The Elephant of Nantes

If you visit the historic French city of Nantes in the Loire Valley, don’t be surprised if you see a mechanical elephant lumbering down the street. It’s an engineering marvel that combines ingenuity and whimsy.

When you think of Nantes, the sixth-largest city in France, you might consider its naval history, Gothic cathedral, the spectacular château of the dukes of Brittany or its key position on the River Loire, surrounded by vineyards producing the famous Muscadet white wine. What you might not expect as you wander the city’s recently renovated shipyards on the Île de Nantes, the island in the city’s center, is being sprayed with water from the trunk of a 12-meter-high mechanical elephant out on a stroll with 50 passengers on board.

But in 2007, an unusual menagerie settled in the heart of the city. The western part of the Île de Nantes was transformed into a leisure and cultural destination, with bars, restaurants and nightclubs, along with an artistic and cultural project called Les Machines de l’Île.

François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, co-founders of Les Machines de l’Île, have been key players in the French street theater scene since 1985. Their aim is to make a connection between urban and cultural development through living architecture with a futurist vision that transforms the way we view our cities.

At the heart of Les Machines’ artistic process is motion. They create fantastical contraptions using a huge range of materials, including steel, leather, wood, glass, fabric and metal. These machines then “come to life,” captivating audiences.

The Grand Éléphant has been a star of the Nantes installation since it began. It carries 50 passengers on its back between the warehouses, home to Les Machines’ workshop and Gallerie des Machines, and the maritime-themed Carrousel des Mondes, on the banks of the Loire. It moves along at between one and three kilometers an hour, piloted by a driver who regales passengers with stories about the creature, and it gives the occasional blast of water through its trunk onto unsuspecting passersby.

From their perch atop the giant pachyderm, passengers can enjoy some breathtaking views of the former shipyards and beyond. They stand on balconies and terraces, accessed from a comfortable indoor lounge on the elephant’s back, with every part of it moving in a natural way.

Blinking its eyes, flapping its ears and waving its trunk, this incredibly lifelike creature appears to stride along on fully jointed powerful legs. Whereas, in fact, the elephant is driven from behind by a 450HP motor, while the driver sits in a cab tucked between the animal’s front legs. And underpinning it all, the cab and engine run on Trelleborg Elite XP tires, whose square footprint offers excellent stability, thanks to a greater contact area that has proven to be perfect for supporting such a spectacular work of art.


Premium Tires
The tires used for the Nantes elephant are the 16.00-25 model from the Trelleborg Elite XP premium range. Indeed, Trelleborg supplies similar products to other amusement parks and elephants. The Elite XP range offers premium non-marking tires made with special compounds for demanding material handling environments. An optional Pit Stop Line wear indicator ensures that users optimize the value of their product by replacing them at the right moment and provides reassurance that their tires are always safe to use.


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