A stormy Brighton Run

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In spite of floods and a strong wind that tried to blow down the finish arch on Madeira Drive, that great adventure, the 2000 London Brighton Run for pre-1905 cars was its usual success. The entry of 432 from all over the world is remarkable.

Oldest vehicle was the 1875 Grenville steam carriage. It was reported to have reached as far as Crawley by midday and finished the 57 miles in 8% hours, in heavy rain and a gale, its water being replenished every half-hour. It recalls the 1897 Craigievar Express steamer which Maurice Smith of The Autocar coaxed through the ’71 Run; it now resides in the Grampian Transport Museum. Of the pre-1898 finishers, Paul Rees on the primitive steamer entered by the Bristol Industrial Museum was joined by an 1895 Benz, the 1896 Whitney steamcar, an equally old Leon Bollee, and 1897 Beeston, Daimler and Delahaye, the last fitted with a limousine body, the petrol primitives.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent,such a great ambassador for the sport, praised the organisation and the help of the police. It is not a race, but first at the official finish by the pylons was John Bentley in a 1902 PanhardL,evassor, which has done every Run since 1938, and cost then £35. Ms Elspeth Thomas had a good drive on the 1903 Napier which she conducted on the 1000-Mile Trial re-enaction, but Mike Timms’ 1903 Motobloc was on its first run. Sir Ray Tindle, sponsor of the event and a regular participant, had ex-Minister of Transport, Peter Bottomley MP, on his 1904 Speedwell. Lord Montagu was a little late, the 1903 Daimler this year suffering from a gasket problem. Sympathy must be extended to Ldic de l’Arbre from Belgium, who had mistaken the time difference, so arrived an hour late, hastily used a blowlamp to get up steam on his 1901 Steamobile — presumably a special — but retired at Croydon. The 1898 Testa et Morot shed a chain, while Maitland’s Orient Buckboard lacked power, and a 1904 Wolseley expired after finishing.

No one is likely to do otherwise than applaud those who have kept veteran cars in good order and use them on the Brighton Run. Even famous racing drivers have been seen in this traditional event. For instance, SCH Davis, Sports Editor of The Autocar, was a regular, on his 1897 Leon Bollee tricar, from 1930 onwards, after an initial baptism on a borrowed Benz. He was preceded, however, by Richard Shuttleworth, who took part from 1928 onwards, in an 1897 Panhard and other cars. Sir Malcolm Campbell had a go in 1932 with a Sunbeam, and Vernon Balls followed suit in 1933, to appear on many occasions thereafter on his 1901 Oldsmobile. Anthony PowysLybbe could not resist it and took a borrowed 1899 Fiat on the 1933 and later Runs, and I went with R G J (Dick) Nash on his 1900 Peugeot in ’36. Alvis exponent Philip Fotheringham-Parker went on an 1899 Century tricar the same year, and again later, and that year no less a racing celebrity than Prince Bira took part with a 1902 Peugeot. Brighton was an event that all-rounder Tommy Wisdom had to experience, which he did in 1937 with a 1900 Wolseley, and this was the Run in which R J B (Dick) Seaman took part, using a 1901 Benz.

The popularity of this International VCC fixture, with its combination of achievement and unique adventure, was now so widespread that some showbiz and TV personalities began to request rides, or even drives. But racing drivers still took part.

Sir Jack Brabham was sufficiently keen to do three in succession, starting in 1960, at the wheel of the same 1904 Sunbeam. Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon then picked up the Antipodean baton and drove the same car in 1964. Sir Stirling Moss can look back on Runs in 1978, in a little Renault, and in 1995 driving a Mercedes. Not to be denied, Jackie Stewart piloted Lord Montagu’s exracing 1903 Daimler to Brighton in 1974. Nigel Mansell did it in 1995 and Richard Noble went from LSR monster to Lord Montagu’s nice little 1903 de Dion Bouton on the ’83 run.

It had by this time become a queue of film folk, TV celebrities, and directors, disc jockeys, Miss Worlds and writers like Jilly Cooper, all wanting the experience with VCC members, but no-one minded Richard Dimbleby, on James Allday’s 1903 Mercedes, Prince Rainier and Peter Ustinov joining in, in 1946. The ‘man in the street’ — literally, as crowds of onlookers lined the route and packed the Madeira Drive terraces — had been giving great support to the Run and could wave to George Formby when he rode in Fred Bennett’s singlecylinder Cadillac in 1953.

The Veteran Car Club’s Brighton Run is typically English yet a world renowned happening.

Just as it should be.

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