October 19, 1969
Roaring machines at the Zolder circuit
The 'Lion' or the 'Lions' was a gathering taking place every year in the fall on the Zolder circuit, in Belgium, and organized by the M.C Brussels, chaired at the time by Paul Lammerant.
Lion rally 1969 - A sunny day in the Belgium fall
From plural in the 60s to singular in the 70s
The meeting of October 19, 1969 was the fourth of this series, the very first having apparently taken place in 1966. I never had the chance to see what looks like the commemorative badge of the meetings of '66 and '68 but luckily I have in my archives a photo for that of 1967, as well as for all the others from 1969 until its 11th edition of 1976.
It is also interesting to note that this rally was originally titled 'LIONS' in the plural for it seems the first four of its meetings until 1969.
From 1970, without being able to give you an explanation as to the reason for this change, the name of the rally becomes 'LION' in the singular. The '60s troop of felines having been reduced in the '70s to a single animal...
MC Bruxelles brings a novelty to their fourth rally
The Lion rally was, with the Steel Horse, one of the most important motorcycle gatherings in Belgium at the time. For the year 1969, nearly 1000 bikers headed for the province of Limburg, coming from almost all the countries of Europe, on all types of machines, from 50cc mopeds to 1200cc big bikes.
Lion rally 1969 - French rallyists on a DIY BMW outfit
Among the rallyists' machines the most watched within the circuit: a few Laverda, little known in Belgium until then, from Holland; as well as some stereotypical cafe racers, Triton and classic Vincent.
Lion rally 1969 - A couple of Dutch-registered Laverda
For the 1969 meeting, the MC Brussels had innovated by bringing to their program a novelty which was a success with a large majority of the participants: it was planned that on Sunday morning, those who wished it, could race for five laps and be timed on the Zolder track. A kind of unofficial speed race for touring motorcycles!
Lion rally 1969 - The joys of camping in the forest
Racing at the sandy circuit of Zolder
The race starts were given in groups of about twenty motorcycles, classified according to the times achieved during the practice sessions held the previous day (all rallyists who wished to do so could practice on Saturday afternoon).
Lion rally 1969 - Race starts were given in groups of about twenty motorcycles
For those who do not know the Zolder circuit in the sandy region of Limburg well, let's say that it is a little more than 4 kilometers, consists of two straight lines, all the rest being curves and a hillock reputed to be the most difficult part of the circuit.
The circuit may seem simple at first glance, but requires in fact a lot from the racer and his machine. One of the black spots being the sand which sometimes spreads onto the track, making braking dangerous.
The circuit lap record at the time was achieved in 1968 by Jack Findlay in 1'45.5" or 142.77 km/h on McIntyre Matchless 500; second fastest time set by Rodney Gould in 1'50.9" on Yamaha 250.
Jack Findlay on McIntyre Matchless
Kawasaki Mach III - The fastest of all
Among the touring machines entering the competition: a single Honda CB 750, several Kawasaki Mach III H1 500 and Suzuki 500, as well as other Japanese, a Triumph Trident, some classic British bikes, BMWs, and lots of 50cc including many Kreidlers.
It gave a most unusual spectacle to watch big Harley Davidson flirting on the track with small mopeds, each trying to take the best line.
Lion rally 1969 - A Dutch couple straight out of the 'Easy Rider' movie
For many of these production motorcycles, the five laps severely tested the brakes, tires and footrests not used to undergoing such intensive treatment. But luckily everything ended without accident.
The Kawasaki 500s were the fastest, turning around 1'59" which was not bad at all for standard machines compared to the Findlay and Gould times.
The Honda 750 belonging to a Frenchman seemed quite heavy and difficult to handle in the winding passages. A BSA Spitfire 650, ridden by a Dutchman who had brought it on a trailer pulled by an MG car, had a remarkable race; as well as the Triumph Trident, which started last but managed to finish first in its series.
In the evening, the rallyists met under the huge circus tent. Some of them enjoyed commenting with their entourage about their best lap time of the day... which amazingly improved by a few tenths after each flaggon of beer!
Lion rally 1969 - Their best lap time of the day improved by a few tenths after each beer!
Thanks to the M.C Brussels' innovation of allowing everyone to be a speed racer for a weekend, the 1969 Zolder meeting under Paul Lammerant and his team, was a great success.
The Lion could be proud and deserved his full year of sleep before waking up roaring to announce the coming 1970 meeting to the motorcyclist jungle!
- Jean-Francois Helias