Brighton Run reflections

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The annual Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton, as a “modern” spectacle, if it can be thus described, has been going strongly since 1927. It is said to bring millions of onlookers to the route, and while it is unlikely that anyone has actually counted them, it is a fact that every year spectators and their children are thick on the sidewalks and grass verges of the famous road that leads from the Metropolis to “London by the Sea.” Obviously, these onlookers enjoy the sight of veteran cars going by, while for the competitors (although this is not a race, it has a competitive aspect, in a time-limit for successful arrival) it is a day of immense fun and satisfaction, allied to much anxiety of the more pleasurable kind, and often acute discomfort.

That nearly 300 pre-1905 cars were entered for last year’s Run is a measure of the popularity of the event. It does not ‘set out to prove anything, except perhaps to indicate to the younger generation how their Forefathers motored . It has progressed from an outing rendered adventurous by untried ancient machinery, to the present big social and sporting occasion. The Run has always attracted an element of publicity, with well-known racing drivers keen to “have a go,” as they still are, but down the years it has fortunately left behind it the “comic-element” that some pursued 50 years ago. It has, however, embraced to a small degree a certain non-motoring flavour, as persons not directly of our world have invaded it. This matters not at all to true believers.

This Brighton Run, for all kinds of veteran cars, held on the Sunday closest to the date of the first Emancipation Run of 1896, remains, then, a premier and popular British sporting event, and a most enjoyable one for a very large number of people. Curious, therefore, that Motor should be so hostile to it, and that it receives so little attention in the pages of today’s motoring Press. In the former context, the only reference to the 1976 Run made by Motor was a snide piece by “Ralph Thoresby” (a collective columnist, we believe), under the nasty heading of “Old Crock block.” Because the writer had found the Brighton Read blocked when he had gone out expressly to watch the event, he asked whether this “annual circus” is really needed, assumed that rate and tax payers meet its Policing bills (presumably Motor hadn’t heard of Renault’s sponsorship) and would like to see this historic Run relegated to a race-circuit. What drivel ! This jealous Motor-noter, further proclaimed that the Run exists only for “the pleasure of the millionaires who own the veterans and their Rolls-Royce tenders.” If I may be permitted . . more drivel! I went through it last year on a borrowed veteran that did not cost me a penny and I saw only one Rolls-Royce that looked to have any connection with the Run, which may well have been a Steward’s Silver Shadow (probably also borrowed, like the 1902 Beaufort I was driving). Lots of these pre-1905 motor cars were bought ages ago, before speculators raised their prices. And, “Mr. Theresby,” do you seriously think that such persons would risk their precious “investments” on the crowded Brighton Road on Veteran Sunday or any other Sunday, for that matter? And pray, Sir, do tell me what proportion of the aforesaid 290 entrants you class as millionaires?—usually people, remember, who are very careful of their capital and unlikely to invest it in such a silly thing (I have put that in for Motor’s benefit) as this ridiculous Brighton Run.

I wonder if this worries Mrs. Das, the VCC Secretary, or if she has yet cut “Thoresby” down to size? I can imagine Peter Hull making a very pithy comment, if a VSCC event were to be so ridiculously reported.

That the Run is well liked, except by Motor, is unquestionable. I thought there were fewer onlookers last year than on previous occasions, but this may have been because a big proportion are motoring enthusiasts, who went in 1976 to the James Hunt Brands Hatch Meeting, which took place on the same day. But it is a fact that Press reports of the Run have sadly declined. Once upon a time, in the 1920s, 1930s, and even after the war, The Autocar not only published a good annual illustrated-report of the “Brighton” but was apt to follow this with a personal account of how a staff writer, usually Sammy Davis, or later, Editor Maurice Smith, DEC, had fared in the Run. l’oday Aillocor lists all the runners beforehand and promises a report the following week. But the latter turns out to be just a few Words and a page of pictures. All the other journals seem to ignore it, except Motor Sport. Which is a pity, especially if you rely on the weeklies to tell you, for instance, why Harrah from the USA failed to make it, what happened to Peter Hampton’s Mercedes or why Lake’s racing Mors fell out, and so on. Incidentally, in the good old days S. C. H. Davis, who had a wide experience of all forms of competition motoring, frequently described the Veteran Car Run as the greatest sporting happening of them all.—W.B.