3-4 January 1970

Wave goodbye to the 60s, and let's usher in the 70s!

The end of the 60s concluded in style with 1969 enjoying a fair share of major events. Who can forget the Woodstock Festival attracting an estimated 400,000 rock and pop fans, and dwarfing the 150,000 inhabitants of the Isle of Wight.

And let's not also forget The Beatles, (with Billy Preston), giving their final live performance on the roof of the Apple building in London.

The artistic efforts decorating some of the machines on the occasion of the fifteenth Elefant reunion

That same year 1969, more than half a billion people watched tv coverage of American astronaut Neil Armstrong as he became the first man to step onto the Moon. The Boeing 747 jumbo jet made its debut and the first-ever Concorde test flight was conducted in France. On a more tragic note, the members of Charles Manson's cult savagely murdered five people in movie director Roman Polanski's home; including Polanski's pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate.

Under the fir trees of the campsite, a Triumph twin sits side by side with a Honda 4 cylinder, as their respective owners stroll elsewhere on the racetrack

In the early 1970s, the industrial production of motorcycles was in full swing in most major European countries, attracting a whole new generation eager to experience this new found phenomenon of freedom. Among this swathe of new motorcyclists, some discovered a passion for touring and joined the ranks of their elders in the world of rallying.

The Elefantentreffen was, back then, considered to be the ultimate annual event, and definitely not to be missed, The Holy Grail of motorcycling gatherings, it was only logical that the attendance figures for the January 1970 meeting would rise.

A view of these invaders coming from all over the world to meet one weekend a year in the cold and snow of the legendary Eiffel circuit

As usual, the big names in the world of international touring were there. Among them was the venerable Robert Sexé, still as valiant and young at heart despite his 79 years. He had travelled solo on his 125 DKW RT, 800 km from his home in Saint-Benoit, Poitou, France, to the Nurburgring. Also there was the well-known rallyist Jean-Marie Debonneville.

Going to the Elefantent rally on an old vintage motorbike, as the venerable Robert Sexé has always done, is not without problems, as shown by the French owner of this 500 Terrot RSS in the middle of an impromptu outdoor mechanical session

Every year, big names in the world of speed racing were in evidence and the 1970 meeting on the 'Ring' was no exception. Amongst a host of famous names was the French champion Jean Aureal, whose career in competition stretched from the early 1960s to the 1970s, mainly competing on Bultaco in the 125cc class. He then moved on to Aermacchi and Yamaha in 250cc and 350cc. Also there was the German international sidecar racer Georg Auerbacher, runner up in the 1967, 1968 and 1970 World Sidecar Championships on a BMW outfit.

The 59 Club was also represented as shown in this photo of one of its members having braved the snow and icy roads on the handlebars of his Norton solo in cafe racer version

Apart from the men and women taking part, the machines were the real stars, and every year, this enormous gathering of two and three wheels of all kinds created the biggest outdoor improvised winter international motorcycle show you could ever wish to see and be part of.

The biggest outdoor winter international motorcycle show

Wherever you went, your eyes were constantly seeking out ever more interesting and enigmatic machines, to find a machine that interests you and deserves the time to stop and better observe it in all its smallest details.

The various models of Harley Davidson motorcycles seen on the 'Ring' attracted the attention of many young riders, perhaps fantasising that they might one day have the money to buy one

Brand new motorcycles, vintage machines, bitzas of all kinds, the latest models, accessories and gadgets, DIY innovations and improvements - absolutely nothing was missing from this gigantic meeting.

V Twins of Milwaukee in the German winter

To the delight of the organisers and visitors, the snow fell in large flakes, giving the winter gathering the perfect conditions and making both the event itself and the surroundings absolutely ideal.

Under the large snow-capped fir trees of the campsite, the smoke of campfires rises through the icy air, and the leather silhouettes of the 'knights of the cold' enjoy the surroundings and the perfect event conditions

On the 'Ring', the Saturday was like a giant fair. The most sought after item was the rally's commemorative badge, available to buy for 6 DM and of course extremely popular. Mind you, on a more prosaic note, the stall selling German sausage attracted large crowds of customers eager to sample this indigenous staple.

This German rallyist on his 'green elefant' Zundapp combo that gave the rally its name will tell you with pride that Germany is famed for more than 1,200 types of sausage including the frankfurter and the Munich weisswurst

The lounge of the legendary Sport Hotel was also doing very good business. One might speculate that the quantity of beer drunk throughout the event may have exceeded the quantity of petrol contained in all the tanks of those taking part. One thing is certain. Back then, smoking bans in public places didn't exist and the smoky atmosphere of the place resembled a garage full of revving two-stroke, oil-thirsty engines.

The lucrative benefits for all the hotel-restaurants around the "Ring" meant that their owners never complained about the event .... and for good reason

Another successful business was the sale of spare parts and accessories. On the paths to the 'Ring's' access tunnel the various brands of motorcycles all had stands, constantly crowded with potential customers.

The British owner of this Vincent certainly didn't need to buy rally accessories to customise his machine. The DIY dashboard of his motorbike readily demonstrates functionality over aesthetics; a testament to his labelling skills.

The future of the rally worries the French press

However, a few days after the 1970 meeting, among the articles published in the French motorcycling press, one addressed the danger that threatened the rally. The writer of the report, a certain P.Y. Refalo, sounded the alarm.

The team of journalists from the French magazine 'Moto Revue' on their way to the Nurburgring on an old Rene Gillet 1000 combo.

For him, among the growing number of participants over the years, the spirit of the rally was sullied by the presence of 'rallymen' who arrived not on their machines, but unashamedly in cars with their motorbikes on trailers. On the other hand, whole families, sometimes from several hundred kilometers away also travelled by car to show their children the curiosities gathered at the 'Ring'.

A classic BMW R69S outfit. With 42hp on tap at 7,000 rpm and compression ratio up to 9.5:1, the R69S was capable of a genuine 110 mph.There were 11,417 of them built between the years 1960 and 1969

Other concerns were also voiced. One suggested that the rally was becoming more a gigantic commercial enterprise and less a true rally. The author cited, among many other examples, the 2 DM rallyists had to pay to be able to ride on the circuit.

A courageous young motorcyclist from Belgium on a small 50cc bitza racing outfit of his own creation

The author of the article also lamented that too often for foreign bikers the prices offered at the expo stands were not fixed but charged according to whether the vendor liked your face.

A bitza 'made in France' with a Panhard flat twin engine in a BMW chassis. The sidecar suspension comes from a Lambretta scooter

According to him a solution was urgently needed to find a way to return the Elefantentreffen to its initial purity that had characterised the meeting.

Let us conclude this report with a remarkable documentary on Elefantentreffen from 1970, filmed for French television, offering a rare interview with the venerable Robert Sexé:

And by the compilation of photos below from this same 1970 meeting:

- Jean-Francois Helias