6 & 7 January 1968
6000 machines and 10000 people
We really couldn't have hoped for worse weather conditions for a perfect winter meeting. If the conditions of January 1967 had proved perfect, then those we encountered in 1968 surpassed them hands down.
The international rallying community would long remember their adventures on the snowy roads that lead them to the great winter meeting of the year at the famous Eiffel circuit.
Elefant 1968 - Mother Nature this year had provided perfect winter conditions.The adventures of the rallyists en-route to the Nurburgring would forever remain indelibly printed in their memories
That winter of 1968, the heavens had opened and blanketed Germany and its neighbours in a thick white coat. The entire countryside, all the way to the horizon in every direction sat under a thick blanket of snow, ice and frost.
Elefant 1968 - The winter weather please both the organisers and fans alike
On the Friday morning preceding the long-awaited Elefantentreffen weekend, the temperature fell to -14C. Klacks and the rest of his organising committee were probably the only ones in all of Germany to revel in such harsh conditions.
Elefant 1968 - In such adverse weather, even the best maintained engines can't be readily started
Early on Saturday morning, the sky had darkened considerably above the Eiffel, its ominous dark grey colour heralding the onset of snow and around noon the first flakes began to fall. The circuit had already been invaded by thousands of faithful fans, all of whom were anxious to be part of this auspicious event.
Elefant 1968 - Under the watchful gaze of the crowd, a father and son share a moment together on a very nice mini racing sidecar powered by a 100cc NSU Fox engine
New rules enforced for the first time
For the first time ever, the committee had succeeded in tidying up the rules by judiciously banning motor vehicles from entering the 'ring'.
Elefant 1968 - Machines parked neatly next to each other without a car or truck in sight to spoil the view
As such, the neatly parked rows of rally machines standing in lines next to each other could be seen in front of the stands without cars and trucks spoiling the view. This uniform line-up, a metal 'wave' of two and three wheels impressed everyone.
On this southern slope of the circuit, the start/finish area was reserved exclusively for motorcyclists. On the northern slope however, an entrance had been set up exclusively for tourists, visitors and anyone curious enough to want to witness the meeting, and for once the crowds were much lighter compared to previous years. The reason was undoubtedly the harsh winter weather which had been getting worse and worse since the beginning of January.
Elefant 1968 - Tourists, visitors and the curious all fall into separate groups, all identifiable by the clothes they wear.
Motorcycle show in the pits
In the yard area of the pits, a space had been specially set up for traders so that they no longer clutter the circuit as before.
This space looked very much like a kind of mini motorcycle exhibition where traders and importers had the opportunity to present their products to the visitors.
Besides the accessories dealers, there were of course the bike brand representatives themselves: Yamaha, Moto Guzzi, (presenting its 700cc V7), Jawa, MZ, Bultaco and of course BMW, the native brand in Germany.
Elefant 1968 - In the pits area, rallyists walk from one stand to another in the commercial space reserved for various accessories dealers and the bike brand representatives
In this mini exhibition, the Varta brand assistance truck was the busiest one of the weekend, doing their best to help out a number of participants in need.
Elefant 1968 - These guys seem good enough mechanics not to need the services of the Varta staff to fix a gearbox problem on their Zundapp. They're repairing it themselves in the open air
The most talked about brand at the 1968 event was undoubtedly the German firm, Metzeler tyres. They had the brilliant idea of producing a blue rubber mini elephant which they gave away to anyone who filled out a questionnaire.
The very first version of the mini rubber elephant produced by Metzeler for the 1968 meeting. The next photo shows the more modern version
Using this questionnaire Metzeler recorded the type of machine that various participants rode and each rallyist taking part took with him an original souvenir of the Elefantentreffen.
Elefant 1968 - The Metzeler employee in charge of statistics certainly found it hard to believe when reading his file that a certain Trevor Green (on the left in the photo) had travelled 4,800 km solo on his BMW to reach the Nurburgring from the Australian city of Adelaide
Unexpected sound and light show
The snow eventually stopped towards evening, just in time for the traditional torchlight retreat to take place. The break in the weather enabled participants to return without being soaked from head to toe and chilled from the cold.
Elefant 1968 - Coming solo in such conditions deserves a tip of the hat; riding a cafe racer, it certainly deserves the jury's congratulations
After the customary speeches and the reading of the names of fellow motorcyclists who died in 1967, a long column of combos formed on the northern slope, transforming the night into a luminous 'snake', alive and shimmering with thousands of small flames. This awe-inspiring moving moment proved to be the highlight of the gathering year after year.
Due to harsh winter conditions, the tour of the circuit on Saturday evening 6 January 1968 wasn't without incident, (but fortunately no one was hurt).
Elefant 1968 - This photo taken during the day in front of the stands starkly illustrates the track conditions that prevailed
One of the most dangerous parts of the tour was the descent of Brunchen, where on this icy slope, a good forty combos with smooth tyres and perhaps inexperienced riders skidded. Some even left the road entirely or were involved in minor pile-ups causing the column following them to stop.
Imagine the sound and light show:
Screams echo here and there, shafts of light from headlights sweeping and zig-zagging the track, disturbing the local wildlife, and accumulated snow falls from the branches of the fir trees.
A stout German braced on his heels and clinging bravely to the handlebars, the front brake desperately tightened, ends his skid in a pit under a cloud of powder snow. Sturdy arms pull the man and his machine out of the snowdrift, put everything back into working order and revive the rider with schnapps and friendly back slaps.
Elefant 1968 - Nothing like alcohol to warm one up. This biker wearing a cap drinking from the bottle shows how to do it. French readers will no doubt have recognised him: Charles Krajka, then a member of the famous MC Chatillonnais, came to the rally with 'La Bricole' (eating the sandwich), the mechanic from his Parisian motorcycle shop
When Zorro did not escape danger
I cannot quote the name of MC Chatillonnais, the famous French club of Chatillon sous Bagneux (92), founded in the 1930s, without thinking of my old friend Simon 'Zorro' Moulon who during his lifetime was the best ambassador of this once prestigious club.
I could almost write a book on 'Zorro' with whom I have shared so many road adventures and personal highlights. One day I will write beautiful things on this website about this exceptional man who, when we rode together in the 1970s, was already old enough to be my grandfather.
(left): Zorro in November 1970 at the Coupes de l'Armistice in Livry-Gargan. (right): later in the 80s with his beautiful patriarch beard
We will talk about him again one day if I decide to tell the true story of the Confrerie Motocycliste des Gueux d'Route that I had the privilege of founding in 1979 and for which I chose Simon 'Zorro' Moulon to be its Honorary President.
(left): Zorro photographed by artist Chop 'at the Alambic rally 1978 (right): my mum, yours truly and Zorro at the same rally. He and my mother knew each other well as he stayed at her house whenever he was in the area
If you are wondering why I digress for a brief moment by devoting a few lines to the late Zorro in this article on the Elefantentreffen 1968, there is a good reason. He never reached the Nurburgring that year although he was on his way to participate in the rally.
For this Germanic tour of January 68, Zorro was not riding his own machine but rather had gone as a passenger, sitting in the combo belonging to one of his fellow members from MC Chatillonnais.
His rider had little experience of riding a three-wheeler. This last sentence foreshadows what followed. The pilot missed a turn, carried straight on and the two members of MC Chatillonnais suffered serious consequences ending up in hospital with serious fractures and injuries to their faces and skulls.
Elefant 1968 - If my old friend Zorro were still alive I would be happy to tease him by telling him that a stay in a good hospital bed in a well-heated room was infinitely preferable to a tent in -14C.
Zorro happily survived and all his life, until the end of his days, was an active motorcyclist participating in hundreds of rallies in France and abroad.
- Jean-Francois Helias
Once again, enough photographic documents of the 1968 gathering remain in my archives not to leave them aside but to share them with you via this addendum. More photos are also more visual testimonies of the atmosphere that reigned this year on the Ring.
"Whose friggin' bright idea was this?" - Own up Klacks!
- Jean-Francois Helias
I was at the 1968 (and 1967) Elefant. I'm photographed on the left in the photo above and originally captioned Alan Westwood.
The photo was taken by Klacks as I was leaving and published in Das Motorrad on 27 November 1971 to illustrate an article called "Kalte? Wieso?".
Alan Westwood was also there and that is his BMW in the right hand photo. We both brought our bikes to Europe from Adelaide in South Australia via the Middle East in 1966. I bought mine new in 1964 and after many thousands of kilometres in many countries still have it, back in Adelaide, still running and road registered.
- Trevor Green
After fifty years we are pleased to correct the original 27 January 1968 Das Motorrad report by Klacks. Can you add any other names to this or other reports? Look closely - we were all much younger then!
My first Elefantentreffen in 1968 was a traumatic experience.
- Constantly falling and struggling to lift the bike on the snow covered icy roads
- Keeping my toe under the gear lever to stop it jumping out of gear
- Unable to steer or stop on the Monschau hairpins - cars dodging me
- Needing to keep the engine running when refuelling because of water in the magneto
- Avoiding the blockage on the A2 by riding across the fields to use a road under construction
- Ice ruts in London and lorries sliding back towards me
- A hundred miles with no lights, tailing a lorry up the slush covered motorway
- Missing my turn off the M1 and having to do an extra 20 miles home
We didn't return until two years later and I'd learned the hard way that three wheels were necessary.
From then I campaigned my AJS with Jet80 sidecar to try to lay the ghosts of my 1968 encounter.
- Ben Crossley
Derek Foster reported on the 1968 Elefantentreffen in his Megaphone articles, now with photos from Dave Parry.