To Brighton by Talbot
November’s Veteran Car Run to Brighton, organised by RAC Motor Sports Association, is as popular as ever, with entries from all over the World (this year 326, of which 66 were reserves), but for me it lost some of its one-time flavour when I heard that two of the runners, a Thornycroft and a De Dion, would be equipped with mobile telephones – not quite in keeping with 1904 motor cars, surely? And there was again the appearance on the Run of Show-Biz personalities, who see in it a means of publicity. Ray Moore of BBC-2 was on the aforesaid De Dion, former BBC presenter and now Sports Minister Tracey rode on a 1903 Albion (his present position making this appropriate and welcome, however) and “Blue Peter” had the NNM 1903 22 hp Daimler for the kiddies to wave at (I saw it stationary early on), and BBC’s “Top Gear” man Woollard was on a Mercedes. The Chief Constable of Sussex went as passenger on a 1904 De Dion – but some of the traffic-lights at his end of the run remained unmanned! Young drivers, lady drivers, old drivers, all were out in this year’s cold sunshine, on a Run watched by an enormous number of ordinary members of the public, and dejected dogs were seen, their Sunday morning walks cut short as their owners watched this great cavalcade of motoring history pass by.
Where all these pre-1905 cars come from is a source of wonderment in itself. New entries continue, such as the taxi-like 24/30 SMA, found in Sardinia, a 1903 Clement bought from a closed-down French museum, and the 1903 De Dion on which Michael Brisby was doing his second “Brighton”. The museums were well represented, Lord Montagu taking his 1903 De Dion that he let me drive last year, Lady Montagu being on one of only two existing 1901 Progress cars, the Science Museum putting in a 1904 Rolls-Royce once taken through· the Run by Sir Malcolm Campbell, an 1899 Locomobile steamer, prepared by Merton Technical College, and a Peugeot and the City & Guild’s James & Browne being entered again. The Stuttgart Museum had its usual Benz and Mercedes entries, Renault UK Ltd their 1900 4 hp Renault, HRH Prince Michael of Kent took the RACs 1901 10 hp Mors, and the RAC also entered a Wolseley, the Shuttleworth Trust ran its racing-bodied 1903 24 hp De Dietrich, the VCC a big Berliet, Vauxhall Motors Ltd. its Vauxhall, the AA its Renault, Nottingham Museum a Celer, Ramsgaie Museum a De Dion, and from the Indianapolis Museum came again the big Premier. Other veterans venturing to Brighton for the first time were an 1898 Benz, a 1900 Clement, and three more De Dions.
This, my 34th Run was organised for me by Roger Collings and realised by Ann Shoosmith giving me a place on her 1904 12/16 Talbot. It was one of the best Runs I have enjoyed. Ann handled the car with all the expertise she displays when racing her vintage Bentleys and although there were the worst traffic hold-ups ever, at least until we were clear of Croydon, the traffic-lights in Brixton unmanned, thereafter no-one could say that traffic congestion ruined the fun. The start was a little delayed because the numbers indicating parking places were late in being put out, a further complication being the abandonment of back-in parking, which spread out the cars in long lines. But we were away at last, passing Big Ben at just after 9 am. Thereafter the Talbot’s engine never stopped, and in spite of the early hold-ups and a pause or two, we were in Brighton around mid-day, in time for Ann to receive a kiss from the Mayor. It was one of the quickest Brightons I have experienced, apart from a Roger Collings epic…
The Talbot proved a remarkably competent veteran. It was bought by Ann’s Father in 1956 and has done the Run most years since, retiring from only one. In spite of having four-up (five as far as Gatwick) it showed a slow contempt for the hills, bottom gear being a pedestrian change, and difficult to engage, at all events quietly. Yet that gear was only needed three times on the long gradients of the Brighton road, no water or fuel was added, and once primed to start it, the Talbot’s engine ran for long periods with the car stationary with no sign of overheating. Nineteen hundred and four was the first year of English Talbot manufacture, so the performance and smooth-running are all the more remarkable. The car, formerly AU 200, now Reg No FC 26, has two commodious front bucket-seats, with a side-door body behind them easily able to accommodate three persons, with masses of leg room. For a 12 hp car this, again, is notable.
Under the rear-hinged bonnet, with open-able side-panels for administering to the machinery, the engine of 80 mm x 120 mm (2,409 cc) with its four separate T-head cylinders, fits neatly, carburetter on the offside, exhaust manifold on the near-side. Ignition is by magneto, on the right of the engine, and there is a water-pump on the left, and a belt-driven fan. On the dash there is a small triple-drip-feed lubricator, and only two instruments, a very “period” clock and Smiths speedometer, ‘the latter reading to 50 mph and supplied when Smiths were at No 9 in the Strand. Early· large AA and RAC badges flank a VCC badge and the lamps are Lucas “King of the Road”. Gear and brake levers are external, the former with a quadrant, and the centre accelerator is of spoon type. The chassis extremities, like the front-axle beam, are tubular, with handsome rear spring mountings, and this smart and very well-turned-out veteran Talbot has a Mex petrol can on its near-side running-board and a wooden box on the dash that might contain coils but is actually for oddments. The tyres are 815 x 105 Dunlops, and equipment includes a fine and strident brass Desmo bulb-horn.
That was the car in which I travelled to Brighton this year, Ann, as I have said, coping with the traffic with great relish, the brakes very powerful, as one set of changing traffic-lights fully demonstrated, and the day, which had started for me at 5.30 am, a particularly friendly one. One can see why Talbots went on to such success, for this 1904 12 hp model represents perfectly practical transport and makes some far-later light-cars seem crude and ponderous. By just after noon it was over and I am indebted to Ann Shoosmith, of a great motoring family, for another “Brighton” completed. Some of ·the spectators called her name, others were obviously pleased to see a lady driver (there were some others, including Mrs Moore on No 2 1892 Panhard, whom we saw going well and we overtook Sally and Amanda Collings, obviously in fine form on the 1904 Darracq), and Ann’s son was driving their 1898 2¼ hp Cudell De Dion tricycle which, alas, we encountered back on its trailer near Merstham, part of its intakevalve having broken. In spite of many “mimsers” out in the winter sunshine, the Ford Sierra XR4x4 got me the 240 miles home to Mid Wales a few minutes after 5 pm, in time for tea… W.B.