ELF and the motorcycle project
Ron (Rocket) Haslam with the 500cc equipped with the HONDA NS 3-cylinder engine
At the end of the 70's, the oil company ELF aligned itself with André de Cortanze's idea and started a revolutionary project in the area of the cycling part of motorcycles. At the time, de Cortanze, was a young engineer (lover of motorcycling) linked to the motor racing project (in 1967 he joined ALPINE and his career passed through PEUGEOT TALBOT, where he was closely linked to the successes in rallies, and in the 24 hours of Le Mans, in 1993 it passed to SAUBER F1, later it was linked to LIGIER, TOYOTA - F1 and 24 hours of Le Mans - and PESCAROLO SPORT). The initial idea was completely unorthodox: the engine was the central structure where the suspension systems were anchored. The rear swingarm was mono and the front suspension consisted of a double wishbone superimposed with a system of connecting rods for the steering.
In order to lower the center of gravity, the fuel tank was located under the engine. Soichiro Honda, founder of the brand with the same name, was passionate about these engineering solutions. In total, during the period that this project lasted, 18 patents were registered, which HONDA later acquired.
In the initial version (ELFx Endurance), which had the hand of the designer Daniel Tréma, who later became project leader due to Cortanze's departure, a 2T engine from the YAMAHA TZ 750 was used. Michel Rougerie was chosen as a development driver, having also participated in a race (in 1979) without a relevant result.
Later, in 1980, the collaboration with HONDA began, still in the Endurance. The engine block of the CB 900 was chosen, and with Christian LeLiard, Walter Villa and Dave Aldana at the controls, they achieved some results. In the Endurance, the speed of changing wheels was an advantage.
The alteration of the technical rules, reduction of displacement to 750cc, in the Endurance, anticipated the end of this project. Later, in 1984 a 500 GP was presented with this technology. At his command, Ron Haslam had some meritorious performances, however, in fact, practical superiority was never proven. At the end of 1988 the project came to an end. In 1986, ELF presented the R (record) version, equipped with a 4T 1000cc HONDA engine, in the hands of Christian LeLiard, Éric Courly, Hubert Auriol and Ron Haslam, beat, in Nardò (I), 6 world records of speed for this version and 4 world records for the version equipped with the 2T 500 engine. Also this year, Ron Haslam (9th in the CMV) triumphs in a non-championship event, the Macau GP.
The question remains: if a rider did all the learning with this technology, would the results be better? Once again, the revolutionary front suspension system presented as a great advantage the smaller variation, in operation, of the distance between axles and, once again, the advantage, in relation to the telescopic ones, was not proven!