Veteran-Edwardian-vintage, December 1961

A section devoted to old-car matters

By Brushmobile to Brighton

The Veteran Car Run to Brighton is always fun, not perhaps quite such fun as in pre-war days, but enormous fun nevertheless. I am fortunate to be able to recall the earlier years of this replica Emancipation Run, when there was the fascination of seeing all the veterans assembled in one garage the evening before the event, so that owners new to unusual machinery grappled with trembler coils, automatic inlet valves, spoon brakes and the like in a thick fog of oil smoke and petrol fumes, as they prepared their cars, commonly called “old crocks” then and as like as not purchased for 50s. or less, for the long traditional journey to the Sussex coast. Those were the days of Kirton, Shuttleworth, Dick Nash and Capt. Wylie and I was lucky to travel beside some of the early enthusiasts for V.C.C. affairs, from 1936 onwards.

Today the public looks upon the R.A.C. Veteran Car Run as extremely good entertainment. This year entries were limited to 250 (not a record, as one Press hand-out stated) and we are told that 10,000 people watched the 8 a.m. start from Hyde Park and that two million spectators lined the route, which someone is sure to prove to be impossible.

Anyway, I enjoyed it very much indeed. As in 1959 Lord Montagu generously allowed me to drive the Montagu Motor Museum’s 1904 6-h.p. Brushmobile, taking the Museum’s Curator, Michael Sedgwick, as my passenger.

On the Saturday afternoon I drove up to London in the very smart Vauxhall Cresta Friary station-wagon that was to be my tender car, a splendidly-appointed, effortless and very spacious car, nicely finished and greatly improved by disc front brakes, to refresh my memory of veteran controls.

I heard that Lord Strathcarron had been enthusiastically polishing the brass of the 1903 Montagu Motor Museum 6-h.p. de Dion Bouton he was to take on the Run and found Bob Warne worried about a mysterious loss of power from the de Dion engine of the 1900 1 3/4-h.p. Royal Enfield Quadricycle he was riding, with the Museum Administrator’s secretary in the precarious front seat—brave girl. R. Bryant was taking the wheel of Lord Montagu’s fast 1902 7-h.p. Panhard-Levassor, which was tending to chuck oil and overheat. I found the Brushmobile quite easy to take through the Kensington traffic, although its clutch was terribly fierce and its brakes less effective than I remembered them, possibly because this rare veteran is something of a Museum hack, having been used recently to transport Father Christmas and for similar publicity capers.

However, I went to bed feeling fairly confident, for the Brushmobile, discovered near-derelict in Bristol some years ago, is a remarkable little car. Its horizontal single-cylinder engine, designed by Vauxhall of Luton, I have never seen, for it lives beneath the floor with the 3-speed gearbox in a sort of metal coffin from which emerges the long greasy central driving chain; the front bonnet merely conceals a petrol tank containing ample fuel for a non-stop run. This virtually stationary engine design has an automatic inlet valve, positively-closed exhaust valve and trembler-coil ignition from a battery on the off-side running-board. It runs at some 600 r.p.m. on full-spark and retarding the spark by means of a small lever on the wooden steering wheel reduces the speed to zero, exerting so much control that throughout the 1959 Run I thought it was a hand-throttle. And this lever, being on the steering wheel, is never to be found when you are on full lock….

We got up at 5 a.m. on the Sunday and drove up from Hampshire to take coffee at the Gore Hotel, Kensington, before going off to the start.

Of the Run itself there is little to record. The traffic this year was very much less trouble and the police gave the veterans their very much appreciated assistance. We got up many of the hills in intermediate speed, which was just as well, for on low she crawls….

The near-side rear tyre elected to burst on the fast stretch near Handcross, near the spot where D. S. Inchley and L. H. Williamson met disaster when their 1904 Riley tricar overturned in avoiding a modern car. Fortunately they were released from hospital that afternoon.

We lost two hours over the tyre mishap but eventually Tom Taylor of the Montagu Museum hove in sight in the Museum’s Land-Rover, having been working on Bryant’s Panhard-Levassor, and he did a noble job fitting a new Dunlop 26×3 (700 x 80) cover and tube. The Brushmobile has deep rims that necessitate specially long valves vulcanised to the tubes and our spare tube had a normal valve, but Tom resourcefully locked the tyre-pump hose to the wheel after blowing up the tyre and all was well. Fearing we might be late we pressed on, apart from coming to rest several times in heavy traffic in Brighton itself, but we need not have worried—we had something over an hour to spare, so I got my medal….

During our long roadside vigil I noticed R. C. Porter making his customary homeward journey after successfully reaching Brighton on his de Dion, and after we had restarted John Bolster’s Panhard was also seen to be going home triumphantly.

All the Montagu entries streamed home successfully, and soon the reliable Brushmobile was back in the Brighton Motor Museum, where it is on loan.

Not everyone made it. Out of 228 actual starters the following retired: Capt. Benbough (1896 Leon-Bollee), E. S. Berry (1896 Lutzmann), R. I. Slater (1900 English Mechanic), R. Wilde (1901 de Dion Bouton), W. Wild (1903 Humberette), Dr. Robinson (1903 Phoenix Trimo forecar) with axle failure, A. J. Betteridge (1903 White steamer), R. H Tavener (1904 de Dion Bouton), T. L. C. Parkinson (1904 Peugeot), the 1904 Riley that overturned, W. H. Scott-Wilson (1904 Star), A. C. Simons (1904 Swift), and E. J. Wilde’s 1904 Tony-Huber that had piston trouble. Others only just made it by 4 p.m., after the Parade had finished, the crew of three pushing D. N. Barker’s 1904 de Dion Bouton four miles to the finish, although they then had an hour to spare. An 1898 Benz ran out of fuel a mile from the Madeira Drive and was also pushed in, while it was a matter of seconds for P. R. Hill’s 1902 Napier, which had been dogged all the way by petrol feed and ignition maladies. E. Lee got his 1903 Humberette in with seven minutes to go and C. F. South, whom I had seen stationary a few miles out, had to minutes in hand as he came in on his very difficult to handle 1900 Victoria Combination, with Mrs. South as passenger. J. S. Curry’s 1902 Benz overheated and dropped out of the Parade and en route to Brighton H. Rose had to work on the automatic inlet valve of his 1898 Cupell de Dion. L. D. Goldsmith stopped for adjustments twice, on his 1899 Benz dogcart.

Amongst the non-starters had been, alas, Bruijn’s 1901 de Dion Bouton from Holland and W. Wolf’s 1902 Lux from Germany but the other Overseas visitors completed the Run, including J. Frost from America, whose 1899 Haynes-Apperson flew two American flags and who was welcomed by Wilfred Andrews, Chairman of the R.A.C., although he had been delayed by small troubles.

The Brushmobile has a useful rear-view mirror, so I was, I hope, able to wave on Jack Brabham’s Sunbeam, Jack Sears’ Mercedes and L. A. Jackson’s racing de Dietrich in plenty of time. Graham Hill went as passenger in Fotheringham-Parker’s lofty 1896 Lutzmann and spoke in awe of its almost brakeless progress!

The first veteran to arrive had been M. E. Davenport’s 1901 Progress, followed by A. Crewe’s 1898 de Dion tricycle, A. Hodson had rotten luck when his two Gardner Serpollet steamer refused to leave the start—I know how frustrating this can be, after getting only a mile or so last year in a 1903 Humberette. There was something odd about three of the Leon-Bollees non-starting, including S. C. H. Davis’, especially as Comdr. Woolard, R.N., who is very particular about the date of his, had it at the start but took it all the way on its trailer.

I missed the Brighton Museum cocktail party which my wife, by grace of a modern Vauxhall, enjoyed but National Benzole had generously laid on food which countered my eleven-hour fast! Yes, the Brighton Run is great fun, and as screen-star Dora Bryan said at the finish, “It’s one of the few traditions that are left.” If the easier traffic conditions of this year prevail I don’t see why it shouldn’t go on being a very successful event. Lord Montagu is to be congratulated on smooth organisation that took his five entries successfully to the finish and I hope he will lend me a veteran for the 1962 Run!—W. B.