What's new at the 19th gathering of 1974?
The Elefantentreffen meetings of the early 1970s follow one another and are more or less similar. No big changes, no upheavals, few surprising new developments, in this year 74, likely to mark memories with a hot iron forever.
Despite this sort of soporific and lethargic routine, let's still plunge into the past via the LPMCC time machine and see together what was worth seeing on this first weekend of January on the Nurburgring.
Elefantentreffen 1974 - motorcycles of course, still lots of cars, and another year without snow! The Teutonic winter no longer deigns to send its snowflakes to welcome international rallyists in the manner of yesteryear…
Brief history of the meeting place
And yet God knows how harsh the winters of yesteryear were in the middle of the Eifel, in this region where Count Ulrich laid the first stone of his castle 'Noureborg' 800 years ago.
It was here that the 'Nürburg' first gave its name to the neighbouring municipality, and then, in the mid-1920s, to the legendary race track where, forty years later, on 7 January 1961, the very first Elefantentreffen of a long series ending in 1977 was held.
But how did this circuit get there in the heart of the Eifel? It all actually dates back to July 1924 when a race called the 'Eifel Race' took place in Nideggen. It gave the then Adenau authorities the idea of building a circuit in their region. It was unanimously approved.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Nürburgring took place in the summer of 1925.
Elefantentreffen 1974 – Not every camper is complaining about the lack of snow. Some prefer not to have to deal with it and spend a more or less comfortable night in the dry under their tent
A total of 8.1 million Reichsmarks of the time were made available for the construction of the Nürburgring, and almost 3,000 people worked on its completion.
In two years (between 1925 and 1927), engineers designed a circuit, then 22.8 kilometers long, with different layout variants.
Elefantentreffen 1974 – We're not used to seeing such a dry track at Elefanten weekend, and yet this photo was taken at the January 74 meeting
Originally, it comprised three separate circuits that could be used individually or in combination: the famous 14.2 mile North Loop (Nordschleilfe), the 1.4 mile Start and Finish Loop (Start-und-Zeilschleilfe) - where the pits were located - and the 4.8 mile South Loop (Südscheilfe), roughly where the current Grand Prix circuit (Müllenbachscheilfe) is located.
On 18 June 1927, the circuit finally celebrated its first race with the Eifel motorcycle race, followed the next day by a car race. From the outset, entry to the circuit was subject to a fee.
Elefantentreffen 1974 – The comings and goings of rallyists around the circuit
The Americans destroyed it, the French rebuilt it
From a historical point of view, it is interesting to note that on 8 March 1945, American soldiers from the 11th Armoured Division arrived at the Nürburgring to find a 200-bed German military hospital and some displaced civilians sheltering in the Sport Hotel and under the grandstands. It is said that their tanks seriously damaged the southern parts of the circuit. This is refuted by some historians.
Over the next two months, an American unit took possession of the Sport Hotel, converting it into headquarters; while some of the buildings in the start/finish area were demolished (residents of the surrounding towns used the materials to repair their homes and businesses).
Elefantentreffen 1974 - All you have to do is put camouflage netting on a vintage military motorbike to give it an even more warlike look and attract the attention of passers-by
After the war, the French forces occupying the area west of the Rhine, including the Eifel region, ordered that repairs to the Nürburgring and its facilities should begin immediately.
Seven years of neglect had resulted in parts of the three circuits being blocked by weeds, shrubs and poplars growing along the carriageway. In some areas, large tree branches had grown together, forming a canopy over the track.
More than 300 workers converged on the site, clearing and resurfacing the surrounding access roads and sections of the railway line.
Elefantentreffen 1974 - View of what the circuit stands were like at the time
Motorcycle and automobile races had stopped since 1940, due to the war. They resumed seven years later with the very first post-war race: the 'Eifel Cup' for motorcycles, contested on 17 August 1947 in front of 80,000 spectators, who received vouchers for wine, bread and sausages with their paid entry ticket.
The Sport Hôtel had to wait until April 1949 to reopen its doors.
Elefantentreffen 1974 - Despite their uniforms, they did not fight in the last world war, but are Dutch bikers who came to party on the 'Ring'. Godverdomme! They didn't come without "ammo", as these photos showing their massive stockpile of canned food attest...
With Deutsche Mark, you can buy anything!
Speaking of the Sport-Hotel, a few steps to its left, stood the temple of commerce, reserved primarily for those with sufficient financial means to not have to restrict their spending. As usual in this shopping paradise, too many visual temptations! Everything is on display to wink at the potential buyer: motorcycle clothing and accessories, rally memorabilia, trinkets ranging from posters to different cloth badges, commemorative badges and medals - and on sale without any shame - the year bars of all the previous meetings going back even to those of the very beginning of the rally.
Elefantentreffen 1974 – Everything related to the rally is for sale including surplus badges produced for previous years. No concerns about integrity or rules. Making money comes first; both for traders and for organizers supervising the event...
Change is not always for the better
Inside the Sport-Hotel, like every year, business was again in full swing. Local beer runs continued, without interruption, until late at night. But the folklore of stoneware beer mugs served by plump Teutonic waitresses was now a thing of the past. Patrons had just entered the era of self-service where pasteurized beer was served to them in a can.
The hazy smoking of pipe or cigarette smokers filling the hotel rooms, on the other hand, had not changed; at the start of the evening, it was already impossible to see clearly for 30 metres.
Elefantentreffen 1974 – In addition to the smokers at the Sport-Hôtel, here is an unusual creation which, with the engine running, must also release its share of smoke through its exhaust pipes: a combo powered by a 400cc four-cylinder resulting from the coupling of two Adler engines
Exceptional machines seen in 74
In 74, it was clear that bitzas and other DIY creations à la 'Frankenstein' were rather on the red list of endangered species.
But if we had to name only a few, among the horde of combos with VW or Panhard engines, and apart from the bitza with 4-cylinder Adler engine mentioned above, we must certainly recognize another exceptional bitza powered by a Renault engine R8 Major in a BMW chassis; perfected down to the smallest detail, this creation was as unusual and beautiful as it was functional.
Elefantentreffen 1974 – This 1,108cc engine with 4-speed gearbox comes from the Renault R8 Major car model, an enhanced version of the standard R8, with a bigger and more powerful engine along with a better finish. Its production started in February 1964 and stopped in September 1965.
Given its cleanliness, it had undoubtedly come to the rally not by road, with its owner on its handlebars, but rather by truck; but the fact is that this motorcycle is so rare that I still allow myself to include it here on this page.
Revealed to the public at the Berlin Motor Show in 1933, the Zündapp factory, located in Nuremberg, presented a new K series of motorcycles, this letter indicating a cardan transmission. Among them, the Zündapp K800 equipped with an 18hp flat 4-cylinder air-cooled engine. In 1935, the motorcycle's power was increased to 20hp.
Elefantentreffen 1974 - Beautifully restored, it looked like it had just left the factory. There should not be many left in circulation today. In 1934, the civilian version of the K800 was modified for the Wehrmacht, which had only 550 of the military version in its inventory
Another unusual machine also seen on the 'Ring was a Fantic Chopper 125 designed by Italian manufacturer Fantic Motors. It is said that this model was designed to appeal to young motorcyclists in the UK, who were faced with strict regulations at the time.
In any case, hats off to its rider, who made it all the way to the circuit, as this 125cc (actually 123cc) could barely exceed 70mph in good conditions.
Elefantentreffen 1974 - When stopped and seen from a very far distance, it could have passed itself off as an Easy Rider Harley chop...but betrayed itself once its 13.2 horsepower Minarelli two-stroke engine was running, sounding like the whirring of an insect on amphetamine
Falls to the sound of Wagner's music
The traditional torchlight parade on Saturday evening, in commemoration of deceased fellow motorcyclists, took place once again in the night just after the fireworks, and to the sound of classic music by Richard Wagner, propagated by the loudspeakers.
The absence of snow did not mean that the asphalt of the circuit track was not frozen in certain places. The inevitable happened. When the horde launched at night on the circuit, certain solo riders, feeling like speed racers, attacked turns a little too fast and fell, taking with them in their fall those who followed them too closely. No deaths to report, but injuries for some, and obviously machines damaged or unusable and having to return home with their owner by train.
Elefantentreffen 1974 - Train, truck, car, combo, solo motorbike...and even by bicycle in the worst case; all means are good to get to or from the meeting
So that the situation did not worsen and turn tragic, the organizers blocked the circuit and forced the column to return by the normal route. A wise decision on their part because the last portion of the circuit was completely iced over.
Let's end our journey which took us back , to this first weekend of January 1974, with some additional photos from our archives to discover in the montage below:
Text: Jean-Francois Helias
Images: G Gaudechoux & JF Helias
Ha dommage qu'il n'y ait pas 10 étoiles car je les aurais mis vous exécutez un travail phénoménal de recherche et de trouvailles j'ai des rêves plein les yeux franchement vous êtes des pros de chez pros
Il me doit de vous saluer bien bas
A bientôt la famille
Prenez bien soin de vous
Un grand merci encore
- Pascal Perron