It is the in-thing these days to do the Brighton Run for Veteran Cars, now called the RAC Commemoration Run, with no mention of the Veteran Car Club on plaque or medal, although it was the latter club that took the organisation out of the hands of a well-known motoring magazine and long ago set it on the path to its present International status.
Back in 1930 Sammy Davis, before driving his 1897 Leon Bollee in the 1930 event, described this annual happening as “just about the most sporting event of the year”. It still is, for many people, although with the passage of the years it has become a big social occasion, with the VCC cocktail party on the evening beforehand and the Dinner and Dance at the “Metropole” in Brighton after the finish. Moreover, it is followed by TV and countless amateur cameras and this year it attracted 290 entries, from the USA, Belgium, Eire, France, Germany, Holland, the loM, Northern Ireland and Switzerland as well as Britain. And there are the enormous numbers of spectators who turn out to watch and wave— and, alas, the large numbers of modern cars that follow the route and add to the congestion towards the finish.
I went on my first “Brighton” 40 years ago, as passenger to Dick Nash on his 1900 Peugeot. This year, through the generosity of that well-known veteran car and motorcycle enthusiast, Tom Lightfoot, I drove a 1902 8 h.p. Beaufort, which was entered by the RAC. This was a make of car I previously knew nothing about and from Tom’s insistence that I would need a long spell with it before I understood it, and the fact that in last year’s Run, when Sir Clive Bossom was in charge of it and had a Metropolitan policeman as his passenger, it got no further than the road outside the House of Commons, apparently because he broke the gear-lever off, did not exactly inspire me with confidence. However, after I had had my driving lesson with Bill Lewis on the Wednesday before the Run I felt happier about arriving at the famous watering place on the Beaufort, although convinced that to conduct it properly I really needed three hands on my right arm…
It seems that these cars were made in Baden, Germany, from 1901 to 1906, with British capital, which is, I suppose, why they were sold, possibly even assembled, at Baker Street in London, not far from where we were to start our Sunday journey and made famous, of course, by Sherlock Holmes. At first they were belt-driven chassis, but shaftdrive appears to have been used from 1902. The car is really an Argus, and Tom Lightfoot’s is the only surviving example. It has a big single-cylinder engine, a Bergmann I suspect, which lives under a brass-bound Renault-type bonnet. The valves are in front of the huge water-jacketed cylinder, the inlet on the o/s, the exhaust on the n/s. The former is fed through a long pipe from a veteran-pattern carburetter which has warm air fed to it from an inlet that goes close to the exhaust pipe, this inlet pipe possessing a sleeve which can be used to regulate the amount of cooler air admitted. Petrol is gravity-fed from a tank under the passenger’s seat (the car is r.h.d.), which holds about 3 1/2 gallons. Ignition was originally by trembler coil, I think, but this system has been replaced by a chain-driven BTH motorcycle magneto. Another chain drives a substantial water pump, that feeds water to a low-hung gilled-tube radiator from a brass header-tank under the bonnet. Lubrication appears to be on the total loss system, from two pipes running from a small glass-sided tank on the dash, supplemented by a hand-pump conveniently mounted, again on the dashboard, for the passenger to use on hills. Both these supply systems have taps, to avoid oil seepage into the sump.
The engine has a very big flywheel to disguise its single-lunger impulses, and the drive goes through a very amenable cone clutch, controlled by a floppy piano-type pedal, to a three-speed-and-reverse gearbox. The other piano-pedal operates a surprisingly-reassuring transmission brake. This was just as well, because the push-on hand-brake lever outside the body, which controls expanding brakes in the back-wheel drums, is sprung so powerfully against its ratchet that I needed both hands to release it. In front of the driver rises the column for the 5-spoke steeringwheel, the action of which is light and accurate, and this has beneath it a quadrant on which works the gear-lever, and the smaller throttle and advance-and-retard levers. This is where the need for more than one right hand comes in, because age has caused these levers to prefer moving to notching into their grooved ratchets, and even the gear-lever had ceased to want to go into the deep notches intended to hold it in a given speed. Moreover, whereas the ignition-lever goes forward for advance, the throttle-lever moves backwards to open up the engine, so that fingers as well as the one hand are kept pretty busy at times. On the other hand, once the Beaufort is bowling along with the levers positioned as required, there can be few veteran cars that are easier to drive. The gear-lever has sensible positioning, reverse being right back, and the lever moving forward over the quadrant to get first, neutral, middle and top speeds, respectively. There is the usual two-seater body of the small runabout of the time, with a shallow, lidded boot for the accommodation of tools, spare inner-tubes and the like. The body plates bear the inscription : “The Beaufort Car, 14, Baker Street, London, W”. The wheels are shod with 26 x 3 (700 x 80) tyres—Dunlop, of course—the Registration No. is CR3, so the car was first registered in Southampton, and equipment includes a big brass central gas headlamp inscribed “The Beaufort Car”, little side lamps with blue glasses, a size-14 bulb horn, a brass-bound Dumolite mirror, an oil rear-lamp, and AA, RAC and VCC badges. The springs are 1/2-elliptics, front and back, and there is a tubular front axle with the steering track-rod ahead of it. To avoid broken wrists, the engine is turned by kicking its front starting-handle down; it commenced with commendable promptitude. That was the car on which I was to attempt to get to Brighton last month and it has rather an interesting history.
Originally it belonged to Sir John Simeon of Newport, Isle of Wight, hence the CR registration, who gave it to his man, a Mr. Sullivan, when he left his service in 1907. The new owner opened a pub near West Wel/ow in Hampshire and the Beaufort was at first used as a taxi, sometimes taking the “fares” as far afield as Salisbury and Newbury races, on some occasions with a saloon-bar chair tied on the back for a second passenger. It was loads like this that caused the back-axle to part from the torque-tube, a calamity which Mr. Sullivan overcame by making up two torquearms from some steel tubing, dispensing with the torque-tube. The Beaufort also served two doctors in the neighbourhood, who used to hire it. It was thus employed until about 1912, after which it was dismantled and the engine used to drive a dynamo. In 1932, when the hunt for veteran cars was well and truly on, Philip Shaw, a prominent VCC member, heard about this and persuaded Mr. Sullivan to sell him the remains. Laboriously and over a period the missing parts were traced and the Beaufort made into a car again. Indeed, a year after being discovered Mr. Shaw successfully completed the Brighton Run on her. He continued to use her like this until the war. In 1955 the car was smartened-up specially for the Jubilee Run and in 1958 he took the Beaufort down to the village of Canada, near West Wellow, to show it to Mr. Sullivan, who had not driven it for 46 years; he proved well able to master his old love and immediately went off on his own for a short run….
Since those days the Beaufort has been added to Tom Lightfoot’s stable and here I was, about to take it on this year’s Brighton Run. Driving up to the start, the very heavy rain cast a bit of a gloom! But we were very comfortably ensconced in a Renault 20TL, which I had borrowed for the week-end, appropriately, as Renault Limited were sponsoring the Run, as they did in 1975. All who drove the 20TL expressed much approval of this new Renault model and it certainly served us an admirable tender car. Arrived in London, first, there was a conference with Tom in the Hyde Park Underground Garage where the veterans were garaged and later I and Roger Maughfling whom I had asked to come as my passenger on the Beaufort, realising that as an ex-motorcyclist, a one-times crambles-rider, and an engineer he would prove invaluable, went to Mr. Lightfoot’s traditional pre-Run Dinner-Party at the RAC.
Sunday dawned bright and dry, and at 8.20 we were flagged off from Hyde Park. ‘Fhe first part of the Run proved most enjoyable. After I had sorted-out the Beaufort’s shifting gear-lever positions it bowled along nicely. And when we finally decided that top speed could be safely engaged it fairly galloped along, with the engine just idling over—to drive behind a big single-cylinder is usually a pleasing experience and I only wished I knew the size of the one that was propelling us Brighton-wards. About a litre, I would guess. It is interesting that although the little car gets along so well in top-gear, hill-climbing is slow work on middle or bottom speed. The clutch engaged only at the last inch or so of the pedal-travel but was easily manageable and I have already commented on the fortunate fact that we had excellent brakes. The engine seemed more responsive to the ignition setting than to the throttle and its loud bark, in spite of a large silencer, could not be heard from our windy and lofty perch. When stationary there was much vibration, as one would expect from a lusty “single”.
Thus we left London behind, the route splendidly policed, as was the entire Run, apart (as ever) in Brighton itself. Indeed, although there was congestion in places, seldom have I had such an easy drive and the dreaded one way stretch in Redhill proved to be no bother at all. One sees little of other competitors on such an occasion, but we did notice that Bill Lewis, with Tom’s famous Panhard-Levassor in which I rode last year, had stopped soon after the start. Later we overtook Mrs. Snapper trying to snap out of a severe front-wheel shimmy on her 1901 Renault and wondered whether her passenger, Mrs. Greene, felt green (sorry!); for you can’t drive out of such a wobble in a 44 h.p. car. In Croydon I thought I had held onto top speed too long and had stalled the engine. But, in fact, an ignition control-rod had worked loose, retarding the spark. A polite young policeman asked us to clear the road but was quite happy when we put the Beaufort on the pavement. And Roger proved that I had chosen the right passenger by soon fixing the trouble. Thereafter we just motored on and on. We were debating whether to pause for more Lightfoot hospitality or to try to beat the traffic jams, when the sunshine that had been dazzling me turned to torrential rain. Under such circumstances the fun changes to determination. So discarding any idea of stopping to erect the car’s fine leather hood (it also has a celluloidwindowed front apron but without wipers I felt this would reduce the already poor vision to nil) we pressed on slowly, up gradient after gradient, and fast and effortlessly down the other side—we were wet through already, anyway.
Just when the rain had stopped and we had only some 20 miles to go, a new noise intruded. One of the two compression taps had opened. That was soon fixed, and we took the opportunity of checking water and petrol. The engine had never boiled and it now needed very little topping up. The fuel tank was almost empty, showing a consumption of around 20 m.p.g. with all the low-gear work driving a veteran in 1976 traffic entails. The level in the little oiltank had scarcely dropped. The only other job had been tying-up the sprag before the start. Altogether this Argus-Beaufort seems a very good veteran car and when the make crops up in any future history I may be reading, I shall note what is said with interest….
In five minutes under four hours, we passed the Pylons, where the final check-point was situated, and not long afterwards the Beaufort was safely garaged in the Metropole car-park. (Lightfoot’s impressive 1902 25/28 Mercedes, with his wife as passenger, had naturally got in long before us.) For me Brighton 1976 was over, apart from the long haul home to Wales in the comfortable and commodious Renault 20TL.—W.B.