We take part in the Veteran Car Run
The London to Brighton Run is the world’s oldest motorsport event. These days, it’s called the Veteran Car Run, and first ran in 1896 to mark the Red Flag Act: the need to have a person walking in front of every car on the road with a red flag or lantern was no more.
Campaigners had called for the repeal for years, arguing it was penalising the development of British motoring. When it finally arrived, enthusiasts were over the moon – and an excited group of them established the first Emancipation Run.
It was founded by Harry Lawson, who famously set up the Daimler Motor Company in Coventry, but later infamously was sentenced to a year’s hard labour for fraud. The Veteran Car Run is something he’s remembered for more fondly than others…
Before the Red Flag Act, Britain had a heady speed limit of 2mph in town, doubling to 4mph out of it. This was now increased to 14mph, a fearsome speed for the time. On a cold and chilly Hyde Park in London early on Sunday morning, we hoped we’d be doing little more than that: Brighton was calling.
Charley Boorman and Damon Hill this year had the symbolic job of tearing up a red flag, which they did with relish. As the sun rose, it was then time to start the 121st anniversary of the London to Brighton Run.
This year, more than 450 cars were taking part, a fair few more than the 33 starters back in 1896, although 17 of them did go on to finish it – an impressive feat for the time. The original first car in was an American Duryea Motor Wagon, which beat all the others by more than an hour.
Our steed for the day was a 1900 Daimler Type A Tonneau, originally supplied by a Norfolk dealer, who apparently supplied a similar model to the then Prince of Wales. The firm was Britain’s first car maker and set up shop in 1897. Today, our car, registered EX10, is considered one of the best remaining British Victorian-era cars around.
It’s a faff to get it going. You have to light the burners, manually pump through, and then hand-crank it. Driving it is a challenge for the uninitiated too, although the engine’s six horsepower output won’t exactly snap necks.
Talking part in the Veteran Car Run is a pleasure. You take in Marble Arch, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Parliament. The cars are so old, they’re allowed to use bus lanes, and soon we’re out of the capital and into the countryside.
Along the route, thousands of spectators are there to cheer us on – and umpteen car clubs line the route too, showing off desirable classics. An interesting trend is also the hundreds of people chasing us on bicycles – including one hardy fellow on a Penny Farthing.
Breakdowns, of course, are many. For some, that’s part of the challenge. We luckily run through unscathed, and reach Brighton around seven hours after setting off – not a bad time for a 65-mile journey in an old-timer.
We’re not the first, but even so, there’s no prize for the crew who are. The only competitive bit is a Regulatory Trial – everyone, before they set off, has to guess their average speed. Those who are closest get a £4950 Chopard Mille Miglia Chronograph watch. Sadly, we go home watch-less, but still not disappointed.
In pictures: Driving from London to Brighton in a Victorian car