Steel Horse Rally

In the Flemish language, 'Orde Van Het Stalen Ros' translates as the Order of the Steel Horse, hence the name, Steel Horse Rally, first organised near the medieval city of Bruges in 1968. It was the brainchild of the Belgium rallyist Jean Blanckaert, the man behind the legendary F‌landers motorcycle gathering.

Steel Horse 1968 - the commemorative rally badge designed by Jean Blanckaert.

Jean had a talent for drawing and each year he'd design the logo for the rally badge and sticker that bore the rally's distinctive name.

The medieval atmosphere and chivalrous ceremonial of the meeting, held each year in September was unique in the rallying world. At its heart was a grand motorcycle procession, escorted by the police, from the campsite at Lake Loppem to the centre of Bruges, culminating at the 'Belfry of Bruges' the city's famous medieval bell tower and one of its most prominent landmarks.

Early 1970s - Steel Horse rallyists during the traditional procession in town.

Each year, after a passionate address to the assembled participants,(translated into several languages), about how to love it and practise motorcycling in a symbolic way, random entrants were chosen from the crowd to become 'Knights of the Order of the Steel Horse'. Jean Blanckaert would then bestow upon them a special medal hung around their necks with red ribbon, to the sound of chivalrous music. This ceremony was nicknamed 'The Mass'.

Jean Blanckaert adorning a 'Knight of the Order of the Steel Horse' in 1971.

That kind of pompous, solemn and ostentatious atmosphere with flags and banners, fanfares may not have been to everyone's taste in rallying circles. However, there's no doubt that its impeccable organisation, quickly helped the Steel Horse gain an international reputation and become a great Belgian classic.

Mind you, the proximity of a high-quality campsite with great bars, plus the beautiful waters of Lake Loppem close by, certainly helped.

British rallyists at the Lake Loppem campsite during the 1969 meeting.

The 1968 meeting attracted around 450 attendees but by 1972 this had climbed to over 2,000 and the event management became impossible, despite the efficient organisation. Inevitably the following year, entrance was limited to only a hundred rallyists.

Steel Horse 1971 - Bruges main square was crowded with international rallyists. [Zoom with mousewheel]

Though Jean Blanckaert sadly passed away in 1982, his wife, Magda Blanckaert, and his children, have since continued to manage the Steel Horse rally and all that goes with it.

Despite having changed its venue five times since its inception in 1968, the Steel Horse gathering celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008, attended by a few die hard regulars.

- Jean-Francois Helias