The Editor rides with J. Kentish, on a 1932 De Dion Bouton Forty-five retire on very stiff day’s test.
It has been said before and I say it again — there is nothing quite like the R.A.C. Veteran Car Run to Brighton. This year a record entry of 137 was received; there were 17 non-starters, and, on a day of relentless gales and pouring rain, 45 failed to reach Brighton.
I rode with Jim Kentish on his beautifully-prepared 1902 single-cylinder De Dion Bouton, and it wasn’t the car’s fault that now, many hours later, I still feel damp and imagine that I ooze water as I move about! Conditions really were fearful, and it is to the credit of the V.C.C. that the veteran and Edwardian cavalcade happened to plan after the finishers in the Main event had checked in. It was, in fact, all the greatest fun. Kentish’s car was imported as a chassis in 1902, having been bought for a Reigate doctor by his patients — whether they did this as a mark of appreciation or because they hoped that he would thereby get to them more quickly in an emergency than on his horse, history does not relate! At all events, Mulliners built a beautiful Victoria body for the single-cylinder chassis, which is one of the 2-speed-and-no-reverse models. Gear engagement is by means of expanding, hand-controlled clutches, and there is the famous De Dion rear axle, that gives this light car such steady riding. Kentish has made a first-class job of reconditioning the car, aided by Laystalls, who recently sleeved the cylinder and did other necessary jobs. Believe it or not, the paintwork is original, varnished over. He bought her from Freddie Dixon.
Well, on the Saturday, with all the old-time “Brighton” atmosphere in the November air, we towed the car up to London on a trailer behind a Hillman Minx, garaged it at Swiney and Hill’s along with the famous Sunbeam Mabley entered by George Hill, Davis’s Leon Bollée and other veterans, and repaired to the Kensington Palace Hotel to await the morrow. On waking, a cistern somewhere in the building gave a good imitation of heavy rain and, although the morning was sunny, ere Redhill was reached that rain became a well-established fact!
Hyde Park was the scene of the usual excitements, with a very good number of early-rising onlookers. Wing-Cdr. Taylor’s De Dion was grabbed in the nick of time by Sammy Davis to prevent it ramming a rival, Miles’ 1899 Benz “ticked over” with much vibration the Press cameramen were insistent that the lady with Richard Dimbleby’s 1903 Mercédès should “change a plug” again and again, and work was being done on the underneath of Soloman’s Swift-De Dion. Mrs. Fotheringham-Parker, in an army greatcoat, brought her 1903 Renault to the start unaided, John Bolster looked very “early motorist” in leather coat and helmet beside his 1903 Panhard, Grose had the luxury of a closed body on his Wolseley and Corkett carried an intrepid small boy in the forecar of his 1899 De Dion Quad. Old gentlemen met long-forgotten models, lots of people told Kentish “our first car was like yours.” It was, in fact, the grand old “Brighton” Run back again, as the presence of Dick Nash, Powys-Lybbe, St. John Nixon, Clutton, Hutton-Stott and other notabilities truly confirmed.
Poor Sammy Davis did manful work on his Bollée’s handle and finally had to be push-started just as No. 20, Reeves’ Benz, got away, and the 1901 White steamer needed some coaxing. Then I zero-ed the immense and elaborate stopwatch Kentish had purchased in Milan when he was an Army officer, the De Dion chugged off in “low,” our modern Vauxhall took station behind, and, for us, the job had commenced.
Sqdn./Ldr. Pidgeon’s ex-Wylie 1898 Hurtu was seen to have stopped in Hyde Park, and both a 1902 M.M.C.-Daimler and Spiller’s De Dion were stationary in front of Buckingham Palace, although the latter was being push-started as we swung past. Into Streatham we overtook Thompson’s 1901 Renault apparently having bothers with gear-engagement, and at dreaded Brixton Hill Powys-Lybbe appeared to be refuelling and Corkett to be in trouble with the De Dion Quad.
Here Dimbleby came by fast in the 1908 Mercédès, so that he could halt by Telford Avenue Tram Depot (where a car had to be left on the original Brighton Run) in order to talk into his microphone — a fine thing that, a B.B.C. commentator going all the way, driving as a competitor. Nice work, sir!
Another fast car was No. 75, a 1903 Wolseley, which came by going into Streatham, where Miles’ Benz seemed to have engine trouble and Jarvis’s Panhard had stopped.
Our little De Dion got up Brixton Hill with no bother at all, and the climb put us nicely on schedule time, whereas before we were tending to run early.
Near Norbury, Col. Wellingham’s 1901 Benz was stationary and steam was coming from Miss Tanner’s 1900 De Dion going into Thornton Heath. By now the spectators were out in thousands, and I have to acknowledge the gift of a pair of goggles hurled into my lap as we ascended Brixton Hill. All along the road the police did everything possible to help the old cars along, and I am sure many competitors felt guilty that they were keeping these excellent fellows out on special duty, in the rain that fell so unmercifully later on.
Before the long haul up Purley Way, Eason Gibson was seen hurriedly glancing at his “works” Wolseley. At Purley he stripped off one of the solid rear tyres, and at the lunch-stop had it in the back. As John, who hadn’t driven the car before that day, said: “It’s come all right on the rim from Purley and on the rim it shall continue.” Halfway along Purley Way the White steamer, dating from 1901, was stationary, probably building up pressure.
In a great press of traffic at Purley Cross Roads the 1890 Thorneycroft steamer was planted in the middle of the road and Miles’ Benz was again stationary. Someone else was being re-started by his passenger.
Rain now fell with increased earnestness and we stowed the notebook beneath the seat, putting up our hood and draping our legs in a weatherproof sheet. Our tender-car driver reports thereafter that Vere’s 1903 De Dion was at a standstill at Hooley, and in Redhill, on the hill, No. 13, Harmer’s 1898 M.M.C.-Daimler, was having investigations of the transmission carried out. On the other hand, Milligen’s 1903 Wolseley cracked by, likewise Pierpont’s Mors. Casualties were obviously heavy, although some were merely ahead of time. Not so Dr. Ward, who peered beneath the back of his 1903 Vinot et Deguingand. Temporarily, the rain eased by Povey Cross, only to return, accompanied by a chilly wind, shortly afterwards.
At the lunch check at Crawley a De Dion had its inlet-valve dome removed complete, Eason Gibson added water, and the cheerful Seccombe pedalled in on his 1899 Beeston tricycle — he was to pass and re-pass us later, which Fotheringham-Parker just could not do on the equally spartan 1899 Century. Kentish changed the plug as a precaution against sooting and we found we were almost out of fuel, two gallons of high-volatile spirit being put into the tank under the seat. Otherwise our De Dion needed no attention and was well on time. After lunch weather conditions were appalling. Miss Sears pressed on bravely, but near the end Capt. Cullimore Allen’s steady-running 1902 Gillet-Forest had trouble. We seemed to be catching Davis’s Bollée on one occasion, then came upon him lifting it bodily on to the centre strip in the double-track road, having hit a modern car and buckled a front wheel — no one was hurt.
All along the road more-youthful old cars were evident — I spotted a model-T Ford sedan with flat tyre; lots of “12/50” Alvis, one, outside Crawley, with no hood and hatless girl passenger in the back; some fine Bentleys; a girl driving an A.C. “Acedes” Six 2-seater; an Edwardian Renault and a Stellite in Brighton; a Bean and an early Standard; an unknown small 4-seater light car going great guns near Bolney; a Lancia “Lambda” saloon; an O.M.; a fine bull-nose M.G. 4-seater; many old Morris and Austin Twelves; while, going up to London, we had seen a really early “14/40” Vauxhall coupé in full flight. Again, all just as in pre-war days on “Brighton” Sunday.
The De Dion went on manfully in spite of conditions. Before lunch we had had a ding-dong battle with Browning’s New Orleans. Now we ran mostly alone, after stopping to lower the big hood, which, in the wind, slowed us up. We were so early that we stopped twice in Brighton to lose time, and it was ironical that, the time-keeping being at fault on our part, we were penalised a mark for being late; the De Dion had given absolutely no trouble throughout. The survivors, drenched to the skin, drew up on the Madeira Drive. Alan Hess summed it up very nicely — asked who was going to take away the Alldays he drove, he retorted: — “I don’t care. Anyone can take the wretched thing!” But he was in the cavalcade just the same.
The mystery of the day was Dunlop’s “four-in-hand,” which arrived at the start, at a rather inopportune time, and which was seen again in Brighton. Did it come by rail, or change horses en route?
A trifle drier, we attended the Mayoral tea, when Earl Howe thanked the Mayor and Corporation for having the finish at Brighton and hoped for an even bigger entry for the R.A.C.’s Jubilee Run next year. The Mayor said the resultant publicity was well worth having and the reference to Brighton on the 1 o’clock news must have been heard throughout the world. So all was well all round that evening, except for the wetness !
BEST PERFORMANCES.-1894-96 group: E. Wood’s Bollée; 1897-1900: F. Olorenshaw’s De Dion; 1901-2: G. Eyre’s Napier; 1903-4; S. Sear’s Clement-Talbot.
TEAM PRIZE: Prince (Panhard), Neville (Gladiator) and Eastmead (Gladiator), 1903-4 group.
RUNNERS-UP: Sears (Clement-Talbot), Hutton-Stott (Lanchester), Smith (Clement).