Crazy get-togethers for weirdos and misfits
The Alambic Rally was a very special rally and one that had no equivalent in the circle of French invitational rallies of the 70s and 80s.
The commemorative diploma of the 1976 rally given to each participant. I did its layout and it was produced by 'Coco' Kozdeba who was then working as a typographer at the Imprimerie Ouvriere of Montlucon
One of its peculiarities was that from its very first meeting in March 1976, its organisers wanted it to be held only every two years.
What's more, participants had to be deserving enough to qualify for an invitation to take part in this hyper-selective bi-annual event.
Alambic rally 1976 at Teillet-Argenty - In the background, the late 'Loulou' Jouannard, co-organiser of this meeting, in conversation with Michel Vaquier aka 'Le Grillou', member of the MC Dragons de Clermont-Fd and licensed racing sidecar passenger; in the foreground, members of the Eighteen Club de Vierzon, admiring some big Italian V-Twins
There were three main criteria that would guarantee you a place at this rally: You had to be a close friend or old acquaintance of the organisers, or you had to be someone marginal or crazy enough to merit being invited. Finally, if you were a rallyist who was known to ride all year round and in all seasons, being part of what was then the crème de la crème of 'kilometre-gobblers', you could possibly qualify for a place on the list of invitees.
Alambic 1978 - The commemorative diploma given to each participant. From the mid-70s, it was extremely rare for organizers of invitational rallies to produce a badge that cost them too much for a small number of participants. Rallyists generally received a sticker as a souvenir, or eventually a diploma; sometimes even both. This saving made it possible to invest in better quality meals for the participants
On the other hand, those who were referred to as 'sad', 'piss-cold', or 'deadpan' were automatically disqualified. If you were a rally-goer who took yourself too seriously or were far too introverted for our taste, you had no place at this gathering of 'freaks' that was the Alambic rally.
This exclusive and selective bi-annual event gathered around sixty participants at its first meeting in 1976; and at subsequent meetings in 1978, 1980 and 1982, attendance rarely exceeded more than 120 guests.
Alambic rally 1978 - A weekend of madness on the property of Bourbonnais artist Chop', with his 'Maison Couleur Du Temps' in the background
As you can imagine, as this rally was not open to everyone but only to those I wanted to see, this strict and severe selection of participants was undoubtedly not to the liking of those who were never invited to this very special gathering.
This did nothing to help me make friends with riders with whom I had no affinity or appease those with whom I had disagreements.
Alambic rally 1980 - The commemorative sticker of the event; I 'borrowed' this superb drawing by Hamming published in one of my American magazines at the time, either Easyriders or SuperCycle
But as the saying goes, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. In the ignorant ardour of my youth, diplomacy was of no importance to me. The most important thing for me was that the soul of the rally and its philosophy should always be preserved, as I had wanted from the outset.
Alambic rally 1982 - Luc 'Bouboule' Cousin of the Liberty Club (left), yours truly (centre) and the late 'Pere Marcel', a friendly old woodsman who never failed to turn up as a neighbour at my summer rallies in Clemagnet. Not only could he drink to his heart's content, free of charge, but this hardened celibate also didn't mind undressing with his eyes the beautiful motorcycle girls who were already slightly dressed.....
The fact that getting older has no doubt made me wiser and more diplomatic over time meant that the 5th meeting in 2014 was an exception, with almost 250 participants taking part.
Why the name of Alambic?
Apart from the dates and venue, all rally organisers, whether clubs or individuals know that one of the very first elements in setting up a first meeting is to find a name that is pleasant enough to give a title to the event they have in mind.
The origin of the name Alambic rally comes from a French song I listened to in the 70s. If my memory once again fails to give you its exact title or the name of its performer (although I wonder if it wasn't the Belgian artist Julos Beaucarne), what I have never forgotten to this day are two lines from the song saying:
A first-class alembic
Distilling stinking spirits
Alambic rally 1978 - A fine bunch of scoundrels (from left to right): Yours truly, our host Chop', 'Marco de Toul' and Patrice 'Stanley' Bailly
At the time, we liked to indulge more than moderately in various alcoholic beverages, and often excessively during rallies, so the name 'Alambic' seemed a perfect fit for our gathering.
When? Where? Who?
The 1st meeting was organised on 20 and 21 March 1976 at Teillet-Argenty, a dozen kilometres from Montlucon (Allier), on the property of an old friend of mine, a former legionnaire, called Jean Cheyppe. The two organisers were the late Louis 'Loulou' Jouannard and myself.
The late 'Loulou' Jouannard, co-organizer of the Alambic rally 1976, is photographed here at the 2014 meeting, a week before his death. He was passionate about rallies and, like many of us from the Montlucon gang, a fanatic of classic British machines. He rode enormously for several years on his trusty Triumph Daytona 500 and his Norton Commando 850
For the 2nd meeting in 1978, the rally moved to the magical setting of 'La Maison Couleur Du Temps', home of the talented Bourbonnais artist Chop', in the hamlet of Petit-Clemagnet, in the commune of Venas (Allier).
The two organisers were the late Bernadette 'Dedette' Blanchot and myself, Jean-Francois 'Fanfan' Helias, members of the Clermont-Ferrand MC Dragons.
My brother from another mother: the artist Chop', posing here in front of his phantasmagorical 'maison-tableau' on which he has worked tirelessly since May 1970
The 3rd meeting in 1980, organised once again by Bernadette 'Dedette' Blanchot and myself, representing our club MC Dragons de Clermont-Ferrand, was again held at 'La Maison Cour Du Temps', owned by the poet, painter and photographer Chop'.
It was on the artist's magical estate, on the edge of the Lespinasse forest, that I lived in his company for over 6 months in the mid-70s, and where I have organised 4 of the 5 meetings of my summer rally through the years
As the saying goes, you don't change a winning team, so the 4th meeting in 1982, organised once again by Bernadette 'Dedette' Blanchot and myself, took place at 'La Maison Couleur Du Temps'.
Interior views of the house of artist Chop'.
The story of the Alambic rally could have ended its saga there in the early 80s.
Having immigrated to sunny Thailand in the mid-80s, and now living 12,000 km from France, I could never have imagined for a second that I'd have the chance to organise a 5th episode in this saga so dear to my life's journey.
Alambic rally 2014 - It took 32 years for the revival of this legendary rally
But life always throws up surprises, both good and bad. This one was extraordinarily superb and totally unexpected.
Thanks to the invaluable help of my loyal Ardeche friend Patrick Servanton, a 5th meeting was held in July 2014, once again in the magical lands of his majesty Chop'.
Alambic rally 2014 - Yours truly and his loyal accomplice Patrick Servanton, the pillars of the organisation of this 5th meeting
This collaboration was reinforced, with help with the logistics of the organisation, by my loyal motorcycling accomplices of yesteryear, including Alain Le Risbe and his partner Fanny Marotte, Karine Servanton, Guy 'Dresch' Rostant, Jean-Michel 'Ariel' Millerand, Rene 'Ness' Berthon, Bernard Billay, Philippe Langlois, and Daniel Golde from the Motorama motorbike shop.
A special mention in passing to thank the female representatives of the MC Dragons: Dominique Douffiagues and Patricia Morin, who did a tremendous job serving the rally bar for most of the day on Saturday; which is no picnic when you have to serve cold drinks to a pack of thirsty motorcyclists under the scorching July sun...
Alambic rally 2014 - At the refreshment stand, the MC Dragons in full force, from left to right: Yves Beranger, Patricia Morin, Jean‑Claude Martin, Louis Jouannard, Dominique Douffiagues and Alain Salas
Each of these meetings, from the first to the last, obviously has its share of anecdotes. In the abundance of these, some deserve to be told more than others.
I hope to be able to find the time in the coming months, between two fishing expeditions, to tell them to you. Like a still extracting the divine nectar from all those tasty motorcycling memories of the past concerning this one of a kind rally...
- Jean-Francois Helias