Veteran - Edwardian - Vintage, December 1977

A section devoted to old-car matters

The Brighton Run (November 6th)

Once again Renault Ltd. sponsored another successful RAC Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton, which brought in an entry of 278 pre-1905 automobiles, was very keenly supported by the public, who lined the route from Hyde Park to the Pylons, and which enjoyed a pleasantly summery day of sunshine and blue skies after torrential rain on the Saturday.

It was a memorable occasion for enthusiasts as well as the ordinary motorist or even non-motorist but the traffic seemed to be especially heavy, halting in three-lane jams those veterans which hadn’t reached Brighton by mid-day. As usual, the event was celebrity-ridden, with Pam Ayres (on a De Dion Bouton) or The Blue Peter team allowed to join-in with a non-veteran Morris to commemorate the tooth Anniversary of Lord Nuffield. It was also notable for participation by another celebrity, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, the first time Royalty has competed, although a Daimler from The Royal Mews took part some years ago. Prince Michael has proved himself a motoring sport enthusiast, so is a celebrity of the right sort. He drove Lord Montagu’s 1903 four-cylinder 22 h.p. Daimler.

Having been offered a drive on a British Leyland entry which didn’t materialise (perhaps next year), I accepted Roger Collings’ offer of a seat on his 1903 Sixty Mercedes. I was reminded, as I did so, of how S. C. H. Davis, as a boy obsessed with motor-racing, encountered such a car: “One day in the Finchley Road I came across a big Mercedes and when the driver said ‘Would you like a run? This is a reserve Gordon Bennett car’, the moment was too full for words, the millenium had arrived. I went in ecstasy all the way to Barnet….”

Having just gone down to Brighton in Collings’ Mercedes I know exactly how Sammy felt. This fine specimen of this greatest of all sporting veteran cars is in original trim, even to low-tension ignition. Its performance is beyond compare. Its top speed with touring body is over 70 m.p.h.

Its acceleration would not shame the quicker modern cars, as the great 9 litre engine takes hold and hurls the car forward, barking out its splendid war-song. Yet in traffic, while the very light to operate scroll clutch may not be entirely happy, the machinery does not suffer, and the big machine is quite docile in a brute force sort of way, accompanied by the most fascinating sounds.

We left at 8.30, five adults up, were passing Big Ben at 8.35 and although we stopped once, to buy apples, and for the latter part of the run Collings was deliberately trying to waste time and even let me drive, we were in Brighton by 10.30 a.m. That is how this great Mercedes motors and what it must have seemed like 74 years ago, to those fortunate enough to experience it, especially if previous travel had been on a “turf-turf” or on a horse, is almost beyond imagination… Verily, this was a millionaire’s plaything, a car that was king of the road. During this 1977 exercise, never once had the brakes to be used in earnest and we had an entirely incident-free ride.

I have no need to describe it here, because I did this in Motor Sport back in 1973, when its proud owner used it, at my request, to commemorate Jenatzy winning the Gordon Bennett Trophy Race in just such a car. Suffice it to say that on the fast run to Brighton it never boiled, required refuelling, or missed a beat, although it did throw out a fair quantity of lubricant from its total-loss system, as Collings said sensibly that oil is cheaper than bearings… Although the police were as usual most helpful, the early traffic congestion was such that Collings did not get into fourth speed until we were well out into the suburbs. It was a very enjoyable experience I can still hear the individual beat of those big cylinders as the great power unit took hold, to make the best possible use of gaps in the modern traffic stream. It was rather droll to be waved to the near-side of the road by well-meaning policemen, in order to give a clear passage to modern vehicles, when so often it was these that were holding the Mercedes back! Nearing Brighton we finally overtook Bill Lake’s racing Mors, mechanic on the step, and thus the Mercedes ran onto the Madeira Drive the first car to complete the Run.

On a rapid journey of this kind one secs competitors stationary at the roadside, or others going along under full sail. There is little point in commenting, because so often those who appear to be in trouble arrive satisfactorily. With the Mors following us in, another blow was struck for low-tension ignition! Botharn had stopped en route. I was, however, pleased to see Ted Woolley going as nonchalantly as ever on his 1897 tube-ignition 4 h.p. Daimler Phaeton, Johnny Thomas approaching Brighton at about noon on his 1898 Rocket 2 1/4-h.p. motor-tricycle and, having participated in Renault hospitality, we were by then on the way back to London in the contrast of a Ford Granada 2.8i S, the traffic by then stationary along much of the opposite carriageway of the A23, with Norman and Hodges pushing their 1903 De Dion Bouton up the last hill and Simon and his passenger both standing up on their 1900 6 h.p. De Dion in case the same help was required. -W.B.

Brighton Bits

Let us not forget the Veteran CC, which played a great part in earlier “Brightons” but seems played down, these days.

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The official programme, price 30p, offered less information than formerly, about competing cars.

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P. G. Newens’ 1901 Toledo Steamer unfortunately broke a vital pump on the way to the start but his son started on the 1904 Star, passengered by Simon Coates.

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Lord Strathcarron had a snug and this year successful run in the 1903 Georges Richard Brougham and Bill Harrah got in early in his 1902 Roi-des-Belges Panhard-Lcvassor. Alan Dakers drove a very pedestrian 1901 4 1/2 h.p. Renault, as befitted the Publicity Manager for Renault UK, the Run’s sponsors, and oldest car was Bud Cohn’s 1893 1 1/2 h.p. Benz, seen going well, flying the Stars & Stripes. J. Garrett had some difficulty in taming his 1895 Gladiator in Hyde Park, Tom Lightfoot’s well-known Mercedes was noted, safely at his customary half-way halt, and Mrs. Rita Lightfoot had entered the Beaufort which W.B. drove last year.

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The press were taken down and back in a 1933 Renault Paris omnibus, owned and restored by J. A. Elliott Ltd.

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There were twenty-three non-starters, including the mysterious Celer, Corner’s Mors and the Toledo Steamer which broke a vital pump on the way to Hyde l’ark. Non-finishers ranged from Bud Cohn’s 1893 Benz to the Transport Trust’s De Dietrich and Hampton’s Mercedes. Collings drove his Mercedes back to London and home to Wales with absolutely no trouble.