Michel 'Pim' Thuiliere
There is something stronger than death; it is the presence of the absent in the memory of the living.
- Jean d'Ormesson
The year 2021 was particularly hard and merciless for me. It deprived me of some very dear friends for whom my love and respect knew no limits.
Among them, are three in particular: (two in UK and one in France). All passionate motorcyclists whose rich rallying history earned them a place among the 'crème de la creme'.
In June 2021 I heard of the sudden and tragic death of Heather McGregor and Ted Trett. Only a few days before, I learned of an equally tragic and sudden death in the Loire region of France. Michel 'Pim' Thuiliere, a long-time motorcycle friend who I would consider a ‘brother from another mother’ and like me, a lifetime member of the legendary Dragons MC, passed away following emergency gallbladder surgery.
Pim was a real character; one of the French rally world's true individuals. In his memory I'd like to tell you something about my friend and comrade and paint a picture of the man and our friendship as best I can.
Yours truly (left) and my late 'brother' Michel Thuiliere (right) during the Alambic Rally organised in Bourbonnais by yours truly and Patrick Servanton in July 2014. This will be the very last time I will have had the privilege to spend time with my friend.
How we met
At the beginning of the 1970s, France was particularly rich in motorcycle rallies and gatherings. This was the era of the 'clubs libres' and they blossomed all over France. The meetings were then named 'concentrations' when organised by clubs affiliated to the French Federation of Motorcycling (FFM), but in contrast they were called 'rassemblements libres' when organised by 'pirate' unaffiliated clubs.
The best known French example remains to this day that of Millevaches, initiated in 1969 by the late Michel Perdrix, president of the MC 95 of Enghien-les-Bains.
A poster announcing a 'rassemblement libre' organised near Lyon in April 1973. Ricard sponsored the meeting and everything was free
For those young riders lucky enough to live in Montlucon, (a town in the Allier department, ideally located in the centre of France), all these 'local hubs' which were, in effect, not too distant, (only 150 miles to the farthest ones), became somehow part of the neighbourhood.
Long before the formation of the first pirate clubs of Montlucon and its surroundings which were the Kiwis MC, the GM Aiglons of Neris-les-Bains, the Kangourous MC (club of the district of Fontbouillant of which I was secretary and founding member), and the Vikings, (young moped riders of the HLM of Fontbouillant), it is via the good old local motorcycle club affiliated to the FFM and presided over by Paul Coulon that many of us got to know each other and took part in our very first 'concentrations' such as the one of Montlucon 1970, as shown in the meeting medal above.
Back then, with a few francs in your pocket you'd fill up at the gas station on the corner, kick start your machine and in no time you'd find yourself in cities such as Ambert, Boen-sur-Lignon, Bouce, Charade, Charlieu, Feurs, Gannat, Gueret, Gueugnon, La Chatre, Limoges, Lyon, Magny-Cours, Marcigny, Moulins, Neuville sur Saone, Nevers, Saint-Etienne, Saint-Romain le Puy, Sancerre, Tarare, Tours, Vichy, Villefranche sur Saone, Yssingeaux and many others that now elude me.
A magnificent era marked by a multitude of unforgettable moments and one we were still laughing about recently in a conversation with our friend Coco (Christian Kozdeba), remembering Pim and various anecdotes with our friends of the time who made up the 'Montlucon gang'.
It is precisely at one of these early 1970s meetings, that fate decreed we should meet Michel Thuiliere and his big brother Roland, who also sadly left us far too early in the mid 1970s, hit by a motorist while returning from work on his faithful '74 Norton Commando.
The two brothers were then what we called in French motorcycle slang: 'des purs' (fanatics)', die-hard rallymen eager to eat up the miles in all seasons.
Michel, the younger, was riding a good old 350 BSA B31 from the 1950s; Roland, a BMW R69S.
This is what we looked like in the 70s. Among this bunch of rockers from various clubs and regions photographed here at the first winter meeting of the Baroudeurs in the Allier, we recognise (from left to right) the late Andre 'Dede' Gagnadoux and Bernard 'Mouton' Sireau from the Bitazelles Club in La Cueille; Philippe 'Belette' Frouin (with his mono BSA in the foreground) from Benet; 'Hibou' from Poitiers; Michel 'Pim' Thuiliere from Pouilly sous Charlieu; yours truly (seen from behind) from Montlucon; and Alain 'Le B'SA' Chaux from Thiers.
A British liqueur nickname
Michel's nickname was 'Pim' and I had at one time, (long ago), remembered with great clarity how he had earned this affectionate 'tag'. But with the passing of the decades I have forgotten most of the detail, except for the fact that his nickname definitely came from the English summer drink Pimm's No.1.
For a fanatic of British-made motorcycles like Michel, a bottle of Pimm's No.1, invented in 1823 by James Pimm was as pleasing to the eye with the Union flag on its label as by its undoubtedly appealing contents
I think I remember that our friend perhaps liked the taste of it a little too much. I recall one night, having discovered it in a bar, he had overindulged, and the ensuing hangover caused much amusement among his friends, giving rise to the obvious nickname. This, however, for a passionate lover of British motorcycles suited him down to the ground.
He was part of every expedition and every adventure
As time went by, we started to see more and more of each other, meeting up at various events, and I would often stop at his place in Pouilly sous Charlieu, near Roanne, so that we could ride to the meeting together.
Michel posing with his 1973 Norton Commando in the yard of the family home in Pouilly sous Charlieu
That's where I met his parents. His father Alfred was a real character, his cap screwed permanently on his head, and wearing his ubiquitous working overalls like a uniform. Together with his wife Claudia they were simple, healthy country people from another time; an era now long disappeared. They produced a son of whom absolutely nobody in our circle of old rallymen can utter a single negative word.
Pim was always around, keenly attending every expedition and adventure. Motorcycle gatherings, invitation rallies, hill-climbs or circuit races, Pim was in evidence. Parties with friends, either at home in Montlucon or in Auvergne on the home ground of the late Kiki Blanchot, whatever the season, whatever the distance, whatever the country, he'd be there.
Pim (right) pictured here with his great friend Alain Chaux aka 'le B'SA' (left) at the unforgettable invitation-only meeting organised on December 31, 1976 by the Raboliots MC in Romorantin to celebrate the New Year. Vince Taylor, seen here on the back cover of the book that had just been published, is in good company with these two Dragons MC rockers
His favourite rider: Dave Croxford
Like many of us passionate about motorcycles in our youth, Pim had of course a favourite speed rider. The eldest of our gang, Coco Kozdeba, who in 1969 had been lucky enough to purchase a splendid Dresda Triumph 650cc, obviously idolised Dave Degens. For me, my hero was none other than John Cooper. As for Pim, his idol was Dave Croxford; the fighter, the bulldog who never capitulated and who gave everything he had on the track.
Christian 'Coco' Kozdeba (here on the left with me at the Vallis Guidonis rally in Laval, Brittany), a true motorcycle touring enthusiast and a legendary figure of the Montlucon motorcycle scene, was a close friend of Pim
Croxford has the dubious honour of being better known in the UK for his crashes, (223 from 1962 to 1976), than for the races he won. Yet despite this, he was a great rider with a great list of victories and several British Championship titles.
Dave Croxford pictured here in April 1968 with British actress Angela Scoula after winning the prestigious 'King of Brands' title at Brands Hatch
The fact that he fell so often earned him two nicknames from his British fans: 'Crasher' and 'Rubber Bones', because despite more than 200 falls, he never broke a single bone, only ever receiving a broken tooth and a few stitches.
Croxford seen here riding a 350cc Seeley at Brands Hatch in 1969
The Wolves of the Dragons MC
Pim called Dave Croxford: 'The Wolf'. If my memory serves me right, the origin of the nickname he adopted for his idol came from the title of an article in a French motorcycle magazine at the time in which Croxford, no doubt due to his ferocity in the saddle, was given the name of this noble wild animal.
This nickname was 'borrowed', ending up attached to the four English motorcycle fanatics in Kiki Blanchot's 'gang' between 1975/76.
This is how Pim, his accomplice Alain 'le B'SA' Chaux from Thiers, the late Louis 'Loulou' Jouannard from Desertines and yours truly, all riding Norton Commando bikes, became 'the wolves' of the Dragons MC.
The wolves of the Dragons MC : Pim, B'SA and myself celebrating Christmas 1976 with Kiki and Dedette Blanchot, at their home rue Saint-Esprit in Clermont-Fd. Loulou, absent on the picture, must not be far away
As 1977 approached, to wish all our rally friends in France a happy new year, Loulou and I had the following humorous card produced. The Norton Owners Club of Bourbonnais of course never existed.
This greeting card, as well as the beautiful diploma commemorating the very first Alambic rally of 1976, was printed by our friend Coco Kozdeba who was then working as a typographer at the Imprimerie Ouvriere de Montlucon
The one and only rally he organised
Kiki Blanchot, the charismatic and exceptional leader did not have to do much to persuade the two companions Pim and B'SA to organise their own gathering by invitation.
Kiki Blanchot (left), founder of the Dragons MC and initiator of the pirate movement, pictured here in April 1971. Michel 'Pim' Thuiliere (right), member of the Dragons MC, pictured here in December 1976
This rally was organised in the small town of the Puy-de-Dome called Vollore-Montagne, located at about twenty kilometres from Thiers, and took place only once. Of course the name specifically chosen for this event could not be anything other than the 'Loups Treffen'.
Loups Treffen 1976 - The only photo I have of this rally in my archives: late in the evening, yours truly on stage at the drums. Note in the background the Union Jack flag, symbolic of our passion for English motorcycles and adorned in its centre with the logo of our club for ever, the Dragons MC
Member of the Dragons MC
Kiki, according to his personal criteria, chose those whom he considered deserving to be part of his 'gang', and thus his entourage of close friends formed the basis of the 'gang'. He did us the honour of incorporating this 'quartet of Norton-boys' into the list of 19 members that at the end of 1976 he chose to be the core of the new version of the Dragons MC.
This new club came about due to a brutal and unexpected disagreement by some members of the PAVECK section who voted his expulsion from the club during a secret ballot at the 1976 annual meeting in Provins. This proved to be a decisive event which formed part of the history of the Dragons MC; a more detailed account of which I hope to relate one day.
These glorious memories of the past on my ancient Levi's rally waistcoat are a testament to the various memberships that matter most to me. Michel Thuiliere, like yours truly, was a lifetime member of the Dragons MC inducted by Kiki Blanchot himself; as well as one of the original 26 members of the Confrerie Motocycliste des Gueux d' Route.
Gueux d'Route chosen by his peers
The very beginnings of the creation of the 'Confrerie Motocycliste des Gueux d'Route' go back to mid-1979. They took place via secret meetings held on the occasion of invitational rallies organized by the Chacals of Montpellier and by the Band'hars Fous of Saumur. The very first issue of the magazine was published in March 1980.
Michel 'Pim' Thuiliere's big experience as a rallyman and his natural humanity meant that he was chosen by his peers to be one of the 26 people who made up the structure of the 'confrerie' from its inception.
As this excerpt from the second issue of the revue des Gueux d'Route of April 1980 indicates, his name (PimThuiliere) appears among the list of 26 confreres
More recently in time
More recently Michel was, unsurprisingly not as enthusiastic towards the rally scene as he had been earlier and back in his youth. Like many other rally-men he had put his foot down. He was now only travelling to take part in meetings that were either sentimental to him or out of friendship for the organisers.
In 2016, he would not have wanted to miss the revival of the Baroudeurs rally organised in the Montlucon area by his friend Coco Kozdeba. (from left to right), a nice trio of Gueux d'Route : Michel Thuiliere, Patrick Servanton and the biodynamic winemaker Jean-Gilles Chasselay
With his faithful friend Bernard 'Nanard' Collonge, (also a former Gueux d'Route), living in the same region, the two friends formed an inseparable pair. They were seen here and there on the circuits, (as far as Gedinne in Belgium), on the occasion of speed competitions of old motorcycles where Nanard had competed with his sidecar racing Triumph 650 of 1954.
One could only love him
I will not teach you anything if I tell you that after the death of someone, depending on whether you loved him or hated him, human nature makes those who survived him either praise the qualities of the deceased or, on the contrary, aggravate his faults. In the case of Pim, those who knew him and knew him closely will agree that although human nature means that no one is totally perfect, one can honestly say that he was as close as one could get.
Underneath the leather and metal badges, underneath the wild rocker look he was known for, underneath his introverted shell, there was only pure kindness and the desire to always be ready to help those around him.
One of his natural gifts was that he could read the people around him better than most. He knew exactly who he was dealing with. He was never mistaken. Even the two-faced or those hid behind a mask did not slip through his intuitive net.
He was generously endowed with common sense. Another of his talents was his sense of repartee. When he would say something about someone or something, it was never an understatement. It was right on target, like the arrow of the master archer.
My last goodbye to this brother
We were on the same wavelength; our similar rallying philosophies helping, over time, to engender the friendship between, which has only ever grown stronger and we became true great friends in the noble sense of the word.
We have had some extraordinary adventures together, some of which are at the limit of credibility and others that it is better to keep secret, even though the statute of limitations has expired. We shared strong and intense moments, most of them punctuated by laughter but occasionally also by tears.
In November 1978, at the Jerry Lee Lewis concert in Lyon, with the old friends of the Bitazelles, Michel had dressed for the occasion in his teddy boy outfit
You only live once. You only get one turn at the merry-go-round. When we were very young men, with little experience and a happy-go-lucky attitude, we were already very aware we were living life to the full, and that in our old age starting our sentences with 'if I had known', was, looking back at it, never going to be for us.
So that phrase, 'living life to the full', we applied to the letter, in our passion for motorcycles, our friendships, and our everyday lives. We did the best we could and 'making love to life itself'.
Fifty years later, the libido of youth has left us, but we continue to give 'life' some good lovemaking with more or less the same intensity. But what has been done is not to be done anymore. We have almost no regrets. We can leave with a smile like I hope my brother Michel Thuiliere did when he left this world last year for an unknown rally destination...
- Jean-Francois Helias