FIM Rally

Perugia 1968

As I write this first sentence of my introduction concerning the 1968 FIM Rally, to this day, Italy can boast of having been the host country for this well-known annual event 6 times: Genova in 1951, Florence in 1960, Perugia in 1968, Francavilla in 1973, Jesolo in 1978 and in Cesenatico in 2007.

This year again, and more precisely from 26 to 28 June 2024, the 77th international summer meeting will return once again to Italian soil. This time it will be in Chianciano Terme, one of the most famous thermal spa destinations in Europe, located between Val d'Orcia and Valdichiana, in the territory of Tuscany.

Perugia, Italy 16-18 July 1968

Three days before this FIM meeting of 16-18 July 1968, let us recall that a global pandemic (of the H3N2 subtype of the influenza A virus) began in Hong Kong, striking half a million of its inhabitants, or 15% of population. The ensuing illness, called 'Hong Kong flu', lasted until the spring of 1970 and caused the deaths of an estimated several million people worldwide.

Fortunately, motorcycle touring being non-existent at the time in this particular region of South East Asia, no delegation from Hong Kong took part in the Perugia rally.

Perugia in breve

Located in central Italy, around 164 km north of Rome and 148 km south-east of Florence, Perugia is the capital of Umbria, through which the River Tiber flows.

With a history dating back to the Etruscan period (900–27 BC), Perugia boasts a breathtaking panorama, thanks to its location between high hills, mountains, plains and surrounding valleys.

The town's symbol is the griffin, which can be seen in the form of plaques and statues on many of the town's buildings.

One of the most visited sites is undoubtedly the Perugia aqueduct: a hydraulic work of exceptional engineering that has managed to impart a reverse force to the water so that it serves the four kilometres of its extension.

The Soviets on the assault of victory

Although Russian motorcyclists had failed to win a first place in the rallye FIM rankings from 1936 to 1962, from 1963 to 1966, Soviet motorcyclists won victory after victory, four years in a row.

They were the overall winners of the 1963 FIM Rally in Opatija, Yugoslavia; the 1964 FIM Rally in Geneva, Switzerland; the 1965 FIM Rally in Nurburgring, Germany; and the 1966 FIM Rally in Rouen, France.

As the host country in 1967 for the Moscow rally, they were fortunately unable to claim another eventual 5th victory, and had to make way on the podium for the French delegation, which came in great numbers that year, including many members of the legendary MC Chatillonnais from Chatillon-sous-Bagneux.

Among them, if I remember correctly, Charles Krajka was there. Also making up the French delegation to the Moscow meeting, my old friend the late Simon 'Zorro' Moulon, who, a decade later at my request, accepted to become the venerable Honorary President of the ‘Confrerie Motocycliste des Gueux d'Route’, the most influential movement of the French motorcycle touring elite of the late 70s and early 80s.

(left) Zorro in November 1970 at the 35th Armistice Cup in Livry-Gargan; (Right) Years later, Zorro and his good patriarchal face at one of the countless rallies in which he took part during his existence as a die-hard rallyist

I still remember, when on occasion I visited him at his home near Saintes, among old commemorative badges from illustrious rallies of yesteryear, left on the wooden shelf of the old sideboard in his kitchen and collecting the dust, that of the 1967 FIM Rally of Moscow. Passionate like no other about the world of rallies and its history, this little piece of metal aroused in me the need to try to extract from him, despite the handicap of his memory of an already well advanced age, fragments of memories and anecdotes relating to this meeting so far away from our little country of France.

The 1968 FIM rally invaded by the Russians

The following year, in 1968, Russian motorcyclists once again made a strong return to Europe, this time on Italian soil, to snatch another victory at the FIM rally taking place in Perugia.

It is enough to scrutinize the smallest details of the photos that I present to you below to understand that the USSR had deployed great resources for this expedition to the country of Julius Caesar.

Apart from motorcycles, the Russian delegation did not skimp, reinforcing its horde of two- and three-wheeled machines with various motor vehicles, including assistance trucks.

The Soviet invasion at the 1968 FIM rally with its armada of scooters, motorcycles, combos, cars and trucks of all kinds

The Cossack machines seen below don't look like they've accumulated tons of mileage over time but rather have a fresh-from-the-factory look.

It is doubtful whether they are private machines belonging to owners keen on motorcycle touring; but on the contrary being in fact government machines piloted by soldiers or police officers in the service of the Soviet state of the time. The white helmets, all similar, placed on the machines, seem to supprt this opinion.

The ‘club of comrades commies' on the way to 1st place in the international ranking of the meeting

If you didn't know, the word 'siesta' derives from the Latin 'sexta' which refers to the 'sixth hour' of the working day, when shops and restaurants close and a well-deserved break is allowed; a concept that has been an integral part of Italian culture for centuries, dating back to the Roman Empire.

Unfounded rumours suggest that it was precisely during the FIM rally of July 1968 that the Soviet motorcycling delegation discovered, in the countryside and under the radiant sun of the Umbria region, this ancestral art; as evidenced by the photo below.

The Soviet delegation in full rest. Note under the number plate of the machines the distinguishing marks SU meaning at the time Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

After winning in 1968 in Perugia, the motorcyclists representing the USSR were again victorious the following summer in 1969, in Cracow, Poland; and in 1970 in Prague in Czechoslovakia.

(left) A fine example of the best that German industry produced at the time; (right) Commemorative pennant produced by the Czechoslovak federation on the occasion of the 1968 FIM rally

The USSR won a final victory in 1972 at Ochrid in Yugoslavia; their 8th in the history of the FIM Rally, and the last to date, since Russia has never won an FIM rally again for 51 years.

- Jean-Francois Helias