London-Brighton Veteran Car Run

A spry 107-year-old conquered the elements and was the first to cross the finish line at the 2009 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run on Nov. 1. The 1902 Oldsmobile, driven by a much younger 22-year-old Canadian, was among the 484 participants at the event, considered the world’s longest running motoring event.

The Royal Automobile Club event takes pre-1905 cars along a 60-mile route from London’s Hyde Park to Brighton along A23. This year, the cars had more than just the distance to contend with. High winds and heavy rains pounded the participants and their antique autos.

“In my 46 years of taking part in the London to Brighton Run, this is certainly the worst weather we have ever faced,” said Sir Ray Tindle, chairman of Tindle Newspapers, the event’s title sponsor.

But despite the challenge, an impressive 375 cars made it to the finish line before the official close of the run at 4:30 p.m. Among the finishers were the youngest and oldest drivers in the ’09 event: 85-year-old Sir Freddie Sowrey crossed the finish line in his 1901 Darracq and Rowan Lawson, 17, finished in his family’s 1902 MMC. All the finishers received a coveted finisher’s medal and certificate.

The London to Brighton run takes place on the first Sunday of every November. The event commemorates the Emancipation Run of Nov. 14, 1896, which celebrated the passing of the Locomotives on the Highway Act that raised the speed limit for “light locomotives” from 4 mph to 14 mph and abolished the requirement for these vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot.

The event has grown considerably in 76 runs over 113 years. It’s now a weekend celebration of veteran cars and includes an auction presented by Bonhams and an international concours in the days preceding the Veteran Car Run.

The 2009 Bonhams auction garnered intense interest on the Friday before the run. All ten cars included in the sale went home with new owners. The top lot was the 1902 Panhard-Levassor Type A 7hp Rear Entrance Tonneau, which sold for £216,000 ($361,150), more than £65,000 ($108,670) above top pre-sale estimates. Other top sales included a 1901 Argyll 5hp Spindle Seat Rear Entrance Tonneau for £136,800 ($228,682), and a 1901 De Dion Bouton 3½ hp Voiturette for £44,400 ($73,552).

On Saturday, more than 128 veteran cars were on display for the International Concours on Regents Street in London. A 1902 Panhard-Levassor took the top prize. Most Historic Veteran Car was awarded to a 1901 De Dion Bouton Vis-à-vis, and a 1902 Maxim Rear-entrance Tonnneau took home the Judges Special Award.

But the main event was the biggest draw on Sunday.

“Once again the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run as been an event the U.K. can be proud of,” said event director Roger Etcell. “A true showing of the British Bulldog spirit.”

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