3rd January 1965
4000 machines and 5600 rallyists at the Nurburgring

Every year, like the one before, sees the winter 'migration' of the steel pachyderms. This annual winter event triggers 'elephants' on two or three wheels from all over Europe and beyond, to leave their home turf, setting off to gather for the weekend on the Nurburgring in the Eiffel Mountains of Germany, with most answering the call.

The migration of January 1965 saw many answer that call and in greater numbers than previous years.

Elefant 1965 - Ilkka Lehto from Lapland

The furthest of all attendees was a regular at the annual meetings and present the previous year. He was a Finn named Ilkka Lehto and he'd travelled all the way from the distant town of Rovaniemi, the official home of Santa Claus on the Arctic Circle in Lapland (almost 3300 km away).

Let's talk about courage and tenacity! He had overcome very bad winter conditions during his journey, including 1000 km covered in snow and ice on a trial machine Greeves 250cc.This motorcycle with a small tank holding only 6 litres meant he was obliged to refuel every 100 km.

January 1965 - An 'elephant' en route to the Nurburgring 

The second furthest rallyist, was Jean-Claude who'd travelled 3000 km on his BSA 650 from Sidi Bel Abbes, a town in northwestern Algeria, in the Atlas Mountains.

The veterans too, would not miss the opportunity to attend such an important gathering and there were many present in 1965. Legendary rallyists like the venerable Robert Sexe and German speed champions like Ernst Hoske.

Elefant 1965 -Robert Sexe with friends

The only big absentee was the man behind the creation of the meeting itself: 'Klacks', who was bedridden after a serious illness. At the request of his close friends, he had recorded a message for all the participants which was broadcast late afternoon on Saturday during the speeches opening the meeting. The tone of his voice and his words expressed vividly how sad he was that he was unable to attend.

Elefant 1965- A crowd of enthusiasts ...

The ceremony began with a speech by Dr. Ludemann of the Nurburgring LLC, who welcomed everyone in German, French and English.

Mike Evans spoke on behalf of the Motor Cycle editors and conveyed greetings from English rallyists who had been unable to attend this year.

Finally, the legendary Robert Sexe spoke on behalf of the French.

...meeting once again...

Then it was time to start the traditional torchlight procession all around the circuit. At the signal, the long column of motorcycles set off in the dark despite the rain and snow, expressing through this solemn line of riders their respect and mourning for the memory of recently deceased fellow motorcyclists.

...in front of the stands

The lights of the 'Sporthotel' and those in the surrounding villages remained on late into the night. In the forest near the stands, hardy campers warmed up around camp fires in front of their tents. Most of those camp fire discussions centred on machines and mechanics, and the forest echoed to laughter and songs throughout the night at the 'Green Hell' track.

Elefant 1965-A group of young bikers

On Sunday morning, the programme resumed with the traditional religious service for those who wished to take part. After mass, the jury awarded prizes of tool kits to the lucky owners of the best prepared solo machines and outfits. The task of judging was made extremely difficult since the standard of the selected machines were all pretty much perfect.

Elefant 1965- I tip my hat to the rallyist who rode to the Nurburgring on this cafe racer

Every story has an end and the 1965 meeting was no different in this respect. It was time once again for the 'steel elephants' and their 'mahouts' to separate and hit the road back home but all promising to meet up again next year.

- Jean-Francois Helias