Swiss Exotic for 1985

Egli GSX 1100

Motorcycles from the modern era owe much to the production special. Engineered to a level beyond the need of most riders, the special frame advanced ideas and ideals to focus on a very specific task. Yet, speed without composure wastes the effort by bringing the motorcycle back within the confines of mass-produced compromise. That’s the trick, and no one did it better than Fritz Egli.

With blistering twins, triples, fours and sixes the 1970s are remembered fondly for its engines. Weary of comparisons that left their best eating dust when the trail grew twisty, Japan’s Big Four used the following decade to usher in chassis technology that quickly closed the gap. This was done with time-honed methods including racetrack technology and borrowing good ideas from outside efforts. Before that, inline owners seeking better manners had a choice of aftermarket frame specialists to choose from; Rickman, Seeley, Harris (UK) and Moto Martin (France) to name just a few. When the cost for exotic frames dropped and mass production put them in showrooms, the market diminished dramatically.

Among the best known production specialists, the Swiss engineer wore many hats: engineer, fabricator, market and design…the latter a skill for which Egli remains vastly underrated. Parlaying his mountain racing championships as both a rider and tuner into a business, Egli hung his shingle in 1967 and began making frames for like-minded Vincent owners. With the new Honda 750 of 1969, Egli (and a bunch others) had a solid, mainstream component in which to invest. Applying his signature barrel-frame design to the SOHC 750, a succession of kits for Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and others followed to complete Egli’s (always evolving) catalog. In a report published in Cycle’s October 1985 issue, veteran tester Ken Vreeke not only noted Japan’s rapid ascension up the chassis ladder, but his preference for their newer perimeter frames. Aided in profound ways by his relationship with the legendary Roger Slater, Egli continued to earn favor through results with his stressed-tube backbone. Much better results, it seems, than Vreeke expected.

Included among several exotics (NS400R, Ducati TT750 and Suzuki RG 500) in a special “High Rollers” feature showcased in the same issue, the Egli’s dated GS four might have seemed old news, but its performance wasn’t. Assembled for Cycle’s test at Slater’s Kenwood, Califoirnia facility,  a 4-into-1 exhaust and velocity stacks were added to an otherwise stock 4v, 1100cc twin-cam then placed directly beneath Egli’s massive, 100mm spine. Buttoned into the crankcase lugs using short tubes, the top-tube splits directly behind the intakes to connect the pivot plates and rear engine mounting. Attaching the aft bodywork and seat, a triangulated sub-frame supports the rider and saves room under for the battery and monoshock. Drilled for lightness, aluminum plates fit horizontally to mount the controls; footpegs, exhaust, and master cylinder. Note how these plates fit between the crankcase and frame to keep the Egli narrow as possible. Usually built to order, Vreeke accurately described his test bike as a low production ‘basic’ featuring Egli’s traditional nickle-plated frame, his ingeniously effective bridged fork, Campagnolo wheels, and a mix of Brembo and Lockheed brake components. Measuring 57″ between axles, the EVS 1100 is a full 100-lb lighter than Suzuki’s production GS1100.

Including details of outrageously expensive, 185-mph Kawasaki-powered MDR specials, Vreeke reported the basic-issue Egli GS1100 was “plenty fast” but added, “During normal riding at sane speeds, the steering is slow and heavy. This, despite a fairly steep 27.5 steering head angle and short wheelbase. On all but the fastest, smoothest highways the Egli GS1100 is an uncompromising instrument with harsh suspensions and inexplicable ergonomics. But slash past the 100-mph mark and you begin to see what the remarkably stable, spine framed Egli is all about.” For this writer, the Egli’s dominate, Bol d’Or endurance build rekindles the lore of that era. The best of times. Ken Vreeke’s description of Egli as a ‘homebrew coachbuilder’ is priceless, and his analysis of the Egli as a meat grinder is spot on. It’s the best report I’ve read on Egli, made even better with Rich Cox’s stunning photography.

For riders who appreciate fine fabrication and view spartan accoutrements as the defining nature of a true high performance motorcycle, the Egli is certain to appeal. Sadly tagged as a toy for the affluent, the price reflects the time, skill, materials and dedication needed for this specification. All too often and certainly in this case “high price” reflects a common misconception. The truth of it proves the Egli was a bargain, especially considering the heritage attached to the maker’s name. That profound performance inspired both endless copies and mainstream production, evidenced by Bloor’s early Triumphs. That reality exposes Vreeke’s only editorial misstep – claiming that even Egli himself knew his rough-hewn specials would never attain “Mantelpiece Status”. Sorry Ken, but it happened anyway. Nolan Woodbury

Egli GSX 1100 (1985 specification)
Engine: DOHC, 1075cc air-cooled, 16v inline four.
Compression: 9.5:1
Intake: 4-34mm Mikuni
Special features: 4-into-1 header, velocity stocks
Five-speed w/chain final
Chassis: Nickle-plated steel spine
Front: Egli braced fork in magnesium
Rear: Monoshock swinging arm
18” Campagnolo alloy wheels
Brakes: Brembo/Lockheed
Wet weight: 435-lb

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