Stella Alpina Rally
With the 1960s behind us, the 1970s ushered in a decade which in my opinion must be considered as one of the highpoints in European motorcycle rallying, with large numbers of high quality rallies taking place all over Europe. Back then we had youth on our side, and although money was tight, we made sure we could afford to attend a rally every weekend. Life seemed easy and tomorrow was another day.
Stella Alpina 1970- In our youth we had no money to lavish on machines like these colourful brand new 750 Laverda, with their rich Italian owners, seen here in Bardonecchia at the 1970 meeting. But back then, when it came to motorcycles, size didn't matter for die-hard rallyists!
The attendance at the Stella Alpina had been building steadily each year since 1966 and the rally's reputation and pedigree, like a good red wine, improved with time. The 1970 meeting saw a gathering of several hundred riders from around the world together with a large contingent of British rallyists.
Stella Alpina 1970- Two British rallyists, riding respectively a BMW with fairing and a classic Triumph, 'en route' for the ascension of the Colle del Sommeiller.
Most French workers, depending on their job, have a choice about their annual summer holidays, taking them either in July or August. However, mostdie-hard rallyists would of course plump for July, coinciding as it did with the best motorcycle rallies taking place each year at that time. If you could afford it, enough extra money in your pocket, and of course a reliable motorbike, you could even do the 'big three': the Stella Alpina, the Chamois, and the Madonina dei Centauri in Allessandria.
Chamois 1970 - It was the 6th meeting, held on the 11th and 12th July 1970.
As most people know, the Chamois unfortunately ceased to exist after the last meeting in 1972. However by the mid 1970s, it was replaced without noticeable loss by two awesome French summer rallies, both by invitation only. The Bouc Treffen, organised in Massay (18) by the Eighteen Club, and the Vercingetorix rally, organised at the medieval castle of Montaigut-Le-Blanc (63) by Kiki Blanchot and his MC Dragons.
Stella Alpina 1971 - In the photo centre, two legends of the French rally scene at the Colle del Sommeiller: Jean-Marie Debonneville (with the safari hat) and Kiki Blanchot (with a jacket full of rally badges)
For those of you not familiar with Kiki Blanchot, he was one of the most charismatic human beings one could ever hope to meet. He was the founder and president of France's most famed 'pirate' motorcycle club of the time, the infamous MC Dragons, established in 1968 in Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne.
Kiki's death in 1977 was a huge loss to French motorcycling as the instigator and one of the great heroes of the 'Mouvement Pirate'.
Kiki Blanchot - He remains today, in the memory of lots of French motorcyclists, the most influential figure in French rallying circles.
For those of you wondering about the meaning of 'Mouvement Pirate', it would take too long to explain it here. Suffice it to say that it encompasses the peaceful revolt and action taken by motorcycle clubs all over France at the very beginning of the 1970s. By refusing to become affiliated with the French Federation of Motorcycling, (the equivalent of the Auto-Cycle Union), they became free to organise their own events without FFM approval or involvement.
In 1971 Kiki Blanchot also established the 'Confrerie des Chevaliers Motocyclistes', with Michel Perdrix (MC 95), the man behind the creation of the famous Millevaches winter rally, and with the legendary 'globetrotter on wheels' Jean-Marie Debonneville.
Stella Alpina 1971 - Well known British rallyist Paul Mullis loved the Stella and its Alpine Safari. So did Kiki Blanchot who enjoyed every minute of it. Here is Kiki on his faithful 750 Honda, during the three days of the Alpine Safari in 1971.
The 'Confrerie des Chevaliers Motocyclistes' is a kind of Masonic brotherhood formed of around a hundred 'brothers', mainly French, but featuring motorcyclists from other mainland European countries, as well as a few from Britain.
Very little is known about the 'confrerie' since it keeps a low profile. In short, let's say that the chosen few 'brothers' are for the most part current or former die-hard rallyists.
They have mandatory meetings twice a year at different locations, either in France or abroad. One of these foreign meetings, in the mid 1970s, was organised by the British 'brothers' at Sixpenny Handley, the very same location chosen in 1982 for the first Old Timer rally. I was present at both meetings, attending the latter at the invitation of my old friend Rodney Taylor from the Antelope MCC.
Stella Alpina 1971 - A group of brave riders on their road bikes, mainly from Britain, Germany, and France, battling the mountain trails during the Alpine Safari 1970
Having taken this opportunity to pay homage to my dear friend Kiki Blanchot, sharing with you some early memories of the Stella Alpina; in my next piece I continue my recollections of those great days of the 1970's with more images and anecdotes from my rallying youth all those years ago.
- Jean-Francois Helias