When considering the best and most famous French motorcycle rallies of all time, the short list must surely be headed by the winter rally of Millevaches, and the summer rally of Chamois 2770. The former was organised by MC 95 of Enghien les Bains, whose mythical first meeting was in December 1969 at Mont Audouze, in central France, and the latter by the BMW Club of France, whose first meeting took place in July 1965 in Val d´Isere, a famous ski resort in the French Alps.
Two prominent members of the BMW Club of France, Jean Murit and Pierre de Seynes were behind the creation of the Chamois 2770 rally, as well as the Bol d'Or rebirth meeting in 1969, run in association with MC Chatillonnais. To better understand the Chamois rally and the organisation behind it, right up until its last meeting in 1972, it's essential to throw some light on the two personalities responsible for its creation.
Born in the early 1920s, Jean Murit quickly made his mark in the world of motorcycling. Originally a motorcycle dealer near Paris, his burning desire was to 'rub shoulders' with the competition. In 1948 this took him to his first race in the Bol d'Or, but with a much improved BMW R 73 which he himself modified.
This first race outing proved unsuccessful, most likely due to his lack of experience but also shortage of funds. His tyres burst during the race and the overheated spark plugs melted the pistons.
However, encouraged by the great French pilot of the time, Georges Monneret, Jean Murit decided to continue his apprenticeship as a professional pilot, whilst keeping his BMW and still taking part in various races in France and abroad.
By the end of 1949, he had acquired a Gilera 500 which suffered many mechanical problems, later buying a 350 AJS, which proved to be just as unreliable.
Jean Murit - 4 times French Champion and 5th in the Sidecar World Championship in 1951.
One of his friends lent him his Norton to race in the Grand Prix of Luxembourg after both his Gilera and AJS broke down. Jean Murit excelled using the Norton and was victorious. Excited by the performance of this very English bike, in 1951 he bought himself a Norton and finally won his first French Champion title on it.
In that same year he finished fifth in the FIM sidecar world championship with Andre Emo and following this tremendous performance, Murit gave up his career as a solo racer, devoting himself solely to sidecar racing where he excelled.
In 1952, he bought his rival Haldemann's machine, and achieved much success winning some great places despite experiencing financial problems in his career as a private pilot.
In 1955, he won a new crown of Champion of France and repeated the achievement in '56 and '57.
Jean Murit racing his BMW outfit in Mulhouse in 1957 with passenger Francis Flahaut
In 1958, his close friend Jacques Drion, another famous French sidecar racer was killed at the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix, and Jean wisely decided to end his sidecar racing career.
Murit had very sensibly already planned his retirement. He took over the running of his store, started back in 1946, and opened several other concessions selling major motorcycle brands. His most famous store remains the 'Espace Murit' located in Rue Lacordaire in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.
The 'Espace Murit' store and its staff in 1972
Meanwhile, Jean Murit forged a solid reputation in the industry and benefited greatly from the love affair the European market exhibited in the 1960s for Japanese machines, especially with the incredible commercial success of the four-cylinder Honda CB 750.
In the 1990s, Jean Murit retired to the South of France before passing away on 19 September 2013 at the age of 91.
Pierre de Seynes belongs to the fifth generation of heirs to the luxury fashion house Hermes. In the 1970s he held the position of managing director of Parfums Hermes.
Passionate about motorcycles and the owner of a BMW R69S, Pierre held the position of secretary general of the BMW Club of France for almost twenty years.
Pierre de Seynes - Heir to the prestigious luxury house Hermes.
From the early 1960s to the late 1970s, Pierre de Seynes not only shared a friendship with Jean Murit, but for nearly twenty years they held a common passion for the BMW Club of France and almost every Saturday they would meet at Jean Murit's store to exchange ideas and prepare upcoming club events.
A gathering created for enthusiasts or a commercial operation in disguise?
In 1965, the BMW Club de France intended to create a large, friendly non-profit annual rally meeting. At least that's how it was announced at the time in the press, although without mentioning the name of Jean Murit being behind its organisation.
Chamois 1965 - Jean Murit (white jacket) and his guest of honour Marielle Goitschel (on the BMW). Goitschel was a famous Alpine ski racer who won Olympic gold medals in both the slalom and giant slalom events in the 1960s
Though Jean Murit was a true motorcycle enthusiast and a talented visionary, his business acumen and commercial ambition were well known. It is therefore not surprising that some die-hard rallyists of the time saw the Chamois 2770 rally merely masquerading as a nothing more than a subtle commercial operation.
With the importation into France of the first Japanese motorcycles in the early 1960s, it is said that Jean Murit had the vision to be the first to realise that he had everything to gain by creating the Chamois rally. Remember too, that this was right at the time when French youth were beginning to discover the new fashion phenomenon of motorcycling. The 'motorcycle revival' was underway and unstoppable.
Let's be fair and give him the benefit of the doubt regarding his motivation for creating the Chamois 2770 rally! Jean Murit, like his close friend Pierre de Seynes, deserve at least the recognition due to them for having successfully set up a summer gathering of such scope. This meeting enjoyed the reputation of having been the largest French event of its kind; and even today, the legend of Chamois 2770 continues to fuel discussions among rallyists.
Chamois 1966 - participants in the town of Val d'Isere
A brief history of the Chamois 2770 from 1965 to 1972
For seven consecutive years, from 1965 to 1971, Val d´Isere was the venue each July for this notorious international gathering, although its last meeting in 1972, took place in Pra Loup, in the Alpes de Haute Provence.
Three different commemorative badges were produced for the 8 Chamois 2770 gatherings.
The rally organizers would reward the rallyists who had participated in 5 Chamois rallies, by offering them a special bronze bar, (to be added to their existing Chamois badge), on which was engraved the legend 'Chamois de Bronze' (Bronze Chamois).
Chamois 1967 - The owner of this British 1937 Brough Superior outfit came all the way from Chester to the 1967 Val d'Isere meeting
The number of participants in figures:
1965: 205 registered
1968: 1200 registered
1969: 2,800 registered
1971: 6,000 registered
Chamois 1968 - Some enthusiasts may feel there are too many automobiles for a motorcycle rally …
Over the years the participants of the Chamois rally proved very different to those attending other established major international rallies. Some of the old die-hard rallyists of the time were of course in attendance, but the overwhelming majority were younger people from the 'motorcycle revival generation'. Unsurprising really, since this gathering was created for them!
Chamois 1969 - Rallyists on the northern flank of the Iseran pass, 'en route' towards the chapel of Notre Dame de Toute-Prudence located at 2,770 meters above sea level
Not to be outdone however the motorcycle industry was not far behind, so to speak,and of course keen to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the rally. Companies such as BMW France, Honda France, Kawasaki, Japauto, Krajka, Voguesport, Valdevit, and many others are represented at the rally; as well as Radio Monte Carlo.
Apart from the traditional commemorative medal, the registration entitles, among other things, to lifts in the cable car and a ticket for the prize draw. In 1970 the three top prizes were a brand new BMW R50 / 5 and two 'all expenses paid' trips to London to attend the Motor Cycle Show.
Chamois 1970 - A view of the superb scenery showing rallyists gathering at 2.770 metres d'altitude
Over the years, a few celebrities,(often having nothing to do with the motorcycle world), were invited as guests of honour. Amongst them were Marielle Goitshel, Jean-Claude Killy and Honore Bonnet, all illustrious French ski champions.
The Chamois rally was also attended by George Moustaki, a French singer-songwriter known for having composed 'Milord', a significant hit in 1958 for chanteuse Edith Piaf, (with whom he had a very public love affair), and Grand Prix motorcycle road racer Michel Rougerie who was killed in 1981 while competing at the Yugoslavian Grand Prix.
One year, the organisers even announced a concert to take place at the rally featuring one of the greatest French singer of all time, 'the French Elvis Presley', Johnny Halliday… who in the event never appeared!
Chamois 1971 - The horde of rallyists in the city centre of Val d'Isere
However due to the many road accidents occurring in its region in previous years, the municipality of Val d´Isere ultimately refused to host the upcoming Chamois meeting of 1972.
The rally therefore had nowhere to go, but the former French ski champion Honore Bonnet, one of the founders and managing director of the ski resort of Pra-Loup, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, stepped in and offered to host the 1972 Chamois.
In the event, the 1972 rally had more than 7000 registered rallyists, but the crowd of participants was actually estimated at nearly 10,000. It was obvious the organisation would no longer be able to cope with this unexpected invasion which quickly overwhelmed the place.
Chamois 1972 - The number of participants that year was estimated at nearly 10,000
The final nail in the coffin proved to be the dreadful and unexpected weather striking the region that weekend. A storm of biblical proportions fell on Pra-Loup and on the massive crowd of participants.
The water from the neighbouring valley overflowed and the storm was so intense that the runoff water flooded the buildings and the electricity failed! The participants found themselves in total darkness.
With the electricity supply cables down due to the storm the concert and the radio broadcast planned by Radio Monte Carlo were cancelled.
Frustrated young people who had undoubtedly had too much to drink were looking for someone to blame and Honore Bonnet, Pra-Loup's ski resort managing director was forced into temporary hiding. The atmosphere was tense and the police were forced to intervene on numerous occasions.
The participants were faced with a cancelled schedule and a meeting in disarray due to the disastrous weather and the organisers themselves were completely overwhelmed.
The toll was heavy; numerous landslides, a burned down chalet, 70 sheep struck by lightning, some fatal accidents and numerous minor injuries. The local hospital was totally overwhelmed.
This is how the Chamois 2770, the most notorious French summer motorcycling rally, sadly, definitively and disastrously ended in July 1972!
- Jean-Francois Helias