Part One: Remembering friends
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.
- Bernard M. Baruch
It would appear that the memories I recently recounted of the Andorra 74 rally and my adventures in the snows of the Pyrenees have been warmly received. This is especially true of my many old French motorcycling buddies who got in touch via email to express their appreciation and share their own stories.
So, with that in mind, I'd like to continue by sharing some other, similar stories from my youthful days spent in the saddle.
I recall several other adventures as crazy as Andorra that perhaps deserve recounting here, and one such that springs to mind is that of the 1973 Gueugnon rally. I guess this story would earn second place in my personal 'hit parade' of most insane motorcycling experiences.
Rallies in town squares and parking lots
This meeting, like many others organised at the time around France by clubs affiliated to the FFM (Federation Francaise de Motocyclisme), was typical of the meetings of the 1960s and 70s. They were often organised in towns, in the main square or perhaps on a parking lot. One would camp outside the town and for a small registration fee, you were usually entitled to a sandwich, a soft drink and the commemorative badge. However, in terms of the latter, sometimes the club in question may not have ordered enough in advance for everyone that turned up. In these circumstances the organisers would take your address, promising to mail it to you. Perhaps it goes without saying that I am still waiting for some of them... fifty years on.
On Sunday mornings, usually after the parade had entertained the locals and the curious spectators, there were the customary speeches given by the organisers and officials. Often the mayor of the town or his representative would be there and this was followed by the traditional prize giving, awarding trophies to the winners of the various classifications together with the most deserving participants. These could vary from rally to rally and sometimes included; the youngest/oldest participant; those who had travelled the farthest to be at the rally, etc.
Antibes 1971 -The traditional award ceremony
If like me, you fancied a few free drinks, one of the best moments of the rally, was the 'vin d'honneur', (the wine of honour), which came at the end of the meeting. However, during the ceremony itself there were sometimes opportunities to partake of white wine, (often awful), or possibly pastis if Ricard was one of the sponsors. This often had the effect of 're-lighting the boiler' and chasing away the previous evening's hangover. After that, somewhat fortified, we faced the journey home.
Just another banal rally on our record
This Gueugnon rally, organised by the local town motorcycle club, located in the centre of the Lyon, Dijon and Clermont-Ferrand triangle, in the department of Saone-et-Loire, was just such a rally as I have described above, taking place in an urban environment with all the usual trappings we had seen many times before.
Aerial view of Gueugnon
Remembering this rally one as best I can 50 years on, I dare say in all honesty that while it was far from one of the best, equally it wasn't the worst either. It was in effect, just one more common place meeting to add to the list of those I'd attended since my very first rally in 1970.
After all, for the young and passionate rallyists we were back then, we really didn't need much to keep us happy. We weren't very demanding about the quality of a motorcycling event. For us it was about getting together with friends and riding together for a weekend. Just as it is today. As long as we had enough money in our pockets to be able to go to a rally somewhere, either riding ourselves or as a pillion behind a friend, pay the event fees, party and possibly have a few drinks on the Saturday night, nothing else mattered.
Gueugnon was only 150 km from our hometown of Montluçon, so it wasn't going to cost us much to get there and we weren't about to miss out on the opportunity to take part.
Such a short distance meant it would have been crazy to miss the opportunity.
What can we say about this city? Well, it experienced its golden age in the 1950s, becoming the world leader in stainless steel production thanks to the modernisation and development of its Forges factory. As such, the factory, together with the subcontracting companies gravitating around it, created thousands of jobs.
But as the local saying goes: "When the Forges catch a cold, Gueugnon coughs". When the economic crisis hit Les Forges in the early 1970s, Gueugnon, which had by then been growing steadily, like many other small French towns experienced an exodus of its younger population to the cities.
The Forges factory in the background, the economic lifeline of the city
But before taking you with me on the road to this meeting in Saone-et-Loire, I would first like to introduce you to our 'pirate' club of the time, the MC Kangourous, their members, and among them, those who accompanied me for this particular weekend.
And by the way, let's take the opportunity to pay tribute to the other clubs in my hometown making up the local motorcycling scene in the early 1970s.
My hometown motorcycle clubs
In the district of Fontbouillant where I lived back then, pretty much everyone knew each other and often frequented the same places. We had grown up together, gone to the same schools, played football, and even possibly settled any differences between us when it was necessary.
Fontbouillant, my 'hood', where I spent all my adolescence, until the age of 18.
Most of us had mopeds, and finally, having waited so long to reach 16, (the age then required in France to be able to pass our 'A ' driving license), some of us switched to motorbikes, and it was only logical that we continued to hang out together.
Less than 100 yards from my house, lived several motorcyclists, all members of the 'pirate' club, MC Kiwis. (A pirate club being one that wasn't affiliated to the Federation Francaise de Motocyclisme). Amongst these were the Paile brothers, the eldest of whom, rode a splendid and very well maintained twin-cylinder BSA; his younger brother, nicknamed 'Moumoune', rode a 360 Yamaha RT1; and Jeannot Dubreuil riding a 500 Honda Four.
The Kiwis meeting place in Montluçon was a bar, 'La Pergola'. Five decades on I can't remember all the names of all those who then made up this gang, (although at the time I knew everyone). However, I've not forgotten certain faces of the time, their names and nicknames. There were the Paile brothers; the Carrier brothers; the Jeanguiot brothers (Marc and Didier); Jean-luc Glomeau ('Mouche a Boeufs'); Jean-Michel Jamet ('Chell'); Patrick Care; Hugues Chaussy; Patrick Ribiere (P'tit Loup); Daniel Berger ('Debile'); De Murcia (Mumurse); Yves Duchene; Jeannot Dubreuil; Dan Granet; 'Chochoi'; and 'La Chouette' whose long hair and huge white glasses making him look like a popular French singer-songwriter of the time had earned him the second nickname of 'Polnareff'.
Gueret rally 1972 - The MC Kiwis posing for a souvenir photo at the 'Rassemblement International des Moulins'. Amongst them : Patrick Care (red trousers on far left); Dan Granet; Didier Jeanguiot (flashing the peace sign); 'Mumurse'; and 'Duduche'.
Prior to the creation of the Kiwis, bikers from Neris-les-Bains and Commentry, the neighboring towns very close to Montluçon, had founded a pirate club called Groupe Motocycliste Aiglons.
I was an honorary member of this club, before becoming a full member for a short time in 1975. This membership was at the request of my good friend, the late Bernard Saillard who wanted to revive the club which was floundering at the time for lack of members. Saillard and I both owned Norton Commando 850s at the time and worked for the same company, so we rode together from time to time.
Honorary membership card of the 'Groupe Motocycliste Aiglons' of Neris-les-Bains and Commentry.
For three years in a row, 1973, 74 and 75 this group organized a superb winter gathering in the middle of nowhere, on the plateau of Saint-Marien in the Combrailles.
View of the GM Aiglons rally 1973 on the plateau of Saint-Marien
The most active GM Aiglons rallyists were then Bernard Saillard; the Bonnichou brothers; 'Lapin'; 'Popoff'; and the crazy character 'Pajou', a mechanic at the time at the Honda dealership in our city.
Bernard Saillard (in the background, arms crossed and mustache) at the Touareg rally, probably in 1976. The rallyist in front of him on the Triumph Trident is none other than Jean-Michel Millerand aka 'Ariel'.
In 1973, another pirate club, bringing together very young moped riders was founded. It was less than a kilometre as the crow flies from my house, in the very heart of Fontbouillant district.
I would often see this friendly band of young enthusiasts in front of their building where they met. They called their group the MC Vickings, and had Tony De Carolis as their president.
The Vickings motorcycle club de Fontbouillant posing here at the 1974 Saint-Marien rally, organised by the GM Aiglons of Neris-les-Bains.
The rest of the gang was made up of, among others, his brother Joseph De Carolis (Pepine), Rene 'Ness' Berton, Claude Courtial (Gogo), Alain Vial, Patrick Vacher (Paschy), Fabrice Morini, Patrick Andre (Strog), Christian Bernard (Doggy), Philippe Tangara (Tango), Patrick Lissandre, Xavier (Bunny); and two female members, two sisters, one of whom named Carmen and the youngest whose first name I forget.
MC Montluçon was the only club affiliated with the FFM in the city where I was born. Its weekly meetings took place at the cafe 'Tout Va Bien', at 59 rue de la Republique. The club itself was established after the war, in March 1949 by a group of passionate amateurs.
My longtime friend Pierre Defonty (in leather suit), photographed here in September 1969, during the '1000 km' endurance race contested on the Bugatti circuit of Le Mans. Defonty was crowned French 250cc champion in 1971, relegating the talented Olivier Chevallier to second place.
At the very beginning of the 1970s, the club, then chaired by Paul Coulon, its president from 1963 to 1973, was mainly focused on motorcycle touring, having organised its very first gathering for rallyists in 1961. There were though, some of its main riders also licensed for speed racing. Amongst them, my good friend Pierre Defonty, 1971 French Champion in the 250cc category, Michel Staffeta; in motocross, Jean Gabillat; for trial and enduro, Mario Liva, member of the French team, together with Claude Thomas, Alain Chaligne, Bernard Chauviere, and Jean Louis Figureau, all at the 1969 ISDT in Garmisch Partenkirchen The latter owned a small local repair shop for cycles and motorcycles where we often hung out.
As for the touring section of the MC Montluçon at the time, the members included: Paul Coulon (president); Max Bourdillon; Pierrot Cornieux; Christian Kozdeba (Coco); Jacques Daubigny; Guy Rostand ('Le Dresch'); Jean-Marc Westable; Sandro Penzo; Jacky Guillaume; Jean-Pierre Cavaroc ('Gout de Fut'); the Barrier brothers; 'Paluche' Desgranges; Jacques Wittman; Michel Pierron; Dollet; Bonnassieux; and a plump young woman whose name I never knew but who had been ruthlessly nicknamed 'Fat Carmen'.
Nearly 45 years of friendship as well with these two former eminent members of the Moto Club de Montluçon: 'Coco' Kozdeba (left); yours truly (center); and Jean-Marc Westable (right).
Fennecs and Baroudeurs (circa 1975-76)
'Coco' Kozdeba, the most active rallyist of all within MC Montluçon, ended up leaving his longtime club due to differences of opinions and went on to found in the mid-70s two 'pirate' clubs, becoming their charismatic leader: one of which, the MC Fennecs, changed its name to become the MC Baroudeurs.
MC Fennecs Benefactor Member card for the year 1975
Only the name of the original club changed. Its members remained exactly the same and the two successive clubs counted among their members the same great bunch of rally enthusiasts I hung out with.
This team was presided over by 'Coco' Kozdeba and whose members included Guy Rostand ('Le Dresch'); Jean-Marc Westable; Joel Genneviaux ('Jojo'); Bernard Billay ('Billet de Banque'); 'Martin l'Ours'; Philippe Loiseau; Roux; and Henri Courault ('Riri').
The same dynamic team first called the Fennecs then the Baroudeurs organised this same year 1976 two excellent gatherings of which here are the badges above.
At night, the stronghold of the Fennecs was their headquarters, the bar 'Le Glacier' on Bd de Courtais; during the day, they could be found at the Motorama motorcycle dealership, rue des Anciennes-Boucheries, whose hospitable owner, Daniel Golde, has been serving the local motorcycling scene for nearly 50 years and was one of its staunchest supporters.
Before I finally approach the last part of this chapter by finally presenting our own pirate club 'Kangourous', I must conclude this account by including the names of independent rallyists of this period.
Although they never wished to join any particular club then, they were nevertheless close to some of their members, joining them when they went to gatherings.
I am thinking more particularly of two of them: the late Louis Jouannard (Loulou) from Desertines; and Michel Tauveron (Marcel) from Domerat.
- Jean-Francois Helias