Andorra Rally

Part 2: About the Rally

I was just 15 when the French motorbike press announced the first ever rally in Andorra. It was to be organised jointly by the Mirepoix Moto Sports and the Moto Club Andorra and would take place on the 2nd/3rd of October 1971.

Although at the time I was still at school, I had already taken part in many rallies in the preceding 18 months. These had been either on my own moped, if the distance and my meagre finances allowed it; or as a passenger on the motorbike of a friend who was older and had the cash to support his hobby on these more distant trips. It was a waste of time to ask my parents to let me go even further afield, and much less to ask them to finance these trips. Anyway, I didn't even possess a passport; and for someone underage like me I would have needed my parents’ permission to leave the country.

I was longing to be able to attend big international meetings, but at the time for me it was plainly impossible. I had to wait until the summer of 1973 to finally leave France for the first time and take part in my first international meeting. The Madonnina dei Centauri in Allessandria, Italy.

However, my desire to attend the first Andorran meeting knew no bounds. This tiny country of only 468 square kilometers is situated in the Pyrenees, firmly wedged in a vice-like grip between Spain and France, and where Catalan is the official language.

Andorra is wedged between Spain and France, with Catalan the official language

Andorra 1971
1580 machines and 2300 people from 6 different countries

Another powerful incentive for my participation in this first meeting was the opportunity - if lady luck was on my side, (and at 15 one always thinks of oneself as a winner), to win one of the big raffle prizes. The rally was sponsored by the radio station Sud Radio, Honda France, Redex and the magazine Moto Revue, as well as various other commercial brands, which meant that the prizes were amazing.

The first three prizes were, respectively; a brand new 750 Honda, a new 350 Honda, and a new 125 Honda. Following these top prizes were three mopeds and various smaller prizes as the tickets were drawn. There was even a plane trip to Casablanca for two, and a week's hotel stay in Andorra for two.

This year 1580 machines took part of which 160 came from abroad. The international classification by club at the end of the rally counted 60 bikes from Spain, 50 from Germany, 20 from Belgium, 20 from Holland and 10 from Italy; all the others being French

To put things into context, the 1971 registration fee for the rally was a modest 20 French francs. This gave the entrant the right to participate in the raffle draw, the traditional ‘aperitif’, access to the Andorra Arena for a folklore gala, lâchers de vachettes (bull running) , and the presentation of individual cups and prizes. In addition, participants who wished to take part in the international motocross organised by MC Andorra that same weekend could benefit from a special rate.

Don't ask me why or how this ancestral green and yellow Parisian platform bus that used to criss-cross the streets of Paris ended up in Andorra la Vella, the capital of the Principality of Andorra. But it was this bus that doubled as the rally office for the whole weekend. From Friday evening onwards, rallyists from all over the world came to register and to receive the meeting’s commemorative badge

Although the weather was particularly kind that autumn, in anticipation of a possible change, the organisers had wisely set up a self-service facility with a covered room which operated throughout the meeting. Hot dishes were on offer, including cassoulet and sauerkraut for only 4 francs.

The bikers' refreshment room offered a huge choice of alcohols of all kinds. The friendly concept was that no matter what you drank, the price was the same for absolutely all drinks. The biker paid only one franc for his drink, be it pastis, martini, whisky, cognac or any other drink that in a bar in another country would have cost him much more.

In the town of Andorra la Vella many rallyists strolled along with the locals. Some of whom had come out of curiosity to see what these weekend invaders looked like and to admire their gleaming motorbikes. Others, fleeing the heat and seeking the shade, had found refuge in the local pubs where, for a few coins, the local red wine flowed freely

Another curiosity of this first Andorra rally of 1971, (and certainly alien to modern ears), was the distribution of free cigarettes and cigars to the participants on their arrival. This in itself represented at the time almost one million old French francs in sponsorship costs. Given this one fact alone, one can imagine the extent to which the sponsors went in financial terms to ensure the success of this first rally.

This first event received largely positive feedback and approval from participants, sponsors and visitors, but nonetheless, the organisers, a partnership between Mirepoix Moto Sports, a French club in the Midi-Pyrénées, located between Carcassonne and Foix, and the Moto Club Andorra, agreed a few improvements for the second meeting to come in 1972.

One of the major shortcomings was that the results of the rally classification and the distribution of the raffle prizes take place much earlier on the Sunday morning so that everyone could attend before heading home.

Andorra 1972
2500 machines and 3500 people

For this second meeting, called for the occasion Valls d'Andorra, Moto Club Andorra had decided that it was no longer necessary to be supported by Mirepoix Moto Sports, their French partner of the previous year. They were going to handle the whole organisation structure by themselves.

Through their intensive promotion of their event on Sud Radio, in the international motorbike press, and after having mailed 1240 European clubs, the Andorran club expected a participation of 4000 machines for the weekend of 30th September and 1st October 1972.

As it turned out, their expectations were a little optimistic. Only around half this number attended. Exactly 1900 machines were registered by their owners at control, but according to figures provided by the customs service, it was in fact nearly 2500 machines and 3500 participants who crossed the border to take part. This demonstrates the fact that a large proportion of bikers who made the trip to the second rally didn’t want to ‘cough up’ the registration fee.

And yet this small investment was worth it, because apart from the Valls d'Andorra 1972 badge and various other items offered to the rallyists within the price of their registration, one of the main sponsors of this 2nd meeting was the oil brand Repsol International Madrid. They offered all the registrants, (whether riders or pillions), a voucher entitling them to 10 litres of free fuel. Even better, one in five participants was randomly awarded a free tank of petrol and the oils etc that their machine needed. Imagine that as an incentive today!

A general view of the campsite entrance

Three and a half thousand participants is a very respectable number for a new meeting, which after all was only celebrating its 2nd birthday. It’s a fact that it usually takes several years for a rally on foreign soil to become well known outside its own sphere and to take its place on the calendar among international meetings not to be missed.

Besides, Andorra had from the beginning two obvious disadvantages. On the one hand, it took place at the beginning of October and was therefore outside the summer holiday season which of course would have made for a much more popular attendance. On the other hand, for many European rallyists who were neither French nor Spanish, Andorra was geographically 'badly placed' and the round-trip distance, covered on a single autumn weekend was too great.

The distance did not discourage the most eminent representatives of the 'Grands Randonneurs' of Belgian motorcycle touring of the time. These included the avid mileage ‘eaters’ who belonged to RAMCA Anderlecht, led by their charismatic leader, Pierre Brel.

The late Pierre Brel on the right, pen in hand, who left us in April 2001.

Pierre, whom I had the privilege to meet many times, was a Brussels industrialist and brother of the legendary singer Jacques Brel. With the approval of the FMB authorities, he was at the start of the tourism championships in his country. After having reorganised the touring at national level, he turned to international rallies and motivated a whole generation of Belgian motorcyclists to participate every weekend. This was at a time when Belgian clubs were at the top of almost all the rankings of foreign rallies.

The luxurious prizes of the raffle of the 1st meeting of 1971 had demonstrated the financial strength, unique in Europe at that time, which the organisation had at its disposal. This was thanks to their sponsors and the official support of the Principality of Andorra which saw in this event an opportunity to promote tourism and increase their standing abroad.

Indeed the financial resources of the 1972 rally had increased so much that a total of 800 prizes, (among them a 500cc Honda 4 cylinder, two Honda 125cc and 3 mopeds) representing around 12 million old French francs were raffled among the registrants.

But whilst money helps to increase the chances of success in terms of the organisation, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. The Andorran club had a financial 'war chest' to achieve perfection, but was still criticised by many of the participants, as well as the French motorbike press of the time, who were dissatisfied with the way the organisers, probably due to their inexperience, allocated the prizes.

A participant using a vantage point to search for his passenger who is either collecting a prize or already riding it home.

One of their biggest mistakes was to leave the arrival control open until noon on Sunday. The organisation used a computer to process the data as quickly as possible. They were supposed to give the results of the ranking much earlier (11am would have been perfect) in order not to repeat the fiasco of the previous year. Nevertheless, it was impossible for them to give the final results before 3pm on Sunday afternoon

Needless to say, at this late hour, the vast majority of the participants had already left the meeting, already on their way back home. The long distances to be covered and the fact that it was best to pass over the Pyrenees before nightfall, meant that by Sunday afternoon there were only a few hundred rallyists left. They were perhaps less eager to return than the others and shared out the trophies and cups handed out on the sly and which they did not deserve to win.

It was exactly the same for the prize-giving of the raffle which was carried out in front of this tiny crowd of perhaps a hundred bikers, not in a hurry to leave.

When motorbikes were invited to gather in Andorra la Vella, the motorcyclists of the servicei d'ordre of the Policia d'Andorra (founded in 1931) also wanted to be part of the event; in any event to escort the parade in the city.

In spite of these imperfections, the French magazine Moto Revue, (one of the main sponsors), made a deserved criticism in an article addressed to the Andorran organisers, in the hope that they would finally make some changes, ensuring the continued success of future events. Despite the issues and imperfections of the rally itself, it was my ardent desire to participate as soon as possible in this event, a desire that had nagged away at me since the announcement of the first meeting in 1971.

I had to wait until September 1974, before I could finally fulfil my wish, a dream that originated three years before. However, little did I know that my dream of completing this motorcycling adventure in Andorra would in fact turn into a nightmare!

- Jean-Francois Helias

(Continue with Part 3: The Gang)

Start of quotation Salut Fanfan,

I can't wait to read the rest of your story about Andorra 1974 because it was my very first rally abroad, beyond our French borders.

I also had my share of setbacks, and on the way back I even ran out of gas in Bourg-Lastic. It was getting dark, the only gas station was closed, and so was everything else. I even asked for hospitality at the gendarmerie post, which they refused. So I had to spend the night outside in front of the church, in a freezing wind, and with snow falling.

When one of the bars in the village finally opened, I was able to have a hot coffee. The sun finally appeared at the same time as the pump attendant. I was finally able to fill up the tank of my 125 Honda CB S to finish my journey to Clermont-Ferrand.

I remember this 'nightmare' as if it was yesterday. End of quotation

Christophe Charletoux - Charlot
(Dragons Moto Club)