The Editor Has a Successful Ride in This Year’s Outstanding R.A.C./V.C.C. Veteran Car Run
November 14th this year was the actual anniversary of the original Brighton Run of 1896 and as if to celebrate the fact a record entry of veterans was received for the great R.A.C. annual commemoration run — a total of 223 vehicles, all of them at least 50 years old. Moreover, the weather was absolutely perfect, the old cars making the journey in sunshine beneath blue skies, in contrast to the drenching rain which has characterised at least the last three “Brightons.” No doubt encouraged by the popularity of the Genevieve film and half-an-hour’s television the night before on the subject, record crowds lined the route, making this Veteran Car Run the sporting event with the greatest spectator support of any — two million people were said to have watched the veterans go by. Vast numbers of cars naturally followed the run, causing considerable congestion at the start in Hyde Park, in London, and at Brighton and intermediate points. In spite of this, I think the old cars generally have never had a clearer passage and this was entirely due to the splendid policing of the entire route. The veterans were allowed to cross red traffic signals, ignore “keep left” islands and, indeed, most of them covered much of the route in the right-hand gutters, aided and encouraged by the police and with not a sign of annoyance on the part of car, ‘bus and coach drivers held up by their passage. In addition, drivers of modern cars gave way readily this year, the only menace coming from a few motor-cyclists and kid cyclists. The very warmest praise and thanks are due to the hundreds of police constables and specials who turned what could have been a fiasco into the best Brighton Run to date.
This year I had the privilege or riding in the tonneau of Mr. Stanley Sears’ beautifully-restored 1901 four-cylinder 10-h.p. Mors. This provided me with a particularly interesting ride, because in past years I have experienced such notable veteran cars as Lanchester, Panhard et Levassor and de Dietrich, as well as riding in or on the smaller fry such as Peugeot and de Dion and experiencing an “early primitive ” in the form of the late H. J. Wylie’s 1897 Hurtu when that well-loved gentleman was Secretary of the then far-smaller Veteran Car Club.
The Mors is a very interesting car. A Type E 1074, it has A 15.9h.p. (10 c.v.) four-cylinder engine; the cylinders of which possess air-cooled heads and barrels, but have a water belt round the valves, fed from a five-gallon tank at the back of the chassis, from which water is encouraged to flow by a pump to a gilled-tube radiator slung low at the front. The o.h. inlet valves are automatic and the lubrication system is somewhat complicated, comprising four separate oil-pumps, driven by chain from the camshaft, which feed lubricant to each cylinder wall. From a tank on the dash two drip-feeds, virtually invisible unless the driver dismounts from his seat, meter oil to each end of the crankcase, while three pipes rise up above the cylinders for the purpose of hand-feeding oil from a can to the luckless main bearings, a job undertaken every 25 miles, when the crankcase level should also be checked.
The gearbox has four forward speeds and this 53-year-old car attains an easy 45 m.p.h. in the 2.1 to 1 top speed, the maxima on the other speeds being 10 m.p.h. in first, 25 m.p.h. in second and 35 m.p.h. in third speed. The changes are effected by a quadrant right-hand lever, but a separate lever selects neutral and reverse and gear-changing calls for some display of skill, especially as the carburetter does not encourage rapid alterations in crankshaft speed — to his infinite credit, front my comfortable position in the rear-entrance tonneau body I heard not a single protest when Mr. Sears rung the changes.
The final drive is by side chains and the Mors runs on generous, grey-walled, 880 by 120 Dunlop Cord tyres. The bonnet is of Renault or de Dion type and there is no weather-break of any sort, the big Eliot speedometer, clock -and drip-feeds being earned on a decidedly low dashboard. This notwithstanding, Mrs. Sears cheerfully accompanied her husband on the journey.
The Mors was discovered by Mr. Sears in Paris (where the Mors was manufactured) and after receiving an A.A. report on it he bought it without seeing it and, after it had been shipped to England, he rebuilt it in the impeccable manner for which he is famous. It had received a fresh coat of varnish before this year’s Brighton Run and, with its shining wooden wings and gleaming brasswork, was one of the smartest veterans presented to the spectators that day. It had competed successfully in the Brighton Runs of 1938, 1946, ’49, ’50, 51, ’52 and ’53.
Mr. Sears’ ability as a driver matches his enthusiasm for restoring old motor cars, so that my Brighton “ordeal” this time was no ordeal at all! His collection of Rolls-Royce cars, including a T.T. model, is famous in vintage circles, and in addition he has a 1911 T.T. racing Sunbeam, 1914 Grand Prix Opel, and had entered for the Brighton Run, besides the Mors, his 1903 12/11 Clement tonneau, driven by E. E. Sears, and his 1904 ex-Abbott 18/28 Mercédès racing two-seater, handled on this occasion by J. G. S. Sears; his everyday motoring is undertaken in a Bentley Continental
Arising at an early hour, I put on sufficient clothing to assume Bibendum proportions and was wafted swiftly from Hampshire to Hyde Park in the Continental Correspondent’s Lancia Aprilia. Here we encountered the first traffic jams and when I arrived at the appointed meeting place the Mors was absent. Pushing through the crowd disclosed that the Clement was absent also.
However, in ample time all three of Mr. Sears’ entries arrived, and we left only a minute late, although the congestion seemed to have delayed the early starters and it seemed that cars were being dispatched out of order. This is really of no moment, for the event is not a race, a medal awaiting those who clock in at Brighton on time and disqualification for those who are too early.
At 8.46 a.m. we were on our way, through the “Paris-Madrid” crowds, which left only a single line clear to us — appropriately, I thought, remembering the great drive of Gabriel on a More in the 1903 Paris-Madrid rate and earlier great exploits on large racing cars of this make by the legendary Fournier.
We had been followed to the starting line by C. A. Shillan’s 1901 7-h.p. two-cylinder Panhard-Levassor, the smart “Papillon Bleu,” which soon went past us, Mr. Sears keeping the Mors in second speed and an occasional misfire, which caused a puff of blue vapour to the amusement of the onlookers. indicating a duff sparking plug.
Already Capt. Benbough’s 1890 3 ½-h.p. Benz dog-cart and Dennis Flather’s 1897 4 ½-h.p. Daimler were in trouble and the unfortunate W. T. Grose was pushing his 1902 10-h.p. Wolseley wagonette towards the start, where he must surely have been late. Moreover, we overtook Cmdr. Woollard’s 1895/6 2-h.p. Léon-Bollee misfiring badly on its one big cylinder, the passenger undecided whether or not to dismount, and R. S. Miles’ 1899 3 ½-h.p. Benz dog-cart had stopped just beyond the Park.
In the Mall we halted to change No. 1 plug, after which the Mors really got to grips with the traffic and later made a splendid ascent of Brixton Hill, using the wrong side of the road.
At Westminster we had been held up in the crush of traffic and were some 20 minutes late, so in my snug tonneau I had no timekeeping duties to distract me. Here R. K. N. Clarkson in a 1902 20-h.p. Panhard et Levassor had been very exhibitionist, pushing through gaps, going over a kerb, passenger blowing a trumpet in our faces, all the crew obviously eager to press on to Brighton.
Both E. S. Berry’s wonderful 1895 4-h.p. Lutzmann Victoria and C. G. H. Dunham’s 1901 5-h.p. Corre were noticed stationary beside the road before Brixton, but in passing by it is usually impossible to see whether trouble has struck or not, and in mentioning such episodes I imply no censure — cold feet and hot engines cause stops, apart from dire mechanical aspects.
We overtook Leslie Allard’s 1901 9-h.p. Napier double phaeton proceeding rather slowly at Kennington, some of its crew wearing funny hats, although Sydney Allard, in the back, did not thus offend. It was followed by the well-known Allard racing-tender.
Brixton Hill, where the crowds were especially dense and as everywhere good natured, seemed to have caused Basil Davenport’s 1902 5-h.p. Century Tandem forever to call a halt, while our Mors had overtaken the splendid 1897 Soame steam cart, with its tall funnel and canopy top.
For some time Dr. C. R. Clayburn’s trim little 1902 5-h.p. single-cylinder Peugeot had been tailing us, waiting a chance to pass, but at Streatham Common the driver seemed in trouble changing gear, so that we were glad later to see it come sailing past. Another car to go by was the famous 1903 Cadillac driven by F. S. Bennett, President of the V.C.C. He was having a quite phenomenal “dice” but at Thornton Heath began to lose speed and pulled into the side of the road. I expressed regret, but Mr. Sears cheered me up by recalling that once off top speed the Cadillac takes a long time to regain its revs. And, sure enough, Mr. Bennett made Brighton in good time.
As we took the right-hand turn at Thornton Heath pond, waved through by gallant policemen, Major Fairhurst nearly stopped in front us.as he, too, found a gear-change on his 1902 S-h.p. Peugeot not the easiest of manoeuvres.
Along Purley Way Mr. Sears gave the Mors its head. Here I spotted A. M. Mackey’s 1899 3 ½-h.p. International Benz having its engine restarted by the happy expedient of hauling round its big flywheel by hand — a typical “Brighton Run scene”!
Ken Wharton’s 1901 8-h.p. Albion dog-cart was stationary at Purley and so was the very fine Shuttleworth 1902 24-h,p. de Dietrich racer. Both arrived at -Brighton, so all was well.
The run up past Croydon Aerodrome was accomplished amid enormous enthusiasm, voluntary marshals aiding the special constables to keep the off side of the road clear for us, while a yellow training aeroplane taxied away out on the airfield and vapour trails of other modern travellers formed overhead.
A trace of clutch slip had been evident, so at Redhill we drew into an obliging garage and, while I topped up the rear water tank and put a dozen squirts of oil into each of the three main-bearing lubricators, Mr. Sears checked the plugs, all of which were in order and showed signs of good carburation, and squirted Pyrene into the clutch.
As we proceeded the joy of the thing increased. The crowds didn’t just stare — they waved and in the towns even cheered, as no Grand Prix winner in this country has ever been cheered! Whole classes of school-children were lined up to see what the ancestors of the modern car were like, toddlers in arms waved lustily and I spotted the usual beautiful girls. And, inevitably, there were the supporting vintage and modern cars, from a near-veteran Darracq two-seater to a covey of Messerschmidt scooters and a new Gordon cyclecar. Amongst vintage cars were some very-well-preserved Fiat 501s, while a rare Edwardian Hotchkiss landaulette was seen at Brighton. There were also signs of those queer folk who daub undistinguished cars with paint and hang signs and fly banners from them, this year a Vauxhall and on Austin Seven. Surely the police could take some action over this, on the grounds that such unnecessary exhibitionism causes distraction amongst other road-users? We were the more annoyed because the Austin badly baulked us, this, and a lady-driver reversing a Riley saloon across two-track road, being the only baulking, apart from unavoidable traffic jams, we experienced.
Another stop at Bolney to decant the Sears’ luggage and the Mors went triumphantly on its way.
Along the twin-track road beyond Bolney we were surprised to see police giving the slow-down signal, because the road was singularly clear. It transpired that here a modern car had swung out in front of Clarkson’s Panhard et Levassor, with the unhappy result that one of his passengers had fallen from the car onto the road and been killed. This truly unfortunate occurrence in the safest of motoring competitions considerably dampened our high spirits, but it can be said, that traffic congestion caused no trouble to the majority of competitors and that this accident can be written off as something which could just as likely have happened between two modern vehicles. There was a mild accident in Hyde Park, and H. T. Clarke’s 1904 6-h.p. de Dion Bouton arrived at Brighton with only one of its beautiful wooden front mudguards intact, the near-side one being splintered and supported with string.
We got in rather less than 3 ½ hours after starting, three stops included, the spotless Mors running perfectly. It was an outstandingly quiet car, engine noise being unheard from my lofty seat in the tonneau and the fascinating rattle of the driving-chains only when we passed modern saloons, which acted as amplifiers. The ride, too, was extremely comfortable, and only over very occasional “lively” surfaces did one receive any jolt at all. We came into Brighton, appropriately, in company with D. A. Pierpoint’s throaty 1904 28/32 Mors Roi-des-Belges, until the larger car swept by.
So, on a sunlit sea-front, they came in steadily on this typically English Sunday. The Chairman of the R.A.C., Wilfred Andrews, stepped from his 1901 Benz, Peter Hampton looked very “Baron de Caters” in his white racing 1903 Sixty Mercédès, 88-year-old Otto Mayer, who drove a Panhard in the 1896 Run, occupying the mechanic’s seat. Sears’ Mercédès came in strongly, stalwarts on tricycles pedal-assisted their spidery vehicles along the Madeira Drive, Bolster announced a perfect run, without a single misfire, on his rather sombre 1903 Panhard, and even the Danish 1886 3 ½-h.p. Hammel dog-cart, which had been allowed to leave at 8 a.m., reached Brighton at 8.27 ½ p.m., the oldest car ever to do so.
The event is not a race, but it should go on record that the first competitor to reach Brighton and receive the welcome of the Mayor, Alderman W. G. Dudeney. J.P., was M. E. Davenport’s 1901 8-h.p. Progress, which started No. 70. Moreover, S. C. H. Davis’ 1897 Bollee was the 10th to arrive and the oldest vehicle in the first twelve.
The annual Veteran Car Run to Brighton has become an English institution and Britain will be a sorry place if it ever ceases to take place.
An analysis of the cars in this year’s record entry is of interest for it seems to indicate that not every veteran was competing and that old favourites may return to enliven future events. The “score” was: de Dion Bouton 38, Humber and Humberette 13, Benz 12, Wolseley 12, Panhard at Levassor 11, Renault 8, Darracq 8, Peugeot 8, Oldsmobile 6, four each of Cadillac, Century, Gladiator, Léon-Bollee, M.M.C., New Orleans, Rex and Rexette, three each of Argyll, Clement-Talbot, Daimler, Decauville, Lanchester, Mercédès, Siddeley, two each of International Benz, James and Browne, Lutzmann, Mors, Progress, Quadrant, Rover, Star, Sunbeam-Mabley, Swift, Vauxhall and Thorneycroft, and lone examples of Achilles, Albion, Alldays and Onions, Arrol Johnston, Beaufort, Beeston Tricycle, Corre, Crestmobile, Dechamps, de Dietrich, Dennis, Durkopp, Gardner-Serpollet, Hammel, Hurtu, International Charette, Kreieger Electric, Napier, Napoleon, Norfolk, Phoenix Trimo, Pieper, Pope-Tribune, Pick, Raleighette, Reo, Royal Enfield, Rolls-Royce, Schutz-Marke, Sinpar, Soame steam cart, Speedwell, Stephens, Stirling-Panhard, Tony Huber, Victoria Combination and White steamer.
There were 223 entries and 212 veterans started the run. Of these the following failed to finish within scheduled time: —
V. Loft (1886 Hammel), E. S. Berry and P. Fotheringham-Parker (1895 Lutzmann), R. Lawson (1896 Léon-Bollee), R. S. Miles (1899 Benz), K. E. Smith (1899 Benz), H. B. Leech (1899 Decauville), L. Murray Austin (1900 de Dion Bouton), Mrs. J. M. Schofield (1900 New Orleans), D. G. Silcock (1900 New Orleans), R. C. Porter (1901 de Dion Bouton), R. A. Eastmead (1901 Renault). G. R. B. Clarke (1901 Sunbeam-Mabley), H. D. Spivey (1902 Gladiator), L. A. Holt (1902 James and Browne), D. Fitz-Patrick (1903 Achilles), R. Boucher (1903 Darracq), W. R. Stevens (1904 de Dion Bouton), A. C. Fairtlough (1904 Panhard et Levassor), A. J. B. Bally (1904 Phoenix Tricar), P. C. Waring (1904 Renault), H. Trussell (1904 Reo), E. Harrison (1904 Rover Tricar), E. Pilmore-Bedford (1904 Wolseley), G. J. Allday (1904 Lanchester).