When the Royal Assent was given to the ‘Locomotives on Highways Act in June 1896, the sport and pastime of motoring became much more Copper-resistant, if not exactly Peeler-proof. A tour was organised by the Motor Car Club from London to Brighton on 14th November 1896, to celebrate the motorist’s new-found freedom. The Earl of Winchelsea tore up a red flag just outside the Metropole Hotel in Northumberland Avenue, and 33 entrants tuf-tufted away in the general direction of Brighton relishing their freedom now to proceed at 14mph — unless that speed had been reduced to 12 by the Local Government Board. Local authorities were inclined to get under the motorists feet even a century ago, it seems.
In recent years our very own RAC MSA Ltd has been looking successfully for interesting things for its punters to do: it has added “Euroclassic” to “Classic” runs, and in 1996 it added the 1896 Re-enactment on the Saturday as a preamble to the Brighton on the Sunday. The idea was very well received, with two dozen century-old Grandes Mores lifting their skirts along Whitehall Place, Horseguards Avenue, and Whitehall Court. The “pits” were in Great Scotland Yard, and the Horse Guards Hotel seemed to serve as the re-victualling area. The whole thing worked rather well. In order to achieve a sensibly-sized grid some substitution had been allowed, because many of the original 33 had become unavailable in the interval since the 1896 event. Not so Virginia Arnold’s 1896 Arnold single-cylinder two-seater Voiturette, however. The car appeared in Whitehall Court as it had in 1896. It shared the company in 1996 — as it had 100 years earlier -of Daniel Ward’s 1896 Panhard Levassor and David Mellor’s 1896 Lutzmann. There were half-a-dozen cars identical in model to the 1896 participants, and a further ten which were old enough to have taken part in the earlier event. Most were using the Saturday experience as a warm-up for the run down to the coast on Sunday. Mike Mutters’s 1896
Whitney Steamer (the car upon which the later Staniey is thought to have been based) was making a fine vapourous show, and hope was expressed that it had had its boiler tested recently. The oldest electric car in the world, the 1896 Roberts Electric Stanhope, seemed to be on good form: it was driven by Arthur and Mark Doering, from Michigan, and coasted along in ghostly silence, unlike Eric Sharman’s 1896 Beeston Tricycle, driven by Noel Lelong, which was tufting in the approved style.
The grid assembled itself in Whitehall Place a few times, and set off bravely for Whitehall, it kept turning left, and after about half-a-mile it arrived back in front of the former Metropole Hotel — where the New Age of motoring had started exactly one century earlier. The 1896 Re-enactment proved to have been an excellent idea, most professionally executed by the RAC MSA, which pleased both the participants and the considerable crowd. It is a great pity that we shall have to wait a century before it can be re-re-enacted. T J T (Report of the Run proper next month.)