Once again, this time with snow covering the Nurburgring, everyone was reunited at the 6th meeting of the Elefantentreffen. Nearly 1500 riders and their pillions, men and women, on nearly 800 machines, (most of which were outfits), came from all over Germany as well as many other countries including some from Libya! A real mixture with a multitude of languages and dialects.
By the start of the rally on 7 January 1961 there was already 50cm of snow on some of the highest points of the Nurburgring, yet throughout the day machines kept arriving in a more or less uninterrupted flow, each new arrival recounting their stories of weather-related journeys in snow, fog and ice.
Elefant 1961 - Throughout the day machines arrived in a more or less uninterrupted flow
More and more rallyists arrived on all types, ages and makes of machines. There was even a veteran machine from 1907, an NSU, as well as an R32 BMW from 1924, a 1000 Imperial with a JAP V-engine from 1929, a D-Rad from 1929, and Robert Sexé's 400 Gillet Herstal from 1930.
Elefant 1961 - Typical BMW outfit
A few familiar rallying scene faces could occasionally be glimpsed in the crowd. Like Jopy, who arrived from Holland to represent the women of the W.I.M.A, or speed racers such as Rudolph Glaeser and Max Deubel.
Elefant 1961 - Women rallyists
In the afternoon, the machines were lined up in two rows almost 500m long in front of the stands and by the evening the number of rows had increased to four.
Elefant 1961 - Machines aligned in rows 500m long in front of the stands
Snowflakes are kisses from heaven
Finding a place to spend the night became somewhat difficult in the face of such an influx of people. The hotels were full for miles around with some hardy bikers camping in the local woods. Some were even building an igloo! Most participants though found shelter in the large halls of the SportHotel or in the cinema room where a film about the 1960 season speed races was running on a loop every 40 minutes throughout the day.
..in the woods ..in the snow ..in January ..insane!
The snow was incessant and at 6.00pm the rallyists were called on to do a circuit lap of honour. Despite the darkness and the continuing snow fall 352 motorcycles managed to appear on the starting line.
Suddenly the circuit is illuminated as the trackside floodlights up. The track falls silent as a short roll of honour is called to remember those racers who have died: Bob Brown, Dave Chadwick, Peter Ferbrache, Jiri Kostir, Fritz Meyer, Brian Stonebridge, Jimmie Guthrie, Karl Gall, Fritz Hillebrand, Inge Stoll, Jacques Drion, Ray Amm, Keith Campbell, Hans Baltisberger. None were forgotten!
Elefant 1961 - Sledding behind a motorcycle
At 6.30pm the procession began. A long luminous thread snaked its way into the night, through the succession of snowy turns of the Eiffel. Some of the circuit's inclines proved challenging for the engines of older machines, already struggling and panting on the snow-covered track. Mind you, the noise caused by hundreds of motorcycles all in unison managed to shake the windows of houses in the town of Nurburg 2 km away. No one had ever witnessed this before and those who experienced it are unlikely to forget it.
Elefant 1961 - Rallyists on a Matchless G 12
Robert Sexé (1890-1986)
Finally at 8.00pm the 1961 Elephants meeting officially opens and it's Robert Sexé (1890-1986) who turns out to be the hero.
At the age of 70 he covered 700km in 4 days from his home in St-Benoit, near Poitiers, to join the other 'elephants' on his 1930 Gillet Herstal.
The arrival of Robert Sexé on the podium was met with huge delight. He was carried aloft, shoulder to shoulder dressed in his old fur jacket a souvenir from a British soldier of 1915.
Finally, with the microphone in hand, in barely audible tones broken by emotion he addressed his thanks to the assembled throng. More than a few in the crowd one had tears in their eyes and the hushed atmosphere was such that you could have heard a pin drop.
This is a wonderful Christmas tale that will accompany my days until the end of my life.
Upon leaving the stage, Klacks asked him if he intended to participate in the 1962 meeting. His response was immediate:
Am I so old, my dear and young friend, that I have to abandon rallying? Hell no!
Perhaps never in the history of motorcycling has a man at the end of his life been celebrated with as much joy, enthusiasm and sincerity by 1500 rallyists, gathered at the Elefantentreffen 1961, as was the legend that is Robert Sexé.
- Jean-Francois Helias