Hares and Tortoises

For the average Briton November 5 means only one thing. However this year it was not the potentially explosive events of 1605 that were uppermost in the minds of veteran car enthusiasts but the passing of legislation 99 years ago that allowed motor cars to travel on the roads of this country in a relatively unrestricted manner. To celebrate this occasion over 450 owners of pre-1905 cars assembled in Hyde Park at dawn, with the intention of driving to Brighton just as their Victorian forebears had done.

This year the sky was without a cloud, though an overnight frost had put a real nip in the air which the autumn sun never really dispelled. Travel on an open car in such conditions is not for the faint hearted or lightly clad! As on the original run enthusiastic spectators were out in force, not just at the start, finish, and the Crawley town centre coffee stop, but particularly in the picturesque Sussex villages through which the route now passes. They were obviously not put off by the mistakes and omissions in the expensive official programme. Efficient policing greatly assisted the veterans in exiting London and along most of the route, but Brighton was a nightmare of congestion, red traffic lights and police indifference.

Driving a veteran with an unsprung front end demonstrated both what a boon the invention of the pneumatic tyre was and the appalling condition into which our road surfaces have been allowed to deteriorate. Dodging innumerable pot-holes in a vehicle with centre-pivot steering certainly ensures no lack of concentration. Front wheel drive apart, the ‘Victoria Combination’ was not the best car design ever conceived by man. Fortunately the maker’s wisdom in powering the machine with the product of Georges Bouton’s genius meant that even with only 2¼ horsepower on tap we maintained cautious but steady progress, arriving at the finish at 12.40.

Although we followed Tim Scott’s 60hp and Klaus Schildbach’s 40hp Mercedes along Madeira Drive, we travelled through most of the Brighton traffic in the illustrious company of Prince Michael driving the RAC’s immaculate 1901 Mors and the 1901 Panhard-Levessor Le Papillion Bleu. This historic car was originally built for Rene de Knyff, racing driver and a director of the company, and is now in the hands Dick Sheppard from South Africa.

However, although the Run is not a race, with a strictly enforced 20mph overall average speed, both the hares and our had long been preceded by the first arrival: Robin Loder’s Stephens, built in 1898 by an inventive pioneer car-maker of Clevedon, Somerset. This had carried the owner his passenger, VCC Secretary Goding, over the line at 10.43. As if this not enough, the 1900 Stephens driven Richard Eastmead followed its owner the sea front a few seconds later. Over years on it was good to see British technology triumphant.