Veteran to classic: Brighton Run

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Brighton express

In spite of its enormous popularity, the RAC London-Brighton run event get far less reportage than it once did. This year Eoin Young in “Automotor” advised any VIPs who had never been on a veteran before to go to Brighton by train!

Motor Sport is far more enthusiastic. This time, as the early motoring writers might have put it, “I was fortunate in being invited to go down as a passenger on the great Mercedes motor with its powerful 9-litre engine and many advanced engineering features, which other makers of top-quality autocars have avidly copied, this machine belonging to Mr R Collings of Hereford, President of the VSCC. Although the great tonneau-bodied automobile took six people to the Sussex coast, I do not remember it being overtaken by any other vehicle, and I lost count of the number we overtook.”

We had a fine fast run: Judy Collings and Mrs Lemon with me in the back, Roger conducting, Vauxhall enthusiast MR Lemon as “mechanic”, young Ben Collings sitting on the step, racing-fashion. The Merc faltered only once, out of petrol at Kennington; Ron Knight’s 1903 Darracq stopped and proffered a can.

The weather was gloriously spring-like, the traffic congestion (except between Streatham and Croydon) far less than expected in view of the 427 Kenco cars. Oldest was Moore’s 1884 De Dion steamer, and the RAC, VCC, major museums and, a sign of the times, auctioneers Phillips and Sotheby’s were all represented.

Weaver’s 1903 Darracq twin demi-limousine was rustily unrestored, Mozart’s 20hp Panhard from the USA sported 36 x 4 white rubber tyres and continental headlamps and Pownall’s De Dion had a Surrey top — but how can we report further on 359 Kencos all aiming for Brighton? At a crossroads, about halfway, six veterans had stalled, a policewoman helping to push one of them out of the way. Johnny Thomas lost time when the radiator burst on his fearsome Etna tricyle, the Creed-Miles Humber Olympia tandem ran a big rod, and just before the finish the Shuttleworth de Dietrich stopped.

Nothing stops a Merc however, especially when driven by Roger Collings, and we came in in good time, not long after the RAC’s Mors driven by Prince Michael of Kent, who sipped coffee with the rest of us (hot soup and champagne were offered as well!). On high-gear sprockets, the Mercedes did not get into top gear for the first time until Coulsdon, but it stormed up all the hills on the A23 in fine style. At the half-way halt, Roger oiled the scroll clutch, which has excellent grip, but is either in or out and cannot be slipped, so dislikes traffic work.

Lord and Lady Strathcarron were as usual snug in their Georges-Richard Brougham but Richardson’s single cylinder Peugeot was boiling. It is not a race of course, but first to finish was M Clough’s 1899 23/4hp Marot-Garden Tricycle. Cohn’s rare 18/22 Mercedes with front springs, had collided with a modern car that went across its bows but finished strongly with only a hubcap damaged. One of the most remarkable motoring runs was the tall-chinmeyed six-seater 1899 Shearer Steamer from the Australian NMM, its occupants in bush hats; it was last seen with broken wheel-belts. General Foods (Kenco) has agreed to sponsor the run for three years for £250,000. This indicates the cost of running even a public road event — presumably of policing it, for surely the entrants’ fees pay for the medals and the programme for itself? WB

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