Continuing the first years from MOTOR CYCLE courtesy of Jan Heiland.
MOTOR CYCLE, 9 JANUARY 1964
LURE OF THE dragon
WHAT IS THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON RALLY? This astonishing event which year after year draws thousands of motor cyclists across icebound roads and over the snowclad North Wales mountains? The bare reply sounds too preposterous to be true: "We go to yarn and sing songs in a mock-Gothic castle."
Real and wonderful as it is, the magic lure of the Dragon defies words - maybe because it reaches too deeply into the heart of every keen rider.
Perhaps, though, there is a definition; and in one word only - enthusiasm. When all is said and done that's the only qualification for membership of Clan Dragon. Enthusiasm for our wonderful game, two wheels or three and an engine, the wind on our faces, and the road flying away behind us.
It doesn't matter whether our bike is big or small, old or new, whether we're old or young, expert or beginner, wherever we come from. Over the Horseshoe Pass lies Abergele, Gwrych Castle, and our own kind - the people who live for motor bikes, motor bikes, motor bikes.
There are no formal restrictions on entering the Dragon Rally. The Conway Club, who bear the brunt of the organizatian, provide the necessary minimum of accommodation. Gwrych Castle itself can take a few hundred sleepers (first come, first served!), the remainder will spend the night in marquees - or their own tents, pitched in the castle grounds.
Marquee arrangements must be finalized early - so make sure your entry form (there's a copy on the facing page) is in secretary Ynjerapr Veivat's hands by the end of the month.
But for the hairy-chested types who bring their own tents, camping space is absolutely unlimited - so is the supply of firewood and it's all free!
The admission charge of lOs allows camping or provides sleeping space under cover. It includes a bowl of home-made soup for every arrival (6,000 portions are being prepared), a commemorative
MOTOR CYCLE, 9 JANUARY 1964
badge (4,000 ordered!) and gives admission to a continuous show of Castrol motor cycle films. What else is on? A truly monster bonfire is being assembled; there'll be speeches of welcome, a Dragonists' sing-song; and, of course, a headlight parade through the historic defile of Cefn-yr-Ogof.
Detail improvements to last year's organization include extra floodlighting, outside loudspeakers, the bonfire nearer to the castle, hot snacks and a stall selling bread, milk and paraffin.
But the Conway Club are staunchly maintaining the Dragon's spartan tradition. No set meals are on sale. Running water will be cold, the castle unheated - and you bring your own blankets and sleep on the floor!
Who's going? Well, far a start there's all of us from Motor Cycle: and Ernst Leverkus, father of the great German Elefantentreffen on which our own Dragon Rally is modelled. Ernst's
compatriot, Bob Hinricks, that jovial giant with the Harley big twin outfit, has already written for an entry.
So has Max Saaler, a Sunbeam rider in Zurich, Switzerlaud. Even farther afield, one Charly Winkler is coming all the way from Vienna. And, of course, there'll be the creme de la creme of enthusiasts from every corner of the British Isles.
In the early days of motor cycling, every trip was an adventure, every other rider your boon companion. The Dragon Rally recreates that spirit. There is the excitement of a midwinter trip to the heart of nowhere and back again. There are difficulties to overcome, excitements to be shared. There is a gloved hand raised in salute, and a cheery welcome at journey's end.
For one night of the year kindred spirits meet beneath the banner of Y Ddraig Goch - The Red Dragon - to yarn about their hearts' love until the frosty stars fade and the myriad campfires die down into embers.
SEE YOU AT GWRYCH CASTLE!
MOTOR CYCLE, 6 FEBRUARY 1964
two days to the DRAGON
CENTURIES ago, the pass of Cefn-yr-Ogof rang with the noise of battle and horses hooves. Next Saturday modern steeds will echo down the narrow track below. A mighty thrum of 2,000 engines can be heard in the hills; headlamps stab through the darkness to form a seven mile ribbon of moving light. As the lights reappear a pillar of light leaps up from a gigantic bonfire, silhouetting battlement walls.
For a different sort of army has laid siege to nearby Gwrych Castle. Close on 4,000 invaders have crossed the mountains, but this time in peace and friendship.
This is the third Dragon Rally and the biggest of them all.
Enthusiasts have joined together from all over Britain, indeed from far corners of Europe, to meet in good fellowship and to honour the wonderful sport of motor cycling. Its magnetism has drown them across seas and over hundreds of miles of wintry roads.
For one day and one night the old walls and ancient hills will ring with chit-chat, song and laughter. Then, in the morning, the army melts away, each to his own hearthside.
But the fire still burns, rekindled year by year at this lonely castle by the sea. The spirit of the Dragon!
MOTOR CYCLE, 13 FEBRUARY 1964
HOW WRONG CAN YOU BE? Predictions of the crowd at last weekend's Dragon Rally Set 4,000 as a possibility. Too few by more than 1,000. Nobody expected the snow and ice of last year, but did bank on the weather being wet and, probably, cold. Wrong again; North Wales was almost warm, with hours of sunshine and hardly a rustle of wind. Arrangements were made for about 2,000 campers with their own tents. Wrong for a third time. The number was nearer 3,000!
Yes, this year's Dragon at Gwrych Castle was a record smasher in every way. There may never be another quite like it. Numbers could well continue to mount, but such balmy February weekend weather can surely never occur twice in a century. Mainlanders from as far north as Inverness and as far south as Penzance; Irishmen from the north and south; Austrians, Belgians, Germans, Swedes and Swiss - over 70 altogether from across the water - made the big trek. All reported wonderful rides to buoy the spirit and make you vow again that there never could be such grand sport as motor cycling. Riding home on Sunday was just as exhilerating.
Without this riding plus, last weekend was as inspiring as ever; the true enthusiast's coil from Elephantmen Ernst Leverkus, the 500 strong headlamp parade, the mighty bonfire, the sing-
song in the castle, the nattering round camp fires. Finally another plus - Father Bill Shergold conducting a "real fellowship" service on Sunday morning. As he put it, to join the Dragon Rally and know what true comradeship means, is to "catch a tiny feeling of Heaven."
That famous Brough addict and vintage authority, Titch Allen said, "Every year the Dragon enriches one's spirit; the chaps here are the salt of the earth."
YOU KNOW the quotation: Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink. Well, it had a rueful meaning for Dieter Kaufmann from Hanover. His sidecar wheel come off second best from an over-enthusiastic encounter with a roadside bank round Cefn-yr-Ogof.
He'd be all right, you say. with a choice from one of the many sidecar-carried BMW spare wheels. Poor Dieter! His bike is a Horex...
By the way, Dieter was the "distinction" of being the first arrival at Gwrych. He checked in on Wednesday! That's what easy weather does. He had started early in the week as a precaution against the sort of going we had last year.
MOTOR CYCLE, 13 FEBRUARY 1964
TWO Midlanders pitched their tent as dusk fell an Saturday. One of them went to look for brew-up Water, When he hadn't returned after a couple of hours, his friend reported him lost. A call went out but still the missing Dragonist didn't appear.
At ten o'clock on Sunday morning the two pals bumped into each other on the castle terrace. Though he had searched all night the missing camper had been quite unable to locate his tent. He hadn't found the Water, either!
PROVIDENCE is not to be tempted, even at the Dragon. "How many breakdowns shall we Stop for?" asked a humorous rider of his passenger on srarting out. Almost needless to say, the first they saw was their own!
IF YOU want to hear lurid stories of snowbound roads you must meet a 1962 Dragonist. Only report of the white stuff came from Gerhard Monourek, who brought a seven-fifty Harley solo from Vienna. "After Munchen (Munich to us), roads icy and a bit snow," he said.
YOU Londoners who made the diversion round by the Oxfordshire Sidecar Club's Dragons Brew - how many more miles longer do you think it was than the Ml run? John Ebbrell's speedo showed 245 miles from Ilford to Gwrych via Ml and A5 - and 248 returning by way of Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Oxford.
Ready with a smile, a word, the soup, the bangers and tea, the Oxfordshire lads and lassies welcomed nearly 500. "Last year we only had half that number," quipped chairman Jack Gibbs, "but then, the lads needed the hot grub twice as much."
Harry Louis, though, clocked 233 miles from South London to Gwrych on the MI-A5 route; 252 on the return by way of Shrewsbury, Worcester, Oxford. Fact is, the welcome at Oxford would be worth far, far more miles than that.
A TRICKLE on Friday, a torrent on Saturday; and even on Sunday morning they still kept coming through the main gate. Just about the last to sign in for the coveted Dragon badge were two lads from Walsall at noon. Final count of bodies shattered all previous attendances: 5,044!.
MOTOR CYCLE, 13 FEBRUARY 1964
Absentee chafing at the bit was Pekka Suuranen, who sent the Conway Club "motor-cycle spirited greetings from Finland." But next year Pekka hopes to swap his continental one-two-five for a British bigster. Says he, "A team of wild horses couldn't then keep me away. And I promise to tempt some other boys with me."
KEN CRAVEN arrived at the Dragon on his well-equipped AJS outfit. It caused quite a bit of interest - especially from two types who surveyed the panniers closely. Said one to the other, "Here's another bloke using Craven gear!"
COINCIDENCES came by the billy-canful. Manfred Berg and his friends from Germany met staffman Mike Evans' father at an M1 service station on Friday night. A few words in German and Manfred was dispatched with a message to son at the Dragon. But then it transpired that Manfred was the first Dragonist Mike Evans chatted with when he reached North Wales. The Germans were able to hand over the greeting "Viele grusse von dad" (many greetings from dad).
SMART getup worn by Helmut Modro and Bernd Missfeld were green uniforms of the West German police. At work they patrol on BMW outfits but they had travelled to North Wales on their private BM sidecar.
When they arrived at Gwrych they were well entertained by the Abergele police and slept in the local station until they left for Germany at 2 am on Sunday morning. Why the rush? Duty called at the Cologne carnival on Monday morning.
WITH attendance about 1,000 more than expected, the Conway Club can be excused for running out of badges (and free soup, too!). The later arrivals, who were the unlucky ones, will receive their badges by post.
FOUR apprentices from the Norton factory needed transport. The factory chipped in to lend them two of the export only seven-fifty Atlases. One was a single carb police model, the other the twin carb version. But the lads had to keep a tight rein on itching throttle hand. The bikes were brand new. "Running in speeds only," said the boss.
As is often the case with rallies and meetings of the 1960s, photographic records are hard to come by; yet some shots were taken and still survive, mainly taken by enthusiastic photographers who were also keen bikers.
These ageing photos though tend to be fragile as well as rare and don't take kindly to the passing of the years. The photographers, (young men and women when the images were taken), age and some pass on, often resulting in the fruits of their labour ending up locked in a box or stored in a scrapbook in the attic. Once they're gone, the memories of those times past often disappear forever.
On the way to the Dragon 64 on a snow-free road in unseasonably mild weather
However, contrary to individual personal photos, issues of old motorbike magazines seem to have survived in quantity. This printed material, illustrating stories and photos of past rallies and meetings, often authored by journalists who themselves took part, has survived the ravages of time and covers such famous meetings as the Elefantentreffen, the Dragon and the Chamois.
One of these magazines, the legendary German publication Motorrad, has devoted many excellent articles on the Dragon rally meetings of the 1960s.
Motorrad even chose a photo for the cover shot of their publication at the time, taken by one of their special correspondents at the 1964 Gwrych Castle rally.
I have selected this magazine from my archive to add to the photographic record dedicated to the Dragon 64.
This photo taken by a German Motorrad journalist at the meeting held on 8 and 9 February 1964 made the cover of the issue magazine dealing with that year's rally. Does anyone among the readers recognise these participants or this Sunbeam S7 combo with the registration number RPH522?
Gwrych Castle at Abergele
Since we're talking about the 1964 meeting, I think some background to the venue, Gwrych Castle is in order.
After all, the content of the LPMCC website is not only a valuable source of information about the world of motorbike touring, it also offers its readers the opportunity to learn a little more of the background to the events.
This imposing Gothic fantasy castle was built between 1810 and 1825 by Lloyd Bamford-Hesketh, (1788-1861), in memory of his mother Frances Lloyd and the Lloyd family ancestors.
Gwrych Castle known as 'The Showpiece of Wales', photographed here around 100 years ago.
The Lloyd, or Llwyd, were a relatively minor but long-standing and locally influential uchelwyr or gentry family. Sixteenth and seventeenth century manuscripts relating to the history of the Lloyd family and their estate held in the National Library of Wales contain genealogies tracing their noble Welsh ancestry and copies of eulogistic poems celebrating them.
Lloyd Bamford-Hesketh celebrated this Welsh heritage in his new castle by commissioning stained glass windows for the main entrance to the house, featuring the coats of arms of the five royal and fifteen noble tribes of Wales.
The views from the castle are breathtaking with the Irish Sea to the north, Little Orme and Great Ormes near Llandudno to the west, the hill where Castell Cawr, Rhyl and Prestatyn are located to the east, and on a clear day you can see as far as Liverpool.
By the 1870s, the estate surrounding the castle extended to over 3,400 acres, exerting a significant influence on the local community and had a marked effect on economic life in and around Abergele.
As with many other Welsh estates and country houses, the twentieth century was a period of significant transformation for Gwrych, marked by the dismantling of the estate and the sale of the building's contents.
Despite the fact that Gwrych Castle was subsequently listed as an important heritage site, the site unfortunately slipped into a state of rapid decay by the late 1980s. Its abandonment and subsequent vandalism have contributed to the building's ruin.
Between 1982 and 1986 the place attracted scooterists from all over Britain. While most of these were peaceful, unfortunately some of them caused a lot of trouble. For example, young people stealing kegs from the castle bar or swinging from chandeliers and jumping on large old tables which eventually broke. On one occasion, someone drove his Lambretta scooter through one of the stained-glass windows and on another occasion a portable toilet was set on fire. The police had to visit the castle regularly to keep the peace
The castle was finally closed to the public in 1987 and bought in 1989 by an American businessman for £750,000. Alas for the castle, his plans to renovate the building were never realised. The castle became little more than a derelict shell which was eventually purchased in 2018 by the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust, a registered charity funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
Due to the high cost of repair and restoration of the lost contents, the trust relies on volunteers and philanthropists who are able to offer their time, experience, knowledge and skills.
Norton factory apprentices at the Dragon 64
To complete my comments on the 1964 meeting, I invite you to visit the link below that offers some photos and the story of four young apprentices working at the Norton factory who took part in the 1964 meeting:
- Jean-Francois Helias
There is a great feeling when you get there and meet old friends and great sadness when you hear about old friends who have passed on.
I attended the '62 rally and 2010 will be my 48th rally.
- Ron Jones
Harry was a perfectionist: every story went across his desk before being polished by the sub editors and if he decided it was not up to par the erring writer was called in for a quiet chat which, I was told, could be a terrifying experience. As well as the Dragon I believe he was also a regular at the Stella Alpina and the National.
John was an equally dedicated rider - he established the Trail Riders Fellowship - and I well remember the shock when he was killed 'in the line of duty'. If memory serves he was roadtesting up in Scotland and was taking a break in a layby when a truck reversed towards his bike. Instinctively John tried to gt the bike out of the way and didn't make it.
Mike Evans, who also featured in the story, went on to help promote the industry working for the Motor Cycle Association.
In those days rallies and touring weren't seen as specialist activities, in fact staff writers were expected to ride to work every day - and not in the jeans or leathers that my generation sported. Motorcycle Action Group founder, the late lamented Dennis Howard, once told me that he was sent home to change because he arrived at the office in a check suit. It seems that staffers were required to wear sober business suits under their stormcoats and waders. Tell kids today and they won't believe you!
Also mentioned in Dragon report was Father Bill Shergold, known to generations of rallyists as 'Farv', founder of the 59, 69 and 79 clubs who, as I'm sure you know, died . A wonderful character who is greatly missed. I look forward to catching up with many of his 69MCC clubmates at their next bash in April.
So many memories from one short report - thanks for publishing it.
I trust all's well with you and yours and hope to see you in a beertent some time soon.
Just a line to say how much I enjoyed reading the 1964 Dragon report. Although I was only 11 when it first appeared in the old Blue 'Un, it brought back memories of my early days with the magazine in the early seventies as a telesales rep. It was years before I got the chance to join the editorial team as a photo filing clerk but I had the privilege of meeting both Harry Louis and John Eberell.
- Dave Richmond
The stories from the various articles and reports on the Dragon Rally, taken from the magazine 'Motor Cycle' and collected for this site by Jan Heiland are a pleasure to read. I personally never get bored re-reading them.
To complement this 'Motor Cycle' article from January 9, 1964, (found at the top of this page), promoting the coming Dragon 64; here's a scan of the rally application form exactly as it appeared in the magazine. A document which illustrates perfectly the organisational set up of the time!
- Jean-Francois Helias
I was there and have a few pics of George Brough, he had along a couple of his bikes and I still have the photos here in Thailand.
Tribute to and the Dragon '66 went on my trusty Norton ES2.
The Dragon rally ... very cold and very wet. I went in '64 '65 and '66. Still have the badges.
Dragon '65/'66. The last one was taken over my shoulder by the pillion.
- Philip Ross
To improve this page on the 1964 Dragon Rally, I'm bringing you two more extracts from in 'The Motor Cycle' magazine about the 1964 Welsh winter gathering.
The first is the map published on 6 February 1964, which gave readers the direction to reach the venue of the event: Gwych Castle.
Also the photo below of a rallyist photographed on his way to the 1964 meeting at Gwrych Castle. This was published a year later in ‘Motor Cycle’ on the pages announcing the February 1965 meeting at Glyn Padarn.
This shot was taken in North Wales during the run to Dragon Rally 1964
It is interesting to note that one of the most famous English sidecar clubs of this period, the Oxfordshire Sidecar Club, organized a hospitable stopover for the south of England rallyists on their way back from the Dragon rally.
'Dragon's Brew' stood on the A34 between Woodstock and Oxford. The Oxfordshire Sidecar Club offered welcome hospitality all day Sunday from 8:30 am to 11:30 pm, with free hot soup, hot dogs, char-and-wads, and a coke brazier available to those who needed to thaw their cold fingers.
- Jean-Francois Helias