Rain fails to dampen Veteran spirits in London to Brighton

WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOGRAPHY: Veteran Car Run

Nearly 350 courageous enthusiasts took on the 60-mile challenge of this year’s RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run on November 6, 2022.

The latest edition of the famous event was one of the wettest in its 126-year history, with torrential rain and fierce wind lashing crews aboard the exposed cockpits of their pre-1905 motor cars. It was, at the very least, a demonstration of the hardships of Victorian-era motoring.

Napier drivers tear up the red flag.

Yet it’s thanks to the perseverance of Victorian pioneers that the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run came into existence. The event is rooted in the Emancipation Run of 1896, which celebrated the passing of the Locomotives on the Highway Act.

The legislation raised the speed limit of ‘light locomotives’ from 4mph to 14mph, and effectively kick-started the motoring age. Rain or shine, enthusiasts have retraced the Emancipation Run route ever since, making Veteran Car Run the longest-running automotive event on the planet.

Former F1 driver Max Chilton leaves the startline.

Happily, the harsh weather once again failed to dampen the spirits of the intrepid participants as over 300 starters earned a well deserved finishing medal for successfully completing the 60-mile journey from London to the finish line at Madeira Drive, Brighton.

The Run began in Hyde Park with the ritualistic tearing of the symbolic red flag. This year’s ceremony was conducted by a trio of crews piloting imposing Napier race cars. The Napiers’ participation marked the 120th anniversary of Selwyn Francis Edge’s victory at the Gordon Bennett Cup. Edge’s victory aboard one of the participating Napiers represented Britain’s first success in international motor sport, and was the origin of the now-iconic British Racing Green.  

Napiers lead the cars away from the startline in Hyde Park.

It’s fitting that the Napiers driven by Evert Louwman of the Louwman Museum, Doug Hill of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and Martin Chisholm of the Classic Motor Hub were honoured with leading the 350-car field from Hyde Park at dawn.

Rowan Atkinson in the driver’s seat of a 1893 Salvesen Steam Car

Former F1 driver and Goodwood record-holder Max Chilton was another early starter; the tiller of his 1901 Pope Waverley providing a stark contrast to the high-tech steering wheel of the open-wheel race cars he’s accustomed to. Chilton was followed by Rowan Atkinson in Duncan Pittaway’s 1893 Salvesen Steam Car, and Royal Automobile Club president HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who was driving a 1903 Daimler owned by Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust.

Heading down The Mall from Buckingham Palace.

The archaic armada of machines moved reticently through the rain past many of the capital’s most iconic landmarks, including Buckingham Palace, Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square and The Cenotaph, before arriving at Parliament Square.

From here the route split into two in order to ease congestion as the cars made their way through South London. Half the field crossed Westminster Bridge and past Big Ben, while the other half crossed Lambeth Bridge.

The two routes rejoined north of Croydon as the heavy downpour continued. At this point, sodden crews were understandably relieved that respite from the weather was near, as they continued towards the halfway spot of The Hawth Theatre in Crawley for the CARS Pit Stop.

After enjoying a little solace from the rain, the crews were thrust back into action for the Regularity Time Trial – the most competitive element of the event. This year’s winner was a 1902 De Dion Bouton driven by William Nall.

The route then snaked through the pastoral surroundings of rural Sussex, before heading over the South Downs and into the flooded streets of Brighton to the finish line at Madeira Drive. Competitors were welcomed at the finish line with warming hot pots of stew and hot toddies of Aberfeldy Single Malt Whisky.

“I have certainly had easier and more comfortable Veteran Car Runs, but few, if any, have been more rewarding than this year’s epic London to Brighton,” said Royal Automobile Club chairman Ben Cussons. “The inclement weather certainly gave everyone a taste of what early motorists back in the Victorian era had to endure in the days before cars offered any real protection from the elements.”

 “I congratulate all those who accepted this year’s challenge, and congratulate even more everyone who endured all that Mother Nature could muster. They came smiling through. I would also like to thank all the wonderful volunteers who lined the route, cheering us on all the way and, of course, our ever-enthusiastic partners without whom this very special annual homage – the world’s longest-running motoring event – quite simply would not be possible.”

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