No snowdrifts, no ice, still 10,000 motorcycles and an ocean of cars

What weather was it?

The extreme cold, the snowdrifts and the fresh snow falling excessively from the sky as in the winter of 1967, did not honour with their presence that of 1973 in order to better embellish the decor of this 18th gathering of the most illustrious winter meeting. So less challenges and difficulties for participants coming from distant countries on two or three wheels. The only small consolation was a slightly slippery roadway due to frost.

As for the outside temperature on the circuit, the mercury in the barometer indicated that at its coldest it was just minus 1 degree centigrade.

Elefant 1973 - A year still without abundant snow as the most masochistic of the participants would have wished. Just a layer of old, dirty and frozen snow covering the earth in places, to prove that at the beginning of 73, Grandfather Winter had not yet packed up...

Never again like before

As everyone knows, nothing is immutable in this world. Everything changes over time and has an end. The oldest rallyists who have remained faithful to this gathering year after year were not fooled. Everyone knew that a paragraph in the Elefantentreffen book had come to an end. From now on the atmosphere, the spirit, and the healthy camaraderie that they had had the privilege of knowing would never again be the same.

Elefant 1973 – A classic twin Norton whose owner was probably a member of the 59 Club as suggested by the logo located in the top corner of the left pannier. Registered EOT 52D, what has become of this brave machine over the past 50 years? Is she still fit as a fiddle and in service?

Its success, attracting more and more people, had completely transformed it. Its intimate atmosphere of the past between real enthusiasts had given way to an extravagant fair bringing together a heterogeneous crowd made up of motorcyclists of all stripes, traders, motorists, and curious onlookers.

In a way, the dream and ideal place for those who cannot stand solitude, and love crowds; on the other hand, good luck to you if you intended to meet up with friends or acquaintances there that you hadn't seen for ages.

How many machines were estimated by the press in 1973? About ten thousand of them; a figure similar to the previous year. And the cars in all this? Incalculable! All we know is that this ocean of four-wheeled vehicles far exceeded the number estimated for the Elefantentrefen 72.

Not just elephants on the road but also Three Wise Men

Celebrated in Germany on January 6, is the Dreikönigstag or Dreikönigsfest (the epiphany), dedicated to the Three Wise Men. On the road to the Elefanttreffen, with a little luck, you might come across groups of children or adults dressed as wise men called 'Sternsinger' (literally star singers) on the road.

Elefant 1973 - Short stop on the way to the Nurburgring. Note the Hugon fairing fitted to the machine. Manufactured in 3 models (those for unbreakable tourism) in Moirans in the Jura, and equipping a good number of motorcycles from the 1970s in France. It was fitted (according to its designer who died in an accident during a Paris-Dakar) in 10/15 minutes without dismantling anything on the bike.

In the predominantly Catholic south of the country, these groups come to knock on doors, sing and collect donations for charitable works relating to children.

In gratitude, they bless your home by marking with chalk, above or near your door, a series of numbers and letters. Like for example the letters C+M+B meaning “Christus Mansionem Benedictat” (Christ blesses this house) but also Caspar (Gaspard in German), Melchior and Balthazar.

The French bi-monthly magazine Moto Journal (born in 1971) had mandated two of its editors to participate in the 1973 meeting: Guido Bettiol, the Franco-Italian pilot-journalist; and our friend Jean-Pierre Frisquet (aka ‘Zinzin’), rallyist and former member of the legendary Trappus MC pirate club in Antony, in the southern suburbs of Paris. They just happened to meet a group of young 'Sternsinger' in the middle of the German countryside and immortalized the lucky moment on photo.

Bric-a-brac of heteroclite motorcycles

Like every year on the 'Ring', mechanical enthusiasts hardly knew where to look as there were so many things around worth lingering over: more or less old motorcycles, the oldest of which dated from the beginning of the 20th century; incredible bitzas, some of which were ingenious 'gas factories' powered by various car engines; choppers too; state-of-the-art modern machines like the 900 Kawasaki; mopeds of all brands; and machines so patched up with wire and with the means at hand that one wonders how they were able to reach their final destination.

Elefant 1973 - A time when the Panhard engine was to bitza what mustard is to French fries...

The laziest people, who did not want to bother walking to see the motorcycles in the parking lot or in the campsite, found a judicious way to satisfy their visual pleasure: they sat on the low wall in front of the Sportshotel and watched each motorcycle pass by in slow motion.

Elefant 1973 - The photo is not very clear. But do you recognize the two visibly British rallyists posing behind this particular Honda 450?

Giant camping show too

It's not just the machines used by the participants in this giant Teutonic fair that were unorthodox, extraordinary and bizarre; their tents or improvised shelters where they spent the night were also worth the time it takes to observe them for a brief moment.

Elefant 1973 - Not only the world's largest outdoor motorbike and accessories fair, but also the world's largest camping show

In the campsites, a veritable camping exhibition was also open to the eye of the observer. Almost everything you could possibly imagine was there: from the most modest two-seater tent to the royal palace under canvas with built-in toilets; including the most improbable makeshift and improvised shelters, from which pairs of boots sometimes protruded, signalling that there were indeed occupants sleeping underneath, and offering a vision resembling an exodus...

More images of the Elefantentreffen 1973

I could extend this report by talking about the Sportshotel and its robust waitresses (some of whom had the physique of professional wrestlers); or in the campsite, about the enclosure reserved for the Bones motorcycle club, bringing together Americans then carrying out their military service in Germany; or even for the funny anecdote, waking up on Sunday morning to the sound of music from Maurice Chevalier records that the DJ in charge, for reasons that only he could explain, had chosen to play.

I prefer to take advantage of the space on this page to share with you an amateur video, shot by a German rallyist and found on the internet, providing a very good overview of the 1973 meeting:

As a bonus, a photo montage made of a few more photos from my archives for this year:

Text: Jean-Francois Helias
Images: G Gaudechoux & JF Helias