5 January 1963
3000 rallyists gather at the Nurburgring
The Big Freeze of 1963 proved to be the coldest weather snap in Britain since 1740, bringing blizzards, huge snow drifts and even the Thames froze over in places as the temperatures dropped to -20°C.
The first heavy snowfall began on Boxing Day evening and continued through into the next day. Then on the 29th and 30th December, a raging blizzard swept through South West England and parts of Wales, leaving snowdrifts in its wake up to 20 feet tall.
In Europe the temperature drop was no less severe. However this delighted the dedicated band of die-hard motorcyclists who, on 5 January 1963, despite the almost Siberian conditions, met on the Nurburgring circuit once again for the 8th Elefantentreffen.
They came from all over Europe: France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, England, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Scandinavia and the US, (the latter being military personnel of US stationed forces).
Elefantentreffen 63 - Despite an almost Siberian winter, they came from all over Europe
Around 1,500 machines were present but this didn't include those scattered in the surrounding villages. 4,000 meals were distributed which allowed 'Klacks' to state that approximately 3000 rallyists were present.
Among the rallyists, some arriving from great distances, were visitors from Scotland, Copenhagen, Oslo, Marseille, Turin, Rome, Milan. Like this Milanese who came all the way on a Norton and his friend who came from Napoli on a 1000 Vincent 'Black Lightning' outfit.
Elefantentreffen 63 - The delegation of the BSA Club from the County of Surrey
Robert Sexé was back
And of course, the old timer Robert Sexé, who'd missed the '62 meeting, was back once again with his rucksack and his old shabby globetrotter jacket, faithfully worn since 1922 in his journeys around the world.
At 73 Robert still experienced the same triumph at the Elefantentreffen and was considered by rallyists a true symbol of motorcycling. When his presence was announced over the public address system, he received a huge ovation.
Jean-Marie Debonneville was there too, coming from Wattrelos in northern France on a BSA 'Rocket'.
The 'Sport Hotel'
The 'Sport Hotel', meeting place of the rallyists
The meeting place for most rallyists was the huge Sport Hotel behind the Nurburgring grandstands. Inside there was much to entertain them. Restaurants, areas to warm up after the freezing conditions outside, a cinema area showing motorcycle films and an exhibition specially held there for the occasion.
This exhibition showcased various machines including the 1929 supercharged BMW with which Ernst Jakob Henne set the first official world speed record of 216.75 kmh (134.68 mph) over one mile with flying start; a Honda racing 4 cylinder, a Bultaco; (two gold medals won at the ISDT 1962 were Bultaco's first competition success), and the latest Honda 125 model.
In a display case was a cutaway engine of a BMW R50S, with an output of 35hp at 5800 rpm, as opposed to the 26hp produced by the base model, as well as scale models of motorcycles brilliantly constructed by the German artist Franz Stellmaszyk.
Elefantentreffen 63 - Conversation between passionate riders
Rows of countless machines
On the far side of the Sport Hotel, stood an impressive sight. Countless outfits and solo machines partially covered in snow stood in lines hundreds of meters long. This parc ferme of sorts brought together a fantastic variety of all makes, models and ages, from 50 Kreidler 'Florett' to 1200 Harley Davidson.
Elefantentreffen 63 - Rows of countless outfits and solo machines and a native American type teepee.
This parc ferme revealed the true enthusiasm of 1960s German bikers. There were many interesting customised machines, very often carried out by their owners. Dashboards with tachometers, oil temperature gauges, voltage meters, amazing fairings, heated sidecars, hammered aluminium petrol tanks and many more.
Camping in more than 20cm of snow
Under the big fir trees behind the grandstand, despite the Siberian-like weather conditions, winter camping fanatics had erected tents on ground covered with more than 20cm of snow.
Elefantentreffen 63 -The bravest camping in more than 20cm of snow
The most original of the tents, in the style of a Red Indian camp, had been made to look like a teepee draped with animal hides. There was even a totem pole!
Several outfits ended in the roadside snowdrifts
Promptly at 6pm the traditional ceremony commenced to pay homage to the racers who had died during the previous year. This was a moment of intense emotion with speeches delivered in German, English and French paying tributes to Bob McIntyre, Tom Phillis, and Gary Hocking.
Then came the long-awaited moment for the start of the traditional lap of honour. A spectacular sight, all with their lights reflected in the snow coupled with the roar of hundreds of engines. With almost 500 machines they created a huge traffic jam at the outset. The wintry conditions were so bad that some had a hard time completing the lap, fighting the snow and ice all the way. The inclines made some machines skid and several outfits ended, thankfully without any major damage, in roadside snowdrifts.
Elefantentreffen 63 - In the morning the owner of this Norton outfit dries the insoles of his boots on an alcohol stove
On Sunday morning, any rallyists who wanted to lap the circuit had to pay 1 DM. The sum was indeed minimal but as a point of principle there were some who complained.
Others suggested that for the next meetings signposting should be set up within a radius of 3 km to lead precisely to the meeting place at the Sport Hotel.
The date for the 9th Elefantentreffen was set for 4 January 1964.
- Jean-Francois Helias