Stranger Than Fiction

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It has been said that truth can be stranger than fiction. But I would never have thought that this could apply to the RAC/VCC Brighton Run for veteran cars had not a report of RAC/MSA Judicial proceedings confirmed it.

It relates to the driver who took part in last year’s Brighton Run without submitting an entry or paying the required entry fee. Worse than that, he made himself a bogus number-plate applicable to a car which he had heard (at the pre-Run cocktail party at the RAC in Pall Mall) would not be taking part. His Renault, which the VCC Dating Committee had specified as a 1905 vehicle and therefore not eligible for a Brighton Run, was driven, thus equipped, to the Hyde Park start, where the marshalls were told that it was participating “under a substituted number”. This was accepted, which seems entirely excusable, in view of the heavy task of marshalling hundreds of veterans and dispatching them correctly, especially as with the permission of the Stewards changes have been made to Run entrants at the last moment — but only in respect of substituting one eligible car for one equally eligible.

In the remarkable case we are reporting, the 1905 Renault, as the RAC/MSA believed it to be, then set off masquerading, by its number, as a 1903 Ford, its driver having avoided signing-on. The bogus number plate had, he said, taken him only half-an-hour to fabricate, on the evening before the Run. Arriving in Brighton he drove into the official finishing area on the Madeira Drive and claimed his award . . At the hearing the Renault’s owner could hardly have ingratiated himself with the RAC’s solicitor, Mr David Munro, when he said he regarded the Brighton Run as “nothing more than an eccentric English pageant”, and the finishers’ medals of “no value”. Apparently it was the comic Genevieve film — which certainly introduced large numbers of the public to the existence of veteran cars (even if the Spyker used would not comply with Brighton run dating) that had brought such cars to the notice of the offending Renault owner, who had the gall to inform the tribunal that he had had to meet the cost of driving to Brighton and trailering the car home afterwards! He said he was “giving the spectators the opportunity of seeing a 1904 car on the road” — rather droll as there were 156 others of that age on the Run anyway…

The defendant’s apology and suggestion that if taking part in motoring sport had come down to considering pages of regulations and interpretating them the situation was getting ridiculous, were of no avail. He was disqualified from all motorsport events until the end of the year 2000, and ordered to pay £250 costs and return all finishers awards. Perhaps he was lucky: a rally driver who failed to declare on an entry form that he had been disqualified from road driving for six months on a speeding charge was fined £5000.

While there is nothing to stop anyone mingling with the Brighton Run in a veteran car, and there could be some temptation to do so if the dating was under review and the car officially ineligible for the time being, just as many vintage vehicles join in for some of the way, one would wish for the more sensible plan of parking off the road at Gatwick or Horley while the Run passes by, thus reducing the inevitable congestion Do please note this, if you intend to turn out for the Centenary Run in November.

Reverting to the regrettable, almost unbelievable, behaviour of the aforesaid Renault gentleman, it has rung a bell in the memory. In 1971, when I was for once not on a “Brighton Run” car and was instead reporting on the arrivals for MOTOR SPORT, the finish-line commentator announced the approach of a well-known entrant. Looking up the Madeira Drive I was surprised to see in the distance one of these fake ancients, made from bits of old Ford Tens and the like, with bodywork instantly recognised as bogus. But on came this device, its driver about to be interviewed. When the chap with the microphone realised that the vehicle was not the veteran he had expected, he asked how far it had come, and learning this, told the crowds how commendable that was, causing applause to break out. By this time I was metaphorically leaping up and down and protesting. . . In fact, I wrote “It turned out to be a bogus yellow “veteran” carrying the same number as Wiseman’s 1899 Riley — I have always refused to recognise such cars, arguing that one day they would be confused with authentic veterans. Now it has happened, before multitudes of spectators. I would have booted the thing back down the Madeira Drive and told the onlookers to lynch it!”