Egli-Vincent: the Café Racer built by Godet

The Egli-Vincent Café Racer, built by Godet, is a modern take on a classic masterpiece.

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Greg Williams
  • Engine: 1,330cc air-cooled OHV V-twin, 92mm x 100mm bore and stroke, 8.3:1 compression ratio, 100hp @ 6,000rpm
  • Top speed (approx.): 138mph
  • Carburetion: Dual Mikuni Concentric 36mm
  • Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
  • Electrics: 12v Alton alternator, electronic ignition
  • Frame/wheelbase: Egli-style tubular steel w/engine as stressed member/56.5in (1,435mm)
  • Suspension: 35mm Ceriani GP replica forks front, dual shock rear
  • Brakes: 8.3in (210mm) 4-cam magnesium drum front, 7in (178mm) SLS drum rear
  • Tires: 3.50 x 19in front, 4.10 x 18in rear
  • Weight: 392lb (178kg)
  • Seat height: 30.3in (769.2mm)
  • Fuel capacity: 3.7gal (14ltr)

Canadian folk-rock troubadour Corin Raymond has a tune called Hand On Things, which appears on his 2016 album, Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams.

While not exactly a theme song for Jim Balestrieri, some of the lyrics do echo how the Wisconsin man, who is an automobile racer, motorcycle collector and a partner in the Elkhart Lake-based Throttlestop Museum, describes himself.

Corin Raymond sings in Hard On Things:

“I’m hard on every tool I use

I strip the drivers and the screws

I’m hard on my soles

hard on my heels

hard on tires I’m hard on wheels

hard on clutches hard on brakes

I’m hardest on my own mistakes

my suspension needs new springs

’cause I’m hard on things.”

Jim says, “I do race cars, and I’m not known for something being more valuable when I’m done with it,” and, he admits, “I’m hard on things. The last thing I want to do is take something out and wreck it, and not be able to find a replacement.”

He’s speaking of the Egli-Vincent Café Racer seen in these photographs. The bike was purchased early in 2018 at the Mecum auction in Las Vegas. “This is a drop-dead gorgeous bike, it’s distinctive and, as a continuation model Egli-Vincent, it’s unique,” Jim says.

The lineage

What exactly is a Godet Egli-Vincent? To answer that, we’ll first introduce the late Patrick Godet, who died on November 25, 2018, at the age of 67.

According to fellow Motorcycle Classics contributor and author Alan Cathcart, writing early in 2019 in Classic Bike magazine, Godet was just 23 years old in 1974 when he bought a Vincent Black Shadow. That same year, using money he’d saved serving in the French military, Godet opened a Vincent tuning and restoration business. From this venture, he earned enough money to buy a Vincent Black Prince, a model he used exclusively for touring.

But by the late 1970s, when Godet turned his attention to the nascent French historic motorcycle racing scene, the Black Prince was sold, and he tuned his Black Shadow to Lightning specification. He referred to this machine as the Spéciale, aka “Le Gros Avion.” With further fine-tuning, the Spéciale participated in British historic racing events and in the hands of rider Hubert Rigal, in 1985, the duo won the Vintage Race of the Year at Brands Hatch. This honor, Cathcart notes, helped ensure Godet Engineering became a name firmly connected with Vincent machines.

Fritz Egli

Next, we must introduce Fritz Egli. Born in 1937 in Zurich, Switzerland, Egli was an enthusiastic machinist and motorcyclist who spent a short time in California in the early 1960s. While in the U.S., he desert-raced an Ariel, and also developed a deep appreciation for traditional blues music.

When he returned home to Switzerland, Egli began specializing in fine-tuning and racing Vincent motorcycles. He campaigned a Vincent Black Shadow, and quickly determined the factory frame was no match for the power he was able to coax from the V-twin engine. The Vincent frame consisted of an oil-bearing square-section top. Attached to this “spine” was the neck, complete with a Vincent Girdraulic fork. The 50-degree V-twin Vincent engine was suspended below the spine, and acted as a stressed member with a triangulated swingarm bolted to the rear of the powerplant.

Suspension was provided by two shocks, essentially located under the seat. The shocks were anchored to the rear of the spine and angled back to join the upper section of the swingarm. All of these frame components were bolted together, and Egli realized that to make a Vincent truly handle, he needed to create a stiffer frame of his own design incorporating modern shocks at the rear. He started with a 4.5-inch diameter top tube that would hold six pints of oil, and the V-twin engine was still used as a stressed member.

Instead of the under-seat twin shock arrangement found on the Vincent, however, he made a strong subframe of 1-inch diameter tubing and conventionally mounted twin shock absorbers to meet up with a much stronger swingarm.

Going racing

With a front fork harvested from a Matchless G45 race bike, he campaigned his first Vincent special in 1968 at the Swiss Hill Climb Championship — and won.

In the hands of his official riders Fritz Peier and Florian Burki, the same Vincent went on to win the 1969, 1970 and 1971 Hill Climb Championship. It’s important to note that a European hill climb is not the same rough-and-tumble dirt affair seen in North America. Using closed mountain roads in this European format, competitors race up twisty asphalt routes to reach the summit in the quickest time possible.

With such successes to his name, Egli soon became a Vincent special builder, buying used machines and fine-tuning the V-twin engines before placing them in his own frame. Updated forks, carburetors, hubs, brakes, wheel rims and shocks came from mostly Italian suppliers, with customers choosing their preferred options.

Exact production numbers are unknown, but it is thought approximately 100 Egli-Vincents were built in his Swiss workshop.

When the ground-breaking Honda CB750, with its overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine debuted in 1969, Egli realized there could be a potential new market for his chassis. He began focusing on building frames to hold engines from not only Honda, but also Ducati, Kawasaki, Triumph and Yamaha.

Vincent history

We’ve been talking about Godet and Egli and their involvement with Vincent motorcycles and powerplants. Now, here’s a short primer on that British manufacturer.

In 1928, Philip Vincent purchased the remnants of the HRD Motors company, and began building Vincent HRD machines with a single-cylinder JAP engine and a cantilever frame of Vincent’s design. Shortly after that, the company was building a single-cylinder engine of its own, penned by chief engineer Phil Irving. It was Irving who drew the first Vincent V-twin, which debuted in the Series A Rapide in 1936.  Development of the marque continued, and the company soon boasted they were makers of “The World’s Fastest Motorcycle,” but by the mid-1950s Vincent had hit hard times.

In 1954, in an effort to increase slow sales, Vincent introduced the Series D line of machines, and these were essentially marketed as high-speed touring motorcycles. Both the Black Knight, based on the Rapide, and the Black Prince, based on the Shadow, were fitted with full body enclosures. The body parts were made of fiberglass, including a “beaked” front fender, a handlebar fairing and a rear tub that hinged for access to the rear wheel and chain.

Vincent fitted the Series D motorcycles with a hand operated center stand, actuated by the rider from the saddle. A large lever on the left side of the machine was employed to raise and lower the stand. Also, the Series D was the first and only Vincent equipped with battery and coil ignition and Amal Monobloc carburetors. Enclosing the motorcycles did nothing to help sales, and in 1955 Vincent ceased production of its powered two-wheelers.

Egli and Godet come together

By the time Egli entered the picture in 1965, new motorcycles hadn’t rolled out of Vincent’s factory doors for 10 years. In Britain, the old Vincent machines were considered antiquated, but, as noted earlier, the 998cc V-twin could be tuned to achieve significantly more power. Initially rated for some 45 horsepower in the Rapide model, for example, in the hands of a capable tuner, the V-twin could be modified to make closer to 100 horsepower. With that kind of power, enthusiasts wanted a better frame and those faithful to the Vincent brand supported Egli’s work.

However, almost as soon as Egli built his first special Vincent frame, other firms took notice of the design. Some, such as Roger Slater in the U.K., who became an Egli-Vincent distributor in 1969, built Egli frames under license. Others simply took to producing Egli-style frames of their own, as Egli’s design was not trademarked.

Godet was very aware of Egli’s work, and in his workshop had been restoring not only Vincents, but also Egli-Vincents. By the mid-1990s, Godet had gone on to build a few Egli replicas himself. In 2000, at the Egli Meeting in Bettwil, Switzerland — home of Fritz Egli’s workshop — Godet presented one of his Café Racers to Egli, who was duly impressed by the build. The two quickly became friends, and Egli blessed Godet with the rights to reproduce his classic Vincent chassis.

Around that same time, Godet had also engineered and begun building his own 1,330cc Vincent engine with 92mm x 100mm bore and stroke. Improvements to the basic Vincent design were based on his racing experiences, and these engines were installed in his nickel-plated Egli chassis. By 2006, there was a long customer waiting list for one of these Godet-produced continuation model Egli-Vincents. These machines include the Café Racer and Sport GT. Godet also constructed 500cc single-cylinder Vincent engines, creating the 500 Grey Flash and Racer 500.

Godet’s 1,330cc engines featured updates such as electric start and electronic ignition. Options abounded on build details, including magnesium cases and either a 4- or 5-speed transmission linked to the crank via a multi-plate clutch.

Our subject bike

Jim’s Godet Egli-Vincent is powered by the 1,330cc engine and uses a 5-speed gearbox. This powerplant is equipped with gas-flowed cylinder heads and spent gases exit a curvaceous 2-into-1 exhaust system that’s capped with a BSA Gold Star muffler.

Most of Godet’s Café Racer models were fitted with Ceriani replica forks constructed by Maxton Suspension Specialists. Rear shocks were also by Maxton.

Magnesium front hub and brakes were 210mm 4-leading-shoe as standard, and that’s the size of brake found on Jim’s machine featured here. A larger 230mm front drum and backing plate was an option. Bringing up the rear was a 178mm drum brake. The front wheel is 19-inches in diameter, and the rear 18-inches with Borrani aluminum rims at both ends; Jim’s machine is shod with a Dunlop Roadmaster rear tire and Avon Speedmaster front tire.

Sitting atop the frame is the classic Egli banana-style aluminum gas tank. Clip-on bars are from Richard Peckett of P&M Motorcycles (U.K.), and the right side is equipped with a Tommaselli twist grip.

According to Philippe Guyony, author of Vincent Motorcycles, The Untold Story Since 1946 and the Egli-Vincent Section Organizer of the Vincent HRD Owners Club, the frame number on Jim’s Godet Egli-Vincent indicates the machine was produced in 2013, however, as a continuation model it’s titled as a 1968. It’s fitted with the optional half fairing, something that is claimed to add just two pounds of weight to a bike that, without the fairing, tips the scales at 392 pounds.

After the Godet Egli-Vincent was purchased from the Mecum auction, it was crated and transported to the Throttlestop museum. While Jim says he’s not aware of the bike’s history, it was obviously well cared for and had only traveled some 844 miles before being sold.

“It’s pristine,” Jim says of the motorcycle that was assembled with a great deal of craftsmanship in Godet’s workshop. “We cleaned it up a bit, but when you get something like this you really just leave it alone. And, like I said, I wouldn’t want to ride it and wreck it. I really am hard on things.” MC

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