See all the images from the RAC London to Brighton Veteran Car Run here.
Hyde Park Corner is not the place I would chose to ride a penny-farthing. It’s a brave fellow who mixes his 1880 mode of transport with four lanes of modern traffic exuberantly making its way in and out of central London. Maybe the dapper chap I spotted cycles that way every day, but I presumed his appearance had something to do with the RAC London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. This also crossed Hyde Park Corner but as each group of veteran cars approached the modern stuff was held back by stewards and the Napiers, Oldsmobiles, De Dion Boutons, etc were allowed to drive straight across the roundabout.
The fun started at dawn. Before then a red flag was ripped in two in front of the four hundred cars lined up in Hyde Park. This re-enacted an event at the start of the first run in 1896, known as the Emancipation Run which celebrated the new law no longer forcing new-fanged automobiles to have an escort waving a red flag walking twenty yards ahead of them.
6.58am is an early time to be starting anything, but there was still a crowd of enthusiasts waving the cars off. VIP cars start the run, which this year included a restored Darracq 1903 driven by Edd China and Mike Brewer, stars of a televisual programme. The rest of the vehicles start in age order, and particularly interesting was car 002. This was a Salvesen from 1896, which goes everywhere doing a creditable imitation of Stephenson’s Rocket. Not because there is something wrong with it, but because it is a steam-car. Now that is the way to travel.
Seen individually all of these cars would be impressive. However seeing so many early automotive examples is like visiting an art gallery so rich in treasures that we race past the works by Botticelli to see those by Michelangelo. The highlights become the unusual or seemingly mad. The steam powered car towing a dustbin of coal. The motor-trike with a seat on the front, just where a bumper ought to be. Not a position I would like to take up on a UK road, the passenger was a brave girl.
Some cars can take until evening to make the journey to Brighton, and of course many break down, but the first cars started to appear at the checkpoint in Preston Park around 10.15am. The first back was a 1902 Darracq driven by Allan White. Of course it’s illegal to race on the Queen’s highway, so there are no prizes for first place – although considering it’s not a race the drivers seemed surprisingly keen to know what position they had finished.
The ceremonial finish line is on the Brighton seafront on Madeira Drive. Drivers that make it that far get a pennant, a ceremonial medal and the applause of a large crowd.
The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is the world’s longest running motoring event and only cars from before 1905 may enter. With all the costumes, cars and trikes it is a great British spectacle, a Mille Miglia for even older cars that only takes a day and is ideal for busy modern schedules. I now have a new item on my bucket list. If anyone can lend me a pre-1905 car for next year’s run then please get in touch…