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London to Brighton marks 70th anniversary of Genevieve film

WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOS: RAC

Almost 350 pre-1905 horseless carriages, cheered on by throngs of spectators, assembled at Hyde Park in the UK capital on Sunday November 5 to take the startline of this year’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. The St James’s International Concours, held the day before on November 4, showcased many of the cars that participated.

First held in 1927, the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is the world’s longest-running motoring event and recreates the fabled Emancipation Run, which was staged in 1896 to celebrate the passing of the Locomotives on the Highways Act. This increased the maximum allowable speed for so-called ‘light locomotives’ from 4mph to 14mph, and rescinded the need for a man to walk ahead waving a red flag. 

This year’s homage to that momentous day in 1896 began with the ceremonial tearing of the red flag before the cars set off at sunrise. Ben Cussons, the chairman of the Royal Automobile Club, and former Formula 1 team principal Ross Brawn performed the red-flag ritual this year.

The first cars to trundle away from Hyde Park were the Darracq and Spyker that starred in the BAFTA-winning comedy Genevieve

The first cars to trundle away from Hyde Park were the Darracq and Spyker that starred in the BAFTA-winning comedy Genevieve

Daybreak signalled the first pack of pre-1905 motor- and pedal cycles to leave the startline and embark on their 60-mile odyssey to the south coast in mercifully mild weather – unlike last year’s rain-soaked affair. 

The first cars to trundle away from Hyde Park were the Darracq and Spyker that starred in the BAFTA-winning comedy Genevieve to mark the film’s 70th anniversary. Both motor cars were loaned by the Netherlands’ Louwman Museum. The Darracq and Spyker were joined by a selection of other veteran cars from the film, too, identified by special Genevieve number plates. 

Following tradition, the next cars to cross the startline followed in age order, with the Turin Motor Museum’s 1892 Peugeot leading the way. The archaic Peugeot is believed to be the first powered car to ever be driven on Italian soil. 

From here, a diverse array of vehicles from over 100 different marques followed, some powered by petrol engines while others were propelled by electric batteries or steam. Only the nationalities of the participants, which hailed from a wide range of nations in Europe and Asia in addition to the US, rivalled the diversity of marques and powertrains.

Happily, 301 of the 341 motor cars entered, along with 27 antique motorcycles, made the finish line at the Madeira Drive seafront in Brighton before the 4:30pm deadline. The first car to complete the 60-mile route was a 1903 MMC driven by Henry Lawson, who completed the Run in a shade under three hours. As is tradition, Lawson was the first to be greeted with a warming hot toddy after arriving at the finish. 

Although the Veteran Run isn’t a race, the A. Lange & Söhne Timepiece Trail provided participants with an opportunity for some timed competition en route to Brighton.

After tearing the flag at the startline, Ross Brawn and his wife made their way to Brighton in a 1904 Wilson Pilcher 12hp, completing the Run for the fourth time.

“It was probably the best London to Brighton we’ve ever had – not least because I had the huge honour of tearing the red before the start,” enthused Brawn. “The car ran nicely. As ever, the atmosphere is unique, and there’s a great camaraderie among the participants. The crowds lining the route this year were probably the best I’ve ever seen.”

Brawn was reunited with Ben Cussons at the finish line, who completed the route in a 1901 Mors owned by the RAC. 

“This is the London to Brighton Run at its very best,” Cussons smiled. “The glorious weather has been really kind this year, which makes a big difference for these types of early cars and, of course, to all those aboard them.

“I must thank warmly all the people who have come together to make this year’s event so fabulous, including those at the Louwman Museum who kindly provided us with both the cars from Genevieve. Thanks must go first to all those who keep these amazing cars going, and then to all the marshals and volunteers who made it such a real pleasure to drive from London to Brighton.”

For more information about the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, click here