Swiss Exotic for 1985
Motorcycles from the modern era owe much to the production special. Engineered to a level beyond the need of those satisfied the special build advanced ideas and ideals to focus on a very specific task. Alas, speed lacking composure wastes the effort by bringing the machine back within the confines of mass-produced compromise. That’s the trick, and no one pulled 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, but need for these decreased dramatically when Japan’s chassis homework was applied to the showroom.
Among the best known production specialist, Swiss engineer Fritz Egli parlayed his mountain racing championships (as both a rider and tuner) to introduce speedy, Vincent-powered specials in 1967. With the new Honda Four Egli had a solid, mainstream component in which to invest, applying his original frame design to the SOHC and a succession of engines from Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and many more. In a report published in the October, 1985 issue of Cycle, tester Ken Vreeke not only noted Japan’s rapid accention up the chassis ladder, but his clear preferance for their perimeter frame design. Aided in no small way 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 at the Slater Brothers Kenwood, Califoirnia facility, the stock (except for a 4-into-1 exhaust and velocity stacks) air-cooled, DOHC GS1100 was placed directly beneath a massive 100mm spine and tied to the front with short, braced tubes. Continuing back the main-tube splits directly behind the intakes to connect the pivot plates and rear engine mounting. Attaching the aft bodywork and seat, a trianglulated 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’s described the Egli as a low production ‘standard’ featuring Egli’s traditional nickle-plated frame, his ingeniously effective braced fork, Campagnolo wheels, and a mix of Brembo and Lockheed brakes. Measuring 57″ between axles, the Egli Suzuki weighed in a full 100-lb lighter than the production GS1100 Suzuki.
Including details of outrageously expensive, 185-mph Kawasaki-powered MDR specials, Vreeke reported his Egli GS1100 was “plenty fast” but added, “The sane speed steering is slow and heavy, this, despite a fairly steep 27.5 steering head angle and short wheelbase. On all but the fastest passageways the Egli GS1100 is an uncompromising instrument with harsh suspensions and inexplictible egros. 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 mid-80s endurance build rekindles my love of the era. Ken Vreeke’s description of Egli as a ‘homebrew coachbuilder’ is priceless, and his analysis of the Egli as a meat grinder spot on. It’s the best report I’ve seen on the Egli brand and even better with Rich Cox’s stunning film 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 Egli’s price reflected 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 reveals the Egli was a bargain, especially considering the heritage attached to the maker’s name. That profpund 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, it happened anyway. Nolan Woodbury
Egli GS1100 (1985 specification)
Engine: DOHC, 1075cc air-cooled, 16v inline four.
Intake: 4-34mm Mikuni
4-into-1 header, velocity stocks
Five-speed w/chain final
Chassis: Nickle-plated steel spine
Front: Egli braced fork
Rear: Monoshock swinging arm
18” Campagnolo alloy wheels
Wet weight: 435-lb