3000 spectators and stall holders
Yes, you read the heading correctly. It was indeed an impressive human tide of ten thousand people who invaded the famous Eiffel circuit on January 8/9 to take part in the eleventh annual winter reunion of the 1966 Elefantentreffen.
That same year, 1966 was marked amongst other events by the first soft landing on the moon by the Soviet Union's spacecraft Luna 9; the first modern mass shooting when sniper Charles Whitman shot and killed 16 people in Texas and the first 'acid trips' by hippies in San Francisco.
1966 also saw three of the most iconic rock 'n' roll albums make their debut: The Beatles; Revolver, Bob Dylan's; Blonde on Blonde and The Doors' self-titled LP. And let's not forget perhaps the most significant event of all, the England squad, led by Bobby Moore, claimed victory over Germany in the World Cup.
The Nurburgring circuit aka the 'Nordschleife' aka the 'Green Hell', (a name given to it later by the legendary Formula 1 driver Sir Jackie Stewart), had rarely seen that many motorcyclists gathered on its track since its opening ceremony in 1927. As such, the term invasion seemed more appropriate to this gathering than that of simple reunion.
Elefant 1966 - The pleasure of meeting in 10 degrees below zero
It was 'motorcycle heaven' this particular year at the 'Ring' with all tastes catered for. World speed champions, technicians, manufacturers, no one was missing except ironically for the firm Zundapp.
Elefant 1966 - Dress warmly to face the cold
Much to the frustration of Klacks who wrote in the magazine 'Das Motorrad', in his review of the 66 meeting:
There were hundreds of machines that had the Zundapp emblem on the tank, but where were the Zundapp people to witness the growth of this now very popular meeting from its birth with the great and famous KS601 model 10 years previously?
Elefant 1966 - Outfits from Canada at the 'Ring'
Pretty much every motorcycle brand was represented at the circuit. A myriad of various models, from the oldest to the most modern at the time.
Elefant 1966 - A nice German outfit
The weather that weekend of early January was ideal. Although the sun was shining, the temperature was touching -10°C.
Elefant 1966 - The frost covering the machine testifies to the severity of the temperature
On the Sunday morning, many machines were hard to start due to temperature and much sweat was generated in efforts to get them going with eager spectators counting the number of kicks...
Elefant 1966 - Another nice classic BMW with Steib sidecar outfit
Once again, Klacks took advantage of his piece in Das Motorrad reviewing the Elephants 66 to make himself the spokesperson for motorcyclists.
Elefant 1966 - A participant posing on his machine, wearing a pair of pants that seemed ideally suited to the conditions
Once more, he addressed European manufacturers so hopefully they would finally produce motorcycles with more reliable engines:
Our experience of these last few years and the success of the Elefantentreffen make us think that there is an urgent need to produce a modern European motorcycle. The world can launch rockets to the moon but we are not able to build production motorcycles that can reach 20,000 km without having to repair their engine.
Elefant 1966 - A magnificent BMW combo in 'snow camouflage' version.
This is the main topic of conversation amongst riders. The European motorcycle is in danger because it is unreliable, the after-sales service is bad, the supply of spare parts difficult and the factories either bad or no longer around...
Elefant 1966 - A cafe racer Honda 450
...We were counting on the big Honda 450 which was blocked by the German administration because the handlebar lock did not comply. A 50-year-old biker, who came from Switzerland on his new CB 450, said of all the motorcycles he had ridden to date, this Honda is truly the best of all! concluded Ernst.
Elefant 1966 - The British club sidecars were there once again to represent their great motorcycling nation
In the motorcycle park in front of the stands, amongst the gigantic sea of machines, a few metallic beauties such as vintage NSU; cowboy's Harley-Davidson and splendid classic British bikes; (Vincent, 1000 Ariel Square Four, Norton, BSA, Triumph), stole the spotlight.
Elefant 1966 - Despite the snow starting to fall again, the photographer didn't hesitate to get his camera out to take a picture of this beautiful BSA twin, about to be started by its owner
Connoisseurs of beautiful machines would stop to stare at the 'Queen of French motorcycles of all time', a 750 AX 2 Gnome et Rhone combo, from 1938, in perfect condition and admired from all angles.
Speaking about this legendary model, to meet the needs of the French army, Gnome & Rhone unveiled in 1935 the
X, a 750cc machine with tumbled overhead valves and a power output of 34hp at 5,500 rpm.
Elefant 1966 - The Gnome et Rhone AX2 from 1938 that I am talking about
This powerful and robust motorcycle not only largely equipped the French army but also made converts of many sidecar lovers and amateurs. This bike had no equal even to the BMWs which were its direct competitors in configuration and ride.
Gnome & Rhone stepped up a gear from 1938 to 1945, also produced for the French army, a special sidecar model: the AX2. This AX2 was one of the first motorcycles to have a driven wheel sidecar like its foreign equivalents, the very famous BMW type Russia and Zundapp, the much rarer Belgians FN and the British Norton 600 Big Four.
The engine derived from the 750 X was a side-valve 800 cc flat twin fitted with a four-speed gear box. A five-speed gearbox version with reverse gear was also available. The bike had a maximum speed of 110km/h.
Power was transmitted to the rear wheel by drive shaft and conical torque, and the sidecar wheel was directly driven by the final drive unit. One engaged the gear by the means of a pedal coupled with a hand lever, and the rotating throttle handle was coupled to a hand throttle for off-road use. The dog clutch was operated by a pedal. The front fork was sprung by rubber bands and the wheel bearings were placed outside the wheel hubs, an unusual design feature.
A marvellous machine which claimed many trophies. In 1936, a first place at the 'Paris - Les Pyrenees - Paris' rally and the Autodrome Cup in Montlhery. Also Gustave Bernard established the record on a AX2 sidecar, doing the 1,519 km distance Budapest - Paris in less than 24hours beating the time of the Orient Express by almost an hour.
Elefant 1966 - A spit-roasted chicken is on the Saturday night dinner menu for these two amateur chefs...
On Saturday evening, nearly 1000 motorcycles made the traditional tour of the circuit at night, illuminated by a long serpent of headlights and torches burning in homage to deceased fellow bikers.
If you can survive camping with someone, you should marry them on the way home. (Yvonne Prinz)
The next morning, Sunday, curious onlookers and tourists flocked to see this famous motorcycle event the German press had rather negatively reviewed. A gathering of stunned tourists, who arrived in their heated cars, to watch the spectacle of these bikers and their devilish machines, a bit like visitors to the zoo...
Elefant 1966 -
Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a camper, which is kind of the same thing. (Anonymous)
It was time to say goodbye to friends and to promise them to meet again next year for the 1967 meeting. Most tents had already been taken down and luggage loaded into sidecar trunks or tied to machine racks. The rows of motorcycles were starting to break apart. The show was coming to and end.
A few days later after the rally, the snow decided to fall in abundance. It was just a little late to make the 66 meeting even more memorable.
Elefant 1966 - (left) Eddie and Betty Nevill of Hillingdon, England went to the rally on this Triumph Trophy outfit,(right), another British couple at the 66 meeting
A decade earlier, in January 1956, twenty Zundapp KS601 owners had met at the very first meeting of the Elefantentreffen. There was no organisation, no commemorative badge, no medal, no souvenir, simply the warm camaraderie in the cold of winter between passionate people happy to have braved the biting weather to get together.
Elefant 1966 - (left) Alan Carr of Birmingham.(right) Robert Sexé, 76 years old
Ten years later, the gathering had logically evolved but without Klacks and his entourage having been able to control the direction it had taken over the years.
The lure of a sale had also attracted a crowd of merchants and traders; and the notoriety of the event in the press produced a crowd of tourists curious to see what the show was all about.
Elefant 1966 - Sunbeam 1952 with 850cc Panhard engine
With this human tide of 10,000 people in January 1966, Klacks was still optimistic, rightly or wrongly though, about the future of the gathering he had created from scratch:
Will we still be able to welcome more than 7000 motorcyclists and 3000 visitors with our light organisation? I believe it is possible. Because a spontaneous discipline and a constant programme have been formed. As a result, the word 'organisation' is not necessary any more. Everyone knows where the camp site is, when the torchlight retreat will take place, and where they will find their friends.
Elefant 1966 - At the traditional gymkhana for children, young Christel Berg on the handlebars of her father's motorcycle riding pillion
His dearest wish:
We have built bridges to England, France, Scandinavia, the South and to all the other countries of Europe. We have only one problem that we cannot solve at all: how to share our joys with our fellow biker friends from Eastern Europe?
- Jean-Francois Helias