There was a record entry of 418 cars (and tricycles) for this year's annual Veteran Car Run on November 1, sponsored by RAC Motoring Services. All the cars were made before 1905, and 50 of them before the tum of the century.
Your editor had secured for himself a comfortable seat in Mike Hawley's 1904 2.6-litre (12hp) Sunbeam, due to start towards the end of the field, which leaves Hyde Park in groups, more or less in date order. Unfortunately (for him, but not for me) WB fell victim to the Welsh Influenza Epidemic of 1987, and handed me the MOTOR SPORT quill pen over the telephone on the afternoon before the run.
The morning of All Saints Day thus found me breakfasting at 6am at the Fleet M3 Services on a sausage which had clearly been up all night, and 90 minutes later I was hopping more or less nimbly over the ence around the enclosure in Hyde Park. It is not yet possible to pass tickets over the telephone.
I was just in time to spot Alan Betteridge's 1903 White Steamer going up in flames like a beige Christmas pudding. Butane had leaked, and when that expired so did the flames, leaving nothing worse than a heavy singe.
A brisk walk up and down the Serpentine Road revealed Colin Crabbe with a Crabbe-sized 1898 Delahaye limousine, Johnnie Thomas with his Rochet Tricycle of the same year, Nigel Bradshaw's 1904 Siddeley three-seater with four people in it as well as a basket of umbrellas (makes more sense then a basket of Euro-currencies on a damp day), Rowe's 1904 Renault Tourer with 20hp and no first gear, and Pittuck's 1904 18hp Napier in original condition — a pleasant change from the National Motor Museum's rather over' restored example whose fund is now more than half-way towards its financial target of £150,000.
The passenger in Bonn's 1904 61/2hp Humberette was the Rev Dr Lester Brewster in his clerical uniform, who explained that the run gave him a perfect excuse for dodging his sermon that day.
Joining my hosts at the western end of the line, I found their car was fitted with a commodious tonneau body and four-cylinder engine, now with high-tension ignition. There were Sunbeam oil-bath chains each side which could be heard chattering whenever Mike Hawley used the transmission (foot) brake. This he employed alternately with the push-on side (hand) brake, in order to assist their cooling. The car had first done the Brighton run in 1934, since when the wooden chassis had not been replaced. Mike, who has had the car for 12 years, thought it was probably the original wood.
The well-laden Sunbeam's performance was surprisingly lively as we proceeded over Westminster Bridge at 9am (leaving Councillor Garrett's Gladiator in mechancial trouble in Hyde Park) and out through Brixton, where Smart's 1904 8hp Elmore and Freake's 1904 15hp Panhard-et-Levassor were among those seeking sanctuary near the police station. Creed-Miles' 41/2hp Humber Olympia Tandem tricycle had trouble with Brixton Hill, and Carrel's 1894 11/2hp Benz Velo had stopped outside Streatham public library. Closed on a Sunday, surely?
As we went on through Croydon and Purley I noticed that the multitude of empty trailers which had made my previous Brighton adventure (some six years earlier) seem like a trailer-race around veteran car chicanes had totally vanished. Apparently they are now heavily frowned-upon. Less happily the tree damage, which had amounted to some 10% in Hyde Park, increased as we went south, so that in Brighton more than half were blown down — a really sorry sight.
After a stop at the Gatwick Penta for a welcome coffee and a bun, we headed south again. Joining the A23 south of Crawley, Mike missed one of his four gears, arousing the interest of a passing tandem-steerer who remarked as he pedalled off that his mount had 18 gears, all totally silent.
Some nine miles short of Brighton the National Motor Museum's aforementioned Gordon-Bennett Napier, enthusiastically conducted by RAC president Prince Michael of Kent, was spotted parked in a yard, accompanied by its faithful MG Montego with blue clip-on flashing light. There was some fettling going on. There were complaints in some newspapers that the copper in the MG had been cutting people up, but if you are seriously in the royal-protection business you have, I suppose, to remain within spitting-distance of your royal, or there is no point in coming along at all.
As we drove into Brighton at 12.45pm, we came across Docker's 1901 Royal Enfield Quadricycle, steaming rather strongly. There was also a large crowd to welcome the participants.
The RAC Motor Sports Association had clearly done an excellent job of organising this event, on the ninety-first anniversary of the removal, in 1896, of the legal requirement to have your locomotive preceded by a person with a red flag to assist passing horses and so on.
Like Guy Fawkes Day and Christmas, the origins of the Emancipation Run are now largely forgotten in the celebrations; but so long as these old cars continue to come out to be exercised in public, rather than left to fester in museums, that will be more than sufficient justification for the ever more popular Brighton Run. TJT