1977 - Part 1
Snow, ice, brutally cold conditions and a hint of masochism
Welcome to the world of winter rallies
The Elefantentreffen, the Dragon Rally and the Millevaches are, among international motorcyclists passionate about rallies, undoubtedly the most famous of yesteryear's winter meetings.
The atmosphere and hard-won reputation of these meetings has been gained through the doggedness of those taking part despite the harshest of winter weather conditions.
Each year different winter conditions prevail, with Nature imposing her will on those daring enough to take part. Some seasons bring milder conditions than others. For the organisers of a winter gathering worthy of its name, as well as those taking part, the overriding hope is that there is an abundance of snow and ice at the rendezvous.
...welcome to the world of winter rallies
The more extreme the challenge, the more memories are created
The harsher the winter conditions, the more difficult the route and thus the more extreme the challenges. That said, challenging conditions tend to produce amazing adventures and for those successfully completing the course, there will be unforgettable memories of a rally hard won.
If the Elefantentreffen, the Dragon and the Millevaches of the late 1960s and early 1970s are the standout events, there were many other winter rallies just as treasured, even if the journeys to get there were shorter. In England, the Ides of March and the Snowman are the examples that come to mind first.
I have memories of attending these most famous events but for various reasons, they proved to be somewhat disappointing. One reason being the absence of challenges due to the weather much milder weather conditions.
Elefantentreffen 1975 - No snow at all at the Nurburgring that year! Though yours truly (with friends Michel Degaine and Ness Berthon) had brought a warm fur coat in expectation of colder times.
The toughest, hardest, coldest, craziest rallies I attended
On the other hand, images of winter gatherings, much less famous, but certainly the coldest and hardest I ever attended are engrained in my memory.
I remember rallies with abundant snow and ice such as the 1973 Hivernale du Mistral in Vernoux; the 1974 Andorra la Vella (Andorra); the 1976 MC 95 Rally Sidecar at Plancher-les-Mines and the 1979 Chevaux de Glace in Vauveix.
There were three others too, but unfortunately I can't remember the exact years they all took place except that they were all in the 1970s: the Vautours in Chartres, the Ussel in Correze, and the Chacals in St Jean de Bruel in the Massif of the Aigoual.
1976 MC 95 Rallye Sidecar - As snowy and freezing as the Millevaches 1969
If I had to award one of them top marks as being the most extreme, I would certainly vote for the Sidecar Rally organised in Plancher-les-Mines in December 1976 by the MC95, (the club who organised the Millevaches from 1969 to 1979).
Plancher-les-Mines was a small village nestled at the foot of the Vosges mountain range. This sidecar rally, strictly an invite-only event was only held once. According to old timers who'd attended the legendary 1969 winter meeting at Millevaches the snow and ice encountered at the 1976 meeting were just as taxing.
Krystall Rally - Considered at the time as the 'Holy Grail'
The only winter rally in our bucket list that we still had to do was the most legendary of all: the Krystall Rally.
The internet and social media didn't exist back then and information was usually passed on through word of mouth with those in the know. As such, we knew very little of this foreboding and very distant Nordic adventure.
Other than the fact that the rally took place in the middle of winter, in darkest February, in central Norway and that the round trip to get there was about 5000k, our information was indeed scarce.
We needed to allow a good ten days to do it and have a healthy budget to see us through plus it was essential to pre-book a place with the organisers. In this respect the first major obstacle presented itself we had to find the organiser's address to contact them in the first place!
We were aware that around a dozen French die-hard rallyists, (most of whom were known to us), had taken part in Krystall rallies between 1970 and 1976. To be able to gain admission to the ranks of such a celebrated and enigmatic group added a further incentive to take part in this fantastic Scandinavian adventure.
Krystall 1977 - Yours truly 'en route' for the Scandinavian adventure
Marc Pfeiffer - Dragons MC Section PAVECK
In the restricted circle of 1970s rallies that were strictly invitation-only, solely reserved for the 'creme de la creme', there were those riders that we saw only occasionally, some we saw more frequently, and some we saw all the time at every meeting.
These guys were a race apart; real die-hard fanatics that most of us were keen to meet and who might 'pop up' by chance at rallies we endeavoured to attend, whatever the distance. 'Road dogs' who devoured the tarmac all year round, in all weathers, and whose thirst for adventure and life itself was only quenched by the need to ride, to join fellow rallyists for a weekend, and to share moments of joy and friendship whilst indulging their passion.
My good mate Marc Pfeiffer and his Kawasaki 900 Z1 outfit
Marc Pfeiffer was one of this rare breed. He was seen everywhere, either on a machine or an outfit, with his wife Patricia and often accompanied by their young daughter Sandrine.
This couple and I shared a deep passion for rallying and were members of the same club: the PAVECK Section of the legendary Dragons MC, founded in 1968 by the irreplaceable Christian 'Kiki' Blanchot. We also belonged to the 'Confrerie des Chevaliers Motocyclistes', a kind of Masonic brotherhood composed of elite French rallyists.
Marc and I were both members of the Dragons MC Section PAVECK and of the brotherhood of the 'Confrerie des Chevaliers Motocyclistes'
A 5000 km round trip journey on a Kawasaki Z1 outfit
Marc, who knew the local mechanics well, (he worked at the Honda dealership in Tours), had meticulously prepared his Kawa Z1 outfit for this expedition.
He had cleverly created a system which was able to recover the heat produced within the exhaust pipes and return it via flexible tubes to heat both the rider's hands through the handlebars as well as the passenger's feet in the sidecar.
As the passenger for a return trip of 5000k, and in the harsh weather conditions we were bound to meet, I was certainly not going to complain!
My humble contribution to the outfit was, at Marc's request, to paint the route of our Nordic adventure on the nose of the sidecar.
Finally, the long-anticipated departure day arrived. We left Tours in February 1977 under the watchful eye of local television cameras who'd arrived to film and interview us for a brief news report, before taking the road towards Antony, a French commune in the southern suburbs of Paris, to join our fellow rallyists from the Trappus Moto Club.
Trappus Moto Club
Our club and that of 'Les Trappus' have a long history of camaraderie dating from the beginnings of the 'Pirate Movement' in the early 1970s. In 1971 the MC Dragons assisted the Trappus in the organisation of their first rally: the 'Kamafouchtra Concilium', in Cantal.
This one-off event was resurrected in the mid-70s with three successive themed rallies organised in the Paris region: the 'Kamafouchtroff' in 1976, the 'Kamacity' in 1977 and the 'Kamatiti' in 1978.
This club has in its ranks a bunch of fascinating characters. Amongst them: Jean Pierre Frisquet aka 'Zinzin', (future journalist and instigator of the magazine 'Moto Journal'); Daniel Sotoca aka 'Toc Toc', Albert Turminel aka 'Tonton', Jacques Gilbert aka 'Jacques l'Anar' and his brother Patrick, Glabasnia, Jean-Louis Voltz, Yvon Fleury, Richard Raynoire aka 'P'tit Richard', Alain Barrault aka 'Le Ministre', and Patrick Bennejean.
Left: Jean Pierre Frisquet aka 'Zinzin'. Right: Albert Turminel aka 'Tonton'
For this Norwegian expedition, the Trappus gang had originally planned a contingent of 6, spread over 3 outfits. Unfortunately though two guys had to withdraw at the last moment for family reasons having already pre-booked their places.
The Trappus team of 4 composed of Patrick Gilbert riding his Moto Guzzi 1000 Convert outfit and his passenger Alain Barrault aka 'Le Ministre'; Albert Turminel aka 'Tonton' on a BMW outfit and his passenger Glabasnia.
Belgium - Our first stage
Our first stop was to be Vise, in the Walloon province of Liege, spending a restful night there at the home of my good friend Dany Puiatti.
Dany was the president of MC Les Routards, a keen rallyist we often met at meetings all over Europe. We shared a strong friendship with unforgettable moments between 1974 and 1975; two of the years when I took part in numerous Belgian meetings, a country whose atmosphere I loved.
Dany Puiatti (far left with the moustache) hosted us at his home in Vise for our first stop
Marc took advantage of this first stop to change the bearings of the front wheel of the Kawa and weather conditions that February were relatively mild. There was no snow which allowed us to ride at high speed towards Germany, heading for Hamburg, our next stage.
...to be continued next Saturday...
...continued in Part 2 ...
- Jean-Francois Helias