Dragon Rally

More reports from MOTOR CYCLE courtesy of Jan Heiland.



THE great day is almost here. Crack of dawn on Saturday - Friday night, maybe - you'll be off and away on the trek to the Dragon Rally. Other riders swing into your route; there are cheery waves for they, like you, bear the Dragonist's unofficial badge, a lashed-on bedroll.

We fork left at Capel Curig, towards the Llanberis Pass. A cold road, a lonely road, where Snowdon rears his massive triple peak ahead. Then, at last, we break through the mountains. Look! The banner of the red dragon floats high above Glyn Padarn. There are welcoming smiles, handshakes, a mug of steaming soup. The magic of the Dragon works its spell once more.


WISE types booked sleeping space in advance. If you didn't, you'll be welcome to come along and take pot luck at finding a cranny under canvas. The Conway Club right now are busy erecting several huge marquees. Campers, of course, don't have to make prior arrangements There's plenty of room on the 360-acre site. However, it's first come, first served, for the plum pitches.

All of us enjoy our own private little bonfire: so the Conway Club are laying on a scrapwood dump close to the soup kitchen.

What you do need is a groundsheet, warm sleeping bag (or the equivalent in blankets), mug and irons, and a flashlamp. Some catering arrangements are being made, and those planning to arrive in the small hours might like to know that hot snacks will be available from 6 pm Friday all through the night.





THE Dragon Rally opens at 3.30 pm tomorrow, Friday, February 4, and closes 11 am Sunday, February 6. Present yourself at Glyn Padarn, on A4086 (the Caernarvon road) one mile north-west of Llanberis, between those hours to qualify for the Dragon badge.

All motor cyclists are welcome; but three-wheelers, cars and vans are out.

If you arrive on the Friday night, collect your badge from the Conway Club's caravan near the main entrance (marked CONWAY CLUB HQ on ur site plan). From 8 am Saturday, go straight to the generator house for your badge and free soup.

Now for the rest of the day. Film shows start at 2 pm. The programme includes Shell's classic The Right Line and the very latest, International Six Days Trial; National Benzole's The Vanishing Coast; Castrol's Three Wheels at Mallory.

From 6 pm we form up for the great headlight

parade. First man leaves the north gate at 6.30 pm. The six-mile route, same as last year's, is shown on our map.

As the parade returns, the bonfire bursts into flames. That is 7 pm. At 7.30 pm there will be addresses of welcome from near the generator house.

A change this year. Instead of a formal Sunday-morning service, the Rev Graham Hullett, curate at St Mary's of Paddington (59 Club), will sat a few words to close the speechifying.

And where's Father Bill Shergold? Busy packing his bags in London - he leaves for a three-month working tour in Australia on Monday the day after the Dragon.

At 8 pm begins the jolly sing-song round the bonfire. To lead it, they've engaged the Llandulas Male Voice Choir, who will also do some entertaining on their own account.





The Conway Club's Dragon seems to have the bit between its teeth. Every year it forges further ahead. The attendance goes up and up. Last weekend's get-together at the foot of Snowdon numbered at least 6,420 and the final reckoning may be higher.

Yet the weather was the most uninviting so far. The previous four rallies have been held in heavy snow, ice, tingling cold and brilliant sunshine. For this, the fifth, no-one escaped rain, floods, mist and gale force winds, though temperatures were unusually high for February.

Yet even this sort of depressing weather had its compensations. Rivers and streams became raging torrents as boisterous and foaming and spectacular as those in the French or Swiss Alps when the snows melt in spring.

Every so often along the roads leading to Glyn Padarn, groups of Dragonists stopped at the roadside to gaze in awe at the raging waters - this part of the tourists' attractions of North Wales were never so splendid in the holiday season.

How you fared through the Llanberis pass depended on the day and the time.

The early birds who made Glyn Padarn on Friday swooped though lengths of flooded road and gusty sidewinds so strong that it was impossible to avoid wavering from side to side.

During the night the wind dropped and a wet clammy mist closed in. At times it was so thick that a bottom gear crawl was the only way to sort out the turns.

And on Saturday when the big intake went through you could meet mist, lashing rain or a burst of watery sunshine.

No matter: spirits were as buoyant as always at Glyn Padarn with tents filling every suitable plot of ground. Only the small camp fires suffered for it was a problem to get sodden wood to make a friendly flare.

Would the dampness spoil the traditional bonfire that marks the high spot of the Dragon Saturday night festivities? Not likely! With a spot of petrol to give it a woosh, the pyre was soon going, sending flames high in the air.

The rain was now holding off. First the headlight parade with such a long cavalcade of lamps stabbing the darkness that the circuit looked like a ring of fire.

Next came the welcomes. First from "Tiger" Roberts, chairman of the Conway Club. the from Harry Louis who brought a personal message of good wishes from the new Minister of Transport, Mrs Barbara Castle. A special greeting to the Germans - the biggest contingent with over 60, from the Continent - read in their language by Mike Evans and, finally, a brief blessing from Father Graham Hullett of the 59 Club.

By eight o'clock the famous Llandulas Choir was leading the singing. When had had enough there were plenty of others to take over with impromptu community songs. For nearly three hours the valley echoed with lusty voices.

Much, much later the last of the lights went out. The night was so mild that you could walk around in shirtsleeves as you riding gear dried out.

Mild - and dry - nest morning, too. Though nobody had a completely dry run home whether he went north east or south. But the showers were rarely heavy and when the sun broke through it reminded you that spring is not so far away . . .



ON THE Thursday evening before the rally, the Oxfordshire Sidecar Club hosted nine German rallyists at their HQ.

Jack Gibbs than arranged a tour of the Triumph factory for the following day. It proved so popular that it was a job to drag the Germans away and get them to Glyn Padarn.

Earlier they had been very impressed by the English police after asking a partolman in London to tell them the route to Oxford.

He jumped on his Triumph and gave them the red carpet escort treatment all the way to the M4!

WHAT WAS the most unusual registration number? All the old faithfuls were there, including the Harley Davidson with the Canadian registration. But the rather oriental looking number with CFS nationality plate set us thinking.

The owner of the beige coloured BMW R69S and Steib was 38 year old Lieutenant François Barret, a friend of Jean-Marie Debonneville, and the machine hailed from French Somaliland on the shores of the Red Sea!

However, Lieut Barret had been staying a month or two at his home in Bordeaux, so the feat wasn't so astounding as it at first appeared. Nevertheless it was a fair ride to Wales.

GETTING to the Dragon and dealing with the sort of roadside bothers that can occur is essentailly a man's game. But there were a number of ladies who made Glyn Padarn on their own mounts - like 25 year old Ruth Knight of Chelmsford on her 1961 Triumph T110 and Canterbury chair.

After setting off at 11 pm on Friday, she arrived at the rally just 24 hours later. She stopped to help several unfortunates by the side of the road during the early hours of Saturday morning and then found herself in serious trouble at Wellington.

The back wheel of the Triumph had collapsed. Ruth and passenger, Bernard Cramer spent the best part of the day getting the wheel rebuilt.

EXCERPTS from Mrs Barbara Castle's special message of welcome to the rally:

"I share your love of outdoor life and admire your enthusiasm for your sport.

"Enthusiasm and skill usually go together. The man for whom motor cycling is part of the open air life is likely to be skilled in roadcraft.

"I hope you will demonstrate your skill in the best possible way - by setting an example to others. I hope you will do this in the same spirit of comradeship shown at this rally, by teaching others to take care of their machines and to take care on the roads. Good luck to you all."




WE HEAR a great deal about visitors from the Continent - yet a sadly neglected contingent from over the water is the Irish one.

However, all our friends from Ireland, like 20 year old Lionel Watts of Limerick, were pleased to hear Harry Louis mention them in his speech.

WELLINGTON boots were selling very well in Llanberis. The stock of popular sizes had all gone by early Saturday afternoon.

Fresh supplies were soon coming in from Caernavon.

"WELL WORTH opening up. We are all very happy with what we achieved." So reported Rev David Collyer of the Birmingham Double Zero Club's enterprise in putting headquarters, St Basil's Church Hall, at the disposal of Dragon Rallyists.

In all, 162 riders dropped in at Birmingham for coffee or soup on the way to Glyn Padarn - among them nine German and four Swedish visitors, and Norwegian and French pairs.

Not everybody stopped the night, but those who did use their bed rolls in the centrally heated hall numbered 53.

Says David Collyer: "Some got their heads down just for a few hours and I was making wakey wakey calls, by prior arrangement, right through the night.

"The last caller arrived at 8.15 on Saturday morning, just in time for breakfast!"

AS THEY tucked into their four course Sunday dinner, Motor Cycle's team under canvas thought themselves in the Dragon Campers' Ritz.

But even the luxuries of table, stools and propane lantern paled into insignificance against Norman Chadderton's caravan. It was a genuine four berth model, a lightweight Travelette.

Norman's 1957 Square Four did the donkey work getting the caravan over from Shaw, Lancs. Three lucky friends had come along to share the cosy pleasures of this mobile homelet.

The detail that we liked best was the neatly laid out row of four carpet slippers.

CONTINGENTS from abroad were the biggest so far. They came from Austria, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany (including Berlin), Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland.




AMONG the many club contingents were Vintage and Brough Superior. Rim brakes and rain never went well together but that didn't stop the riders of the older vintage bikes making it.

Broughs? Well, they didn't attract as much attention as the 1966 jobs, including at least four CB450 Hondas.

FIRST arrivals came from Germany on the Wednesday. The last checked in at 11.30 am on Sunday after a series of breakdowns that delayed him all Saturday night. He started back for home just before noon!

ON SUNDAY morning, Birge Paulsen, riding a 1938 seven-fifty BMW, popped up at the control caravan. "Hello," he said, "I'd like the furthest travelled rallyist award, please. I've come here all the way from Norway specially because I knew this was the one prize I would win."

Gently, Conway Club officials took Birge to one side to explain that there just weren't any awards at all; only little enamelled badges . . .

ALTHOUGH somewhat off the beaten track for most Dragonists, the Oxfordshire Sidecar Club's brew-up and thaw-out station near the Oxford by-pass drew its usual crowd of thankful patrons.

All Sunday afternoon and evening it was thronged with home going rallyists who'd called in for a last natter and joke together.

No precise count was taken but, says secretary Roger Green, "We got rid of 500 rolls and 28 lb of sausages."

A few callers puzzled over why the brazier and hot-dog stand had been set up on the "wrong" side of the road.

The reason is simple: The wrong side has the right kind of farmer, who allows the Oxfordshire Club to set up shop on a short stretch of private track.

More than that, this gentleman puts forward his good offices to the extent of lending the club a redundant milk churn as a water tank and storing the gear in his barn.

One after-dark visitor, determined to prove the opposite side of the road would serve just as well, set out to do some surveying on his own account.

Imagine the consternation of the Oxfordshire Sidecarrists when their "helper" suddenly vanished - into an 8ft deep drainage channel!

His bike was little damaged but the rider went off to hospital with a suspected shoulder dislocation.

Most waggish remark of the afternoon? "It's so warm today, you ought to be serving ices, not bangers!"



Driven by the continuing desire to share snippets of the past with the faithful readers of LPMCC, here are some additional photos relating to the 1966 meeting of the most famous motorcycling rally to ever take place in Great Britain.  

Let's begin with the splendid cover of the issue of Motor Cycle magazine published on 10 February, 1966.  This publication covered the event that occurred on the weekend of 4 to 6 February. 

This photo, chosen to illustrate the cover of the magazine, is a wonderful reflection of the adventure.  The sleeping bags or old blankets tied to racks of individual machines and protected by simple plastic bags, reflect the anticipation of bad weather by the participants on their way to Glyn Padarn. They serve as testament to enthusiasm for the most famous winter gathering.

Casualties of War

Among the younger generation of today's rallyists, I tend to believe that the majority of those riding their modern, reliable machines may not realize how easily they can travel without too much worry of possible breakdown or mechanical hassle, compared to their elders,  

The mechanical reliability of modern motorcycles is hardly comparable to that of yesterday's enthusiasts.  Many rode second-hand machines that, over time, had accumulated years of wear and tear inflicted by the previous owners.  This, of course, could lead to mechanical issues and breakdowns at any time on the road. 

The vagaries of motorcycling of this era caught on the spot. Photo taken during the Dragon 1966 and published in the Motor Cycle article about the meeting

In the 1960s, traveling from your hometown to the Dragon rally on one of these "veteran‚ÄĚ bikes, regardless of the distance, was not without risk of causing you to dirty your hands with oil or grease while conducting an outdoor mechanical session.¬† Added handicaps were working with hands and fingers numb with cold or being stuck somewhere for several hours by a problematic breakdown.¬†

Scarcely a mile out from Glyn Padarn, Tom Carter (bent over the dualseat) discovers the clutch centre of his 1958 Squariel is working loose

A friend may be waiting behind a stranger's face

Fortunately, however, for the vast majority of rallyists, the occurrences of mechanical issues on the road to the Dragon were still quite low. For most, there were more moments of happiness, joy and satisfaction on the handlebars of their machines than slight inconveniences due to unforeseen failures and the need to resolve a breakdown problem in order to set off again and continue their journey. 

Once they got there, it was time to reunite with old acquaintances, or to make friends with other enthusiasts

After all, who knows?  The hazards of life sometimes offer opportunities that were totally unknown to them yesterday.  Helping others to resolve the inevitable mechanical problems could lead to finding a very good friend or a faithful companion in future motorcycling adventures. 

- Jean-Francois Helias

Start of quotation ... After the 1965 rally...

The next Rally 1966, I rode pillion on the back of a friends Triumph T100. His name was Dave Teare.

I was recovering from a big RTA on my 350 Goldie, at Gledrid Crossroads near Chirk. I was in hospital for three months, but had begged for a weekend pass from the Hospital, to return on the Monday to carry on treatment. I was out on the Friday and rode up to Llanberis on the back of Dave's Triumph on the Saturday morning with my crutches strapped on the back of my haversack.

On the return journey it was tipping down with rain and it had got into the throttle cable of the Triumph causing the throttle to stick open. We were coming down the Llanberris pass towards Capel Curig and Dave was controlling his speed using the clutch, with a steep rocky bank on one side and a stone wall and a big drop on the other. Still regaining my nerve from my RTA, it was quite a hairy ride.

The '67 Rally I went on ... End of quotation

Steve Phillips - Phil

Start of quotation Feb 1966 was my first Dragon at Llyn Padarn.

In those days I was a member of The Eagles MCC Nottingham.

My name is Steve Holbrook and I was 18 at the time. I rode passenger with Albert Storey on a new Triumph Trophy, as my own bike at the time was only a Honda 90 C200 and too small to make the trip, so I was told. We were accompanied by several other members. Jonny Longdon on a C11G BSA which broke down several times due to oil getting through to the points and drowning them.

The A38 after Derby was our route followed by the A5. In those days there was no Burton By Pass and the route through Burton was via several railway crossings. As a brewery town small company railways criss crossed the town.

Cafes were sought at regular intervals, with lunch on the A5 at Bicton the other side of Shrewsbury. This place we used for many years and met and made long term Dragonniers. The likes of Badges, seen often as an extra on East Enders.

Camping at the rally was something else with a crowd of around 6,000 there. I remember the singing around the campfire and still have the song sheet, as well as now over 40 badges and rallies completed. End of quotation

- Steve Holbrook

Start of quotation It was 1966, I was riding my friend Ian's BSA Super Rocket because my Gold Star was off the road. (I went on the Goldie in 63, 64, 65 & 67.) I was absolutley sodden, rode from Birmingham in non-stop rain, met friends from Tamworth, Trevor Rodgers was one I recall, Bonneville and ginger hair.

Now the reason for writing this, I read earlier on the page that 'someone went home without their bike'. Well that could have been me. The bike's magneto was submerged in water and, even with the friendly garage owner letting me use his air hose to blow it out, the BSA just would not start.

However the following week when I picked it up it started first kick. End of quotation

- Clive Walker

Start of quotation In 1966 my mate Chris Hoy on his 61 BSA Shooting Star Watsonian outfit & me ran out of petrol in the pouring rain in the Llanberis Pass during the early hours of the night. In a layby was a old converted ambulance which was the mountain rescue team. We knocked them up and they sold us a gallon of petrol which lasted us until the next open garage.

We arrived sodden but enjoyed the weekend. End of quotation

- Paul Kennedy

Start of quotation Pop was chairman of the Double Zero club at the time. Went on a 1955 110 with Val Richardson on the back but it was untried after rebuild. It broke down on the way back.

Bloody cold and not washed for quite a few days. We got most the way back in a new Rolls. Couldn't believe anyone would stop, let alone in a Rolls.

Chubbles on his Thruxton Velo got slightly drunk, demolished a few tents. Matchey on his combo got "killed" at the half way house then got a lift on an S7 Sunbeam which broke down Lawley Street, not far from the club.

We had lots of bikers stop over night at the club, two Swedish girls on a Bonnie were regular over the years, but many countries.

Became chairman soon after ... oh memories. End of quotation

- Windsor the Third

Start of quotation I rode to the 1966 Dragon rally on a black Matchless 500 single with a guy from Scarborough in Yorkshire who was a fellow student at Harper Adams agricultural college in Newport Shropshire.

My memory is fading and I have forgotten his name. Its been a long time and I have been in Canada since 1968. We were unprepared, had no tent and were lucky to find a cold concrete floor of a hut in the ex RAF munitions camp where the rally was held. End of quotation

- Graham Eley

Rally song sheet and BSA advertisement

Start of quotation This page is full of texts but does not offer many photos or memorabilia regarding the Dragon '66. Therefore it seems to me wise to add some of them. So here is a compilation of various photos taken during the 1966 meeting. End of quotation

- Jean-Francois Helias

Open quote I was there in 1965, 66, 67, 70 on a Vincent outfit. I am now 71 and hope to come again in 2009.
Regards John Geal Close quote
Open quote I was there, when men was men and we did it Close quote