The world’s oldest motoring event matters more than ever
It may be the longest-running motoring event in the world, attracting more than 330 veteran cars from as far afield as America, but if you want to gain a better appreciation of the significance of an event like the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, you need to hear from the people taking part.
Celebrating the original “capital-to-coast” Emancipation Run held on November 14, 1896, when vehicles were effectively liberated on our roads, the first Commemoration Run took place in 1897 with a re-enactment following the same route in 1927, and it has been held every year since, barring the war years and 1947, when petrol was rationed. The liberation in question refers to the Locomotives on the Highway Act, which raised the speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4 to 14 mph and abolished the need for these vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag.
Ahead of the 2022 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, Hagerty caught up with some of the participants and judges at the St James’ International Concours, and asked one simple question: how important is it that events like this take place?
Meet the participants
By 9:30 in the morning, on Marlborough Road, next to St. James’ Place and a hop, skip, and selfie-stick jump from Buckingham Palace, veteran cars line both sides of the road, with the backdrop of former royal residence Marlborough House looming large over the accompanying RM Sotheby’s auction site.
As London gets into its stride, the road is mere moments away from being swarmed with car enthusiasts, curious tourists, runners, dog walkers heading for the Royal Parks, and teenage kids scratching their heads in bemusement at the assortment of ancient-looking contraptions they film for Instagram stories and TikTok clips.
First to catch our attention are Beverley and Steve Nixon, who have come down from Macclesfield for their first attempt at the Veteran Car Run. Steve stands out because he’s wearing a Blue Peter lapel badge—and this is no eBay purchase. In 1984, Steve was aboard a 1902 James and Browne car, as part of a team entered by Imperial College London. Television show Blue Peter filmed the team with the car for a preview film of the event.
“We met through the hobby and got married”
“It’s been a burning desire for about 40 years to do,” Steve tells us. No wonder he wears that badge with pride. Steve and Beverley first met through their fondness for the car hobby; Steve was captain of the Motor Club at Imperial College and Beverley a member. The rest … well, you can guess.
Steve worked for the Ford Motor Company for 15 years, designing engines and gearboxes. They became custodians of their 1903 Daracq earlier this year and already owned a 1912 Ford Model T. Beverley says the reaction they get in their cars when taking them out locally or to nearby shows is amazing.
One of the unseen benefits of the London to Brighton run, points out Steve, is how it helps promote the care of veteran cars. “Everyone refers to them as, ‘Is it a Brighton car?’ and if the London to Brighton run didn’t exist then I think most of these [cars] would just end up in museums or in peoples’ garages and wouldn’t be used very often, and that would be very sad.”
Sharing the cars with the public, says Steve: “… Gives them a sense of where it all started, this is what they looked like, this is how they went. It’s just lovely to keep these things alive, and the same is true whether you’ve got a 1950s car, or a ’70s car—but these have the extra relevance because they came first. They’re the pioneers.”
The world’s best event for veteran cars
Next comes Sabba Marc, from Belgium. He and friends are in a 1902 Peugeot, and they’re here because, in their view, the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is the best event of its kind in the world.
“It’s the most famous, the most original, where you can see so many cars like this all in one place,” says Sabba. Getting these pioneers of personal transport out on the road “fires up the passion” and encourages owners to pass that passion on to the next generation.
To find out if that’s true, we turn to Sabba’s daughter, Lisa. “My dad always taught me that it’s because of the old cars that the new cars are better for the environment—we learn and improve. Being here is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the enthusiasm for the hobby and old cars has already passed to me,” she says.
But she admits she is in a minority amongst her peers, most of whom are only excited by modern supercars. “I think if you never have seen these [veteran] cars, you don’t know what you have missed, which is why these events are important.”
Another illustration of how the passion for the hobby can transcend generations comes when we meet Edwin Jowsey, down from Whitby in Yorkshire. He’s brought a 1904 De Dion-Bouton, which his father bought in 1990.
“Dad did it [London to Brighton] for the first couple of years and didn’t really get on very well with it—they only completed it once and it broke down a lot—and then me and my sister came along. I took over the running of the car in 2002, when I was 17, and Dad used a bigger car, and it’s done it every year since with only one breakdown.”
Clearly, Jowsey got the bug.
Without events like this, says Jowsey, the public can’t appreciate these early cars. They’ve even been to Paris with it, where it’s enjoyed a similarly warm reception from onlookers. Nearby, Jowsey’s four-and-a-half-year old son dries off the De Dion-Bouton, much to the enjoyment of onlookers. “He’s already taking a keen interest in them,” says Jowsey. “It’s interesting – hopefully we can hand the baton down.”
Two wheels are celebrated too
Three and four-wheeled cars aren’t the only vehicles participating in the 2022 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Motorbikes and bicycles can be found huffing and chuffing their way down to Brighton, and the Vintage and Classic Motor Cycle Club (VMCC) will be running its 1903 Dreadnought, donated to the club by its original builder, Harold “Oily” Karslake.
Mike Wild, a member of the VMCC, who’ll be riding the Dreadnought, believes that by sharing its bikes with younger members—letting them work on them and ride them—the club can help keep the hobby accessible. “These bikes make you inquisitive. You have a motorcycle that if it needs mending, you have to mend it yourself—and you can’t just go off and buy a part off the shelf. It’s a real challenge to keep it running and a satisfying one at that gives a true sense of accomplishment.”
Jamie Delaney, 33, a fellow member of the VMCC, agrees with that. “With prices of bikes and old cars constantly rising it’s really tough for young people to get into [the hobby]. As a member of the VMCC, anybody can book to ride one of its bikes, so they can enjoy it without having to own it.”
A word from our judges …
The final word must go to one of this year’s concours judges, Alan Titchmarsh, a name the green-fingered amongst you may be familiar with from national television programmes and countless books. A long-standing car enthusiast, who owns a 1929 Bentley 4 ½ Litre, Titchmarsh has participated in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run on numerous occasions and believes it has an important role to play in keeping people in touch with the past.
“It’s about being in touch with the history of motoring and transport, which has enabled us all to get everywhere. Right since I was a boy I used to have little tiny pictures on my bedroom wall of a De Dion-Bouton in a plastic frame. I just think there is so much magic and atmosphere to them. That’s why I love them.”
The event, says Titchmarsh, “lifts the spirits” of those taking part and the people and communities it touches. “The fact that they’ve lasted this long couldn’t happen without the people here. I love enthusiasts! You don’t necessarily understand everything they talk to you about—it’s like watching Mastermind with specialist subjects—but enthusiasm is infectious and all these men and women who’ve got these cars here, they love them, they cherish them, and it’s the past that informs the future. It’s important to respect history and learn from it.”
He admits to having a soft spot—“sheer pleasure”—for the polished brass and nickel and reminds us that enjoying a shared passion is one of the greatest delights in life. “If you can share a passion, whether it’s gardening or music, or vintage and veteran cars, there’s a great uplift in that sharing and the common predicament, if you like. Just enjoying the same thing can be really important in life.”
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