Steel Horse GB Rally
Back in June 2020 I left a comment on asking for information regarding the UK version of Jean Blanckaert's Belgium 'Stalen Ros', as I was eager to learn something of the incidence of this hither to lost UK rally. My archival image of the badge proved that a Steel Horse rally had taken place in the UK in 1978, and I had already written several articles about this classic Belgian gathering of the 1960s and 70s.
Personally, I knew nothing of the 1978 UK based event other than the evidence provided by the badge, but I held out that somewhere amongst the site's readership there might be someone who could shed more light on the event or perhaps might even have attended it.
To be honest I wasn't too hopeful of a successful outcome, since it's rare that readers, even if they are in possession of information, take the time to email and share it. Unfortunately, I was proved right since no one got in touch.
But my patience was finally rewarded, when five months later, a miracle occurred. Thanks to help from three of my good friends with whom I am in regular contact, I finally learned a little more about this event.
The circumstances surrounding the discovery of this information were extraordinary and I think deserve their own story.
Jean-Francois Laroche finds the rally sticker
The first to provide corroborating proof that an English version of the Steel Horse rally had indeed taken place was my old friend Jean-Francois Laroche. He's well known in the world of French motorcycling rallies, going by the nickname 'Jeff de Chartres'.
Jean-Francois 'Jeff' Laroche on the right wearing the Norton T-shirt, alongside Patrick Servanton, (secretary of the Confrerie Motocycliste des Gueux d´Route and a contributor to LPMCC.net), at the Alambic rally 2014
After living most of his life in the Paris region, Jeff has now retired and recently returned to live in Eure-et-Loire where he's bought a house. Whilst clearing his garage in preparation for moving, he came across an old trash can and there, stuck to it was the commemorative sticker of the Steel Horse GB 1978. He didn't actually take part in the rally himself and has no recollection of how he got it.
The photo sent by Jeff of the Steel Horse G.B 1978 commemorative sticker. As with the meeting badge, the name of the rally is given in three languages: Flemish, French and English. The date of 1968 for the very first Brugge meeting is also recalled.
We now had two pieces of evidence proving the existence of this rally: the badge plus the sticker. But the mystery still remained as to the location of the event, its precise date, and of course most interesting, who was behind the organisation (obviously with the approval of Jean Blanckaert) of the event on UK soil.
Gilles Gaudechoux finds two press clippings
It was only a short while after that more evidence of the rally emerged. My old accomplice Gilles Gaudechoux sent me two magazine clippings announcing the event; one from a French motorcycle magazine, the other from one in the UK.
Gilles Gaudechoux (left), member of CM Raboliots of Romorantin and Gueux d'Route, visiting Patrick Servanton, at his home
Thanks to Gilles, a vital missing key piece had been found and we were finally able to begin to piece together the puzzle and clear up the mystery surrounding this elusive meeting.
Finally I learned that the organising club was none other than the Cheltenham & District MCC; a club that I knew had organised the 'Racecourse' rally back in 1976.
I also learned that the UK version of this classic Brugge Autumn gathering took place in the Spring, more precisely from April 28 - 30 1978.
The two press clippings below give the name of the person to contact in order to request an invitation to the rally. A man named A.Van der Elst, a Flemish-sounding name which suggests that this person, presumably of Belgian extract was probably also a member of the Cheltenham & District MCC.
The two press clippings announcing the Steel Horse G.B
Dave Richmond finds the name of the organiser
The UK newspaper clipping was written by Dave Richmond, a name well known to British rallyists for his dedicated journalism in Motor Cycle News and Motorcycle Weekly. I tried to learn a little bit further about it by contacting him.
I maintain a regular correspondence with Dave, based primarily on our shared passion for old machines. I already had a great respect for Dave, not only for what he had accomplished as a journalist, but also for the magnificent work he'd done in creating his excellent website on the history of the motorcycle since its first inception.
Although he wrote the advertisement in the English press for the Steel Horse GB 1978, forty years later he had no specific memories of that particular rally. The only memories that came to mind were those he had as a participant, like many of us, in the meeting in Brugge, Belgium.
Dave Richmond riding a Panther 1963 650cc Model 120 at a BMF Rally in the early '80s
He nevertheless promised that he'd do everything possible to try to find any more information about the organisation of the rally held in the Cheltenham area. He asked his friends and contacts and kept his word. A few days later I received an email which gave me the name of the organiser - Andy Stevens.
Thanks to this unexpected Franco-British cooperation, we now know a lot more about this Steel Horse GB 1978 rally which apparently - unless we hear to the contrary - seems to have been organised only once.
I hope that amongst the readers of this piece someone who attended that rally will tell us more about its organisers. Perhaps, even better, some photos may emerge taken at the meeting which we can share and would allow this story to at last be complete.
- Jean-Francois Helias