A retelling of the rally at the Zolder Circuit in October 1970.
Well I'd gotten the bug for this rally thing, and chatting with the mechanic at the local youth club in Wolverhampton revealed that a rally was to be held in Belgium at the famous Zolder race circuit (never heard of it). Next thing you know I had been talked into going. John Williams was 15 years my senior and a seasoned rider having been to the 1967 F.I.M. rally in Moscow on a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin that was regular transport for him. His friend Jim Bowen went with him on a 1930 500 cc Sunbeam single; quite a feat. The basic plan was if either of the bikes failed too badly to be cobbled up then it would be jettisoned at the roadside, but that's another story.
I had wanted a half decent bike for some time but I didn't want a Triumph, Norton or BSA. All the lads down the youth club had got them. I wanted something different. Then I spotted it in the back of the local King's dealership; a huge black Vincent Rapide £150. Yes that's different! I mentioned my plan to John who instantly drew a breath between his teeth "Oh no no no don't touch it. They stopped production of those things in the 1950s. If it breaks you'll never get any spares for it." If only we had had a crystal ball. "I'll find you something different." and true to his word he did. A 1960 BMW R69 that had been breathed on up to R69s spec but the gearbox needed some attention. So on stripping the box we made a list of the parts required and priced them up. It came to another small fortune.
There was a small village in Holland called s'Gravenspolder where there was a motorcycle breakers and the plan was hatched to do the Lion rally on the weekend then nip up the road into Holland and get some cheap spares for the BMW on Monday morning. John had a R69s, but while my BMW was off the road I was using a 1952 Velocette 350 MAC. Despite all of my efforts I could not stop it leaking oil from the rocker box gasket. I had drilled and tapped the rocker box and put a breather pipe onto it - no effect. Replaced the gasket several times using all manner of gasket sealants - no joy at all. It was a small annoying leak on local runs. I had never taken the Velo more than 30 miles before. So it was Friday morning and John arrived at my parents house 7am and off we set on the A4123 to Birmingham out past Elmdon Airport as it was then, A45 to Coventry. There was that autumn chill in the air and I was feeling the cold. I was glad that I had put my leggings on. It had looked like rain as we left but it had turned to oil. Coventry had turned to Rugby and we joined the M1. I was glad to see John indicate that he was going to pull into the service station. Hot Coffee, hmm. I could taste it and feel the warmth but alas I was dreaming. Straight to the pumps, fill up and go. John settled to a steady 70mph cruise while I had to thrash the little Velo to keep up. Straight through London and down the A20 and on to Dover. I was never so glad to get anywhere in my life, my backside had been hurting for the last 50 miles and it didn't matter which way I sat there was no relief.
Zeebrugge was our destination and this did not go as planned. Before the present dock was constructed the old dock was used but this meant swinging the old rail/road bridge out of the way and something had broken. So the ferry was sat bobbing around for 3 hours while it was fixed. It was nearly midnight before we set foot in Belgium and we did not feel like going any further. A customs man told us of a small guest house nearby and we booked in.
The next morning was very dewy with that autumnal smell in the air and a nice easy, steady ride to Zolder. This was my first time riding on the wrong side of the road. We did a little of the tourist bit and went in to Brussels to see the Mannekin Pis, but the real event was at Zolder. John had entered weeks before the rally, to race in a couple of classes. How, why, what for, I don't know but he won! I took a couple of photographs with a cheap camera so the resulting pictures are very small, a shame really. I had a hot dog by the circuit and, not speaking the language, you just point. I pointed to what I thought was boiled onions. They put a heap of them on. Yuk, it must have been sauerkraut, it was vile. I don't remember too much about the evening so it must have been OK.
Sunday morning came and John went back to England taking the tent with him, leaving me to sober up and make my way to Holland. But my, I was thirsty. There was a small shop on the circuit and I went in to buy something to drink. A large litre bottle of milk, that will do. So I paid the lady and made opening movements to which she obliged. The bottle had a very large top. I took three steps from the shop and took a good swig. AAHH! I never did find out what was in the bottle but it was spat out. Another lesson learned; don't drink or eat anything in Belgium unless it's chips or beer. The rest of the trip was a success. Got my parts, got home eventually on Tuesday. I could write another page but it's not relevant. Damn good rally went back in '73 and '75.
- Les Hobbs
Very clear, good story even interesting to non-bikers.