter Villa and Chris­tian Leliard to a se­ries of im­pres­sive re­sults. Among the ground-break­ing fea­tures of this hub-cen­tre de­sign were the first use of car­bon brakes in mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing and the sin­gle-sided rear swingarm de­sign later chris­tened the Pro-arm, and used by Honda on the RC30 and its many suc­ces­sors un­der li­cence.

1984: ELF switches to 500cc GP rac­ing with an­other hub-cen­tre de Cor­tanze de­sign, the Elf2, pow­ered by Honda’s NS500 two-stroke triple and equipped with a unique push-pull steer­ing de­sign. But this is hard to be­come ac­cus­tomed to, and the bike does not prove to be a suc­cess.

1985: De Cor­tanze pro­duces the Elf2a, with which Leliard makes Elf’s 500cc GP de­but, us­ing an ever greater num­ber of car-de­rived de­sign fea­tures. It isn’t a suc­cess ei­ther – An­dré re­turns to the car world, later to be­come the chief en­gi­neer of the Ligier For­mula 1 team.

1986: Elf gets prag­matic, without sac­ri­fic­ing orig­i­nal thought, and hires Serge Ros­set to run their GP team, with de Cor­tanze’s former right-hand man Dantrema de­sign­ing the Elf3, equipped with a special front end de­sign called the VGC sys­tem. Ron Haslam takes it to ninth place in the 500cc World Cham­pi­onship, still pow­ered by Honda’s now out­dated three-cylin­der en­gine.trema later be­comes ‘le grand fro­mage’ of Elf spon­sor­ship, in charge of the com­pany’s en­tire mo­tor­sports ac­tiv­ity.

1987: Honda agrees to sup­ply Elf with its NSR500 four-cylin­der en­gine, but this doesn’t turn up un­til af­ter the start of the sea­son, so thetrema-de­signed Elf4, broadly based on the Elf3, ar­rives late and is never prop­erly de­vel­oped.

1988: The Nsr500-en­gined Elf5 takes Haslam to 11th place in the World Cham­pi­onship and proves the fun­da­men­tal worth of thetrema/ros­set de­sign mod­ule. Elf re­tires from di­rect in­volve­ment in rac­ing at the end of the sea­son...

1989-95: ...but still stays in­volved in GP rac­ing as a trade spon­sor, win­ning the 125cc world ti­tle with Loris Capirossi and the 500cc world crown with Mick Doohan, etc.

1996-97: ELF is back in busi­ness in 500GP rac­ing – but shouldn’t they have called the Swis­sauto-en­gined, Roc-framed Elf 500 the Elf6?

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