Every year on the first Sunday of November the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain holds it’s annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. For many years this event was known as the RAC London to Brighton Run and while the Royal Automobile Club organise the event, there are many sponsors, this year it is called the Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
It is the longest running motoring event in the world and is always held on the first Sunday in November. Why? Well it dates back to November 14th 1896, when the “Locomotives on the Highway Act” came into force. Saturday 14th saw the first Run and it is now known as a red-letter day in the history of British motoring. The Emancipation Run from London to Brighton celebrates the passing into law of the “Locomotives on the Highway Act”, which raised the speed limit for ‘Light Locomotives’ from 4 miles per hour to 14 mph. This was reduced to 12 mph before the act come into force. The act abolished the requirement for the car to be preceded by a man on foot. The organisers issued instructions for that first Run which said: “Owners and drivers should remember that motor cars are on trial in England and that any rashness or carelessness might injure the industry in this country.” The Run was made every year up to 1903 when the speed limit was increased to “the lightning velocity speed of 20 mph” . In 1927 the now defunct newspapers The Daily Sketch and Sunday Graphic reintroduced them and they have been made every year since then; 2015 sees the 119th Anniversary Run.
There is one car which has done more to make this event known to non-car enthusiasts than any other and it’s all down to a film from 1953 by Ealing Studios starring John Gregson, Kenneth Moore, Dinah Sheridan and Kay Kendall; Genevieve is the car from the eponymous film title is derived. I am sure that many people, and I include myself until today, did not realise that Genevieve is still running today, and took part in the 2015 Run.
Genevieve a 1904 Darracq. A twin cylinder, 12hp, 2-seater currently owned by the Louwman Museum
Genevieve’s owners being interviewed on arrival at Crawley
Genevieve departs on the second leg of the Run to Brighton
It’s a bit weird being ‘star struck’ by a car, but it’s a tribute to the car (and it’s owners) that after 110 years it is still running. Anyone who knows the film will remember how it ended! But I suppose it’s one of those feel-good plucky over coming adversity films in the same mould as The Titfield Thunderbolt and The Iron Maiden (about a train and a steam traction engine respectively) that makes it so enduring and quite an emotional experience to see the vehicle in real life. My only regret is that my vantage point was not as great for photo taking as it might have been.
The weather was dreadful, very foggy and damp with visibility on the roads was quite poor in places, so respect to the drivers and their companions most of whom have to sit in the open air all the way from London to Brighton, some 47 miles as the crow flies. What amazed me more was that a couple of hardy souls actually follow the Run (it must be stressed that the Run is NOT a race!) on vintage bicycles! One such person was a chap clad in tweeds (could he also be a Tweed Run participant I wonder – vintage bike run in London in April) on a Dursley Pedersen cycle. First produced in the 1890’s by Danish inventor Mickael Pedersen it is an unusual construction of a cantilever frame with a hammock style seat. Although it was never popular, it is still in production today made by Jesper Solling in Sweden.
Dursely Pedersen cycle
A second cyclist passed though, this time on a Penny Farthing. These well recognised machines were popular in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries where they were used for racing on the highways, spawning The League of American Wheelmen.
Penny Farthing rider passing through Crawley
This year there was a small group of “Invited Entrants” in the form of vintage coaches which ferried 40 listeners of the Chris Evans show on Radio 2 from London down to Brighton in vehicles driven by Chris Evans, Alex Jones and Ken Bruce with weather presenter Carol Kirkwood as a “clippie”. It was the suggestion of Ben Cussons, Chairman of the Veteran Car Club and Chris auctioned off places to raise money for Children In Need, raising £349,628. The buses displayed the livery of J W Lodge and Sons, trading as Lodge Coaches from High Easter in Essex, and the brilliant telephone number of “Good Easter 362”.
Vintage coach driven by Ken Bruce
Vintage coach driven by Chris Evans
Many of the earliest vehicles look very similar, probably due to being modelled on horse-drawn vehicles. There were a couple of more unusual entries such as the De Dion Bouton Tricycle
De Dion Bouton tricycle c1898. single cylinder 1.75hp (this has a sort of Steam Punk look I think!)
One of several early vehicle designs which has the passenger sitting in front of the driver, possibly acting as a sort of living air bag!
A small selection of some of the lovely old cars taking part in the 2015 London to Brighton Run
It was an interesting way to spend part of a Sunday morning albeit chilly, damp and foggy. I apologise for the quality of photos – that’s how foggy it was. I think one thing that was a little disappointing, particularly with the recent rise in an interest in all things Vintage, was the very small amount of people who took the trouble to dress the part. I know it was cold, but overcoats and chunky chequered car rugs would have been the order of the day, and most appropriate, as would hats. It seems to me a bit of a shame to have such a fabulous old car and then drive on an event like this in a North Face jacket and Thinsulate fleece. On the Tweed Run cycle event everyone wears tweed and it looks incredible. So come on VCC, get your members to up their game and dress the part, it’s fun – and I seem to remember that participants used to dress up for previous Runs.
The Royal Automobile Club and Veteran Car Club (Great Britain), Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is held annually on the first Sunday in November. (http://www.vccofgb.co.uk/).