Gueugnon Rally

Part Two: Youthful endeavours

In 1970, I took part in my home town's rally organised by the local motorcycle club of Montlucon. I was only 14 and it would be another two years before I could apply for my motorbike licence. Nevertheless, I immediately fell in love with this style of motorcycling, becoming hooked on the smell of leather, the look of chrome, and the noise from the engine. All I wanted to do was to become a rallyist and immerse myself in the atmosphere and camaraderie of like-minded people.

My very first rally

I don't recall the friend, who way back then, finally persuaded me to go with him one evening to one of MC Montlucon weekly meetings. They met at the café ‘Tout Va Bien', 59 rue de la République and it was our intention to join this club if we liked what we saw.

Card from the MC Montlucon presenting both their wishes for 1971 and serving as an invitation to their annual rally to be held on Sunday 6 June 1971.

Although we were teenagers, I remember it as if it were yesterday. Pierre Cornieux, one of the oldest members of the group, was very cordial towards us and made us feel at ease, even introducing us to the club president Paul Coulon.

We received our membership cards for the year, but in the end, we only rarely went back. Rather, we preferred to meet the other members at the many rallies which took place in central France and were within reach of our meagre mopeds.

The MC Montlucon posing for a souvenir photo at the Moulins rally, in the Allier, at the very beginning of the 1960s. I seem to recognise a younger Pierre Cornieux (3rd from the left with his helmet on his head). Note the bottles (either Champagne or sparkling wine) and oil cans highlighted in the foreground, which must have been the prizes won at the rally.

Under the leadership of Alain Malardier

The first of our gang in the Fontbouillant district to be able to pass his motorcycle test and gain his licence, as he was older than us, was Alain Malardier.

When I was younger, I was very friendly with his brother Christian, like me, a great fan of pop and rock music, especially that of French rocker Johnny Halliday. I hung out with him almost every day before he left home, tragically and prematurely dying in an accident with a lorry.

Like many young people who worked as apprentices or in factories for little pay, and didn't have the means to buy a brand new Japanese motorcycle, Alain Malardier immediately acquired a second-hand motorcycle, a 175 Peugeot two-strokes from the 1950s. The rest of the gang rode on basic ‘floating-engine mobylette' and the luckiest on ‘foot-speed' mopeds from Italian brands such as Malaguti or Gitane Testi.

Although this 175 Peugeot seen above is not Alain Malardier's, the first of our local gang to have a motorbike in the early 70s, it's pretty much identical.

His age, charisma, and the fact that he was the only one of us to own a real motorbike, meant that it was only logical he should become leader of our little gang. Actually, he thoroughly deserved the role, and no one among us thought of challenging him.

If I remember correctly, it was 1971 when we first thought of ​​founding our own motorcycle club. Pirate motorcycle clubs, also known as 'clubs libres' were being established all over France. They weren't affiliated with the FFM and every week saw new clubs established, either legally under the 1901 law with official blessing, or ‘underground' and ‘below the radar'.

This desire to form a new club coincided with meeting a new youth worker from the Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture, (House of Youth and Culture) in our town, whose premises had been built in 1966.

Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture (MJC) in the Fontbouillant neighbourhood

The MJC aimed to empower young people, helping them to develop new and innovative skills, melding youth and culture with popular education. These premises served as places to meet, allowing young people to train, discuss and create. One could come and have fun, attend shows, participate in activities such as martial arts or music. Actually, I rehearsed there regularly in my youth with the very first rock and blues band I ever played with and even played live in concert there a couple of times.

In rehearsal in the music room of the Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture. (from left to right): yours truly (guitar); the late Jean-Charles Borrel (vocals); Patrick Dumoisy (drums); Jean Verdu (bass).

Anyway, this particular youth worker was very interested in motorcycling, although he actually only rode a moped, and wanted to organise a motorcycle club within the local MJC. As such, we were invited one evening to attend a meeting in the MJC premises to discuss setting up a new club.

However, it transpired that our host was more interested in motorbikes in general and mechanics in particular than in touring and rallies, which of course was our thing. Moreover, when it was time to choose a name for the club, he insisted on using the letters MJC in the name. This was not at all to our liking, as it was fashionable in those days for clubs to use animal names. Unsurprisingly this first meeting at the local MJC was not followed by another. We thus decided, by mutual agreement, that it was best that we take matters into our own hands.

Grandma Mathilde, the host of our club meetings

Grandma Mathilde, the host of our club meetings

With the seeds of the desire to establish our own club having been sown, we soon found the inspiration to push on and make it happen. My grandmother Mathilde, who adored me, agreed that we could meet once a week in the living room of her little house. Being a widow and already very old, she loved to receive visitors and of course the presence of young people around her proved most invigorating, revitalising her in every way. Mind you, as her grandson, she probably wouldn't have refused me anyway.

If my memories of this weekly ritual are a little vague, it's perhaps because of the homemade fruit and berry spirits, made from sloe, orange peel, blackcurrant, etc. that she concocted and wanted us to taste at each visit. We didn't have to be asked twice to sample all the bottles so we could do a comparative test of her magic elixirs. It goes without saying that our meetings were not only good humoured, but that our conversations and debates over grandmother's little 'fire water' liqueurs were more than often loud and boisterous.

A club name in honour of Jack Findlay

Choosing a name for our club was not easy. It is always difficult, as you can imagine, to satisfy everyone. The two pirate clubs of Montlucon had already borrowed the names of birds; Aiglons and Kiwis to name their groups. We however opted for 'Kangourous', in honour of Jack Findlay who had an image of this leaping and combative marsupial on his helmet.

Jack's helmet which he wore in the 1968 season when he rode a Matchless, finishing second to Agostini in the 500cc World Championship.

We had every reason in the world to love Jack Findlay.

First and foremost, we respected his life as a private rider, battling the big money factory teams, a true classic story of David and Goliath. His classic struggle was later depicted in the superb film 'Continental Circus' showing his 1969-1970 motorcycle world championship season in Europe, pitting him against his lifelong adversary and world champion Agostini.

This brutal and poignant film by Jérôme Laperrousaz was one of the first to use cameras attached to motorcycles or helmets. It was something unheard of at the time. The divide between team and private riders, the risks taken by the riders themselves, their passion for racing and the soundtrack by the group Gong have all contributed to making this cinematographic work a legendary film. In fact it was winner of the Prix Jean Vigo and selected to represent France at the Oscars.

Original sticker from the film 'Continental Circus' offered for the promotion of its cinema release in April 1972

Another good reason for our affection for Findlay was the fact that he was in a relationship with a French woman, 'Nanou', with whom he lived for over 15 years. She was a legendary figure of the motorbike racing world. After their separation Jack married Dominique Monneret, widow of the French racer George Monneret.

Members of the MC Kangourous

The presidency of the club was of course granted to Alain Malardier. My expertise in writing meant I became the secretary, a role which thereafter followed me in most of the other clubs to which I belonged.

Alain Malardier, president of MC Kangourous

As for the members making up the ranks of the 'Kangourous', the main core of the club was made up of the Rondreux brothers (Marco and Jean-Luc), Jean-Michel Hardy, Patrice Couturie , Alain Pouchette, Pascal Salvert, Philippe ‘Dédé’ Durand, Yves Delzecki, and Jean-Jacques Carvhalo, although fifty years on I have forgotten a few names.

A good year having passed since the foundation of our club, some of us had in the meantime improved the quality of our machines with the purchase of new steeds. Malardier, Hardy and Durand had bought brand new 250 Honda CB Twin bikes on credit from the local dealer; Salvert his 250 Suzuki GT; and I had bought myself a good old 1954 Motobecane Z2C. My own purchase was thanks to a hard-earned salary during my school holidays grafting with my good mate Patrick Carre of the MC Kiwis. We spent all day on our knees under the hot summer sun amongst fields of rosebushes in the local plant nursery, an avalanche of colours as far as the eye could see.

As for Jean-Jacques Carvhalo, with whom I had been in the same class at primary school, he had bought himself an old aubergine-coloured 350 Jawa model 1956. This motorcycle was at the end of its life due to the fact that its former owner was a Dunlop factory worker who had used it every day to get to work, before deciding that it was time to get rid of it.

This one, photographed for the brand's catalogue, looked so much better than the shabby one of our friend Jean-Jacques...

It was the kind of acquisition for the buyer that should have been avoided at all costs. But due to his naivety, and the low price of the Jawa, the deal had been concluded. The seller certainly celebrated the sale of his ‘utilitarian agricultural machine' with champagne once he returned home, only too happy to have rid himself of this prehistoric machine. For the buyer, the problems soon appeared one after the other !

It is precisely on this bike that I went to the Gueugnon rally at the beginning of 1973, sitting as a passenger behind Jean-Jacques riding his vintage Czechoslovakian. A new adventure was about to begin, on this beautiful Saturday afternoon...

- Jean-Francois Helias