London to Brighton Run 2017: The earliest cars for the greatest fun

The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, often simply called “The Run”, is one of the greatest classic car events in the world. This year, this unique gathering — indeed, it is practically impossible even to imagine another event like it — reached its 121st anniversary. The Run is capable of assembling, at the start, as many as 500 cars, all of which have to have been built by the 31st December 1904 — a truly amazing field! The 2017 edition was memorable for many reasons, unfortunately not all good, but they confirmed the status of this event as one of the most charming, unbelievable and magical moments in the classic car world. This year’s start, on Sunday, November 5th, was even more magical than usual, as the participants gathered in Hyde Park under a wonderful full moon.

The Run’s origin

In 1896, when the first automobile, invented by Gottlieb Daimler and patented in 1886, was 10 years old, a bunch of English gentlemen finally succeeded in getting the British government to abolish the “Locomotive Act” that, since 1865, had required light locomotives (initially steam propelled ones although the provision was later extended to vehicles powered by combustion engine) to be preceded by a man on foot, carrying a red flag (or a red light in darkness) and imposed a maximum speed limit of 6 mph — walking pace! This law had the effect of restricting the early development of British motoring and the British automotive industry, which indeed flourished many years later than in France, which was the first country to truly embrace the automobile. With the 1896 Emancipation Act, light locomotives, meaning vehicles lighter than 3 tons, and therefore cars, saw these restrictions lifted, and to celebrate this new found “freedom” a run, from London to Brighton, was organized. The “commemorative” event has taken place every year since 1927, apart from breaks during the Second World War and the 1973 oil crisis.

London to Brighton Run – the 2017 edition

“The Run” is an expression of British traditionalism, and as a rule it changes very little from year to year. This year, however, brought an important new development: a road closure due to major roadworks forced the organizers to alter the usual route. This resulted in several unforeseen problems, mainly due to heavy traffic blocking the convoy. A couple of huge traffic jams created some considerable difficulties for these veteran vehicles, which, whatever their speed, always do better travelling at a constant pace than having to cope with frequent stops and starts. As a result, the cars taking part needed even more roadside assistance than usual. Luckily the “angels” from the RAC were, as ever, ready to step in. These highly skilled technicians are capable of getting practically any car back on the road and, such is their passion and enthusiasm for what they do, they were there on a voluntary, unpaid basis. As usual, they did an excellent job, and most of the entrants, even after three or four breakdowns, managed to make it to the finishing line in Brighton.

The nation celebrated by the 2017 Run was France, as was clear from the number of French teams taking part. Last year, 49% of all the entrants were French-built cars, and the figure is likely to be similar this year — a demonstration of the supremacy, back in the early twentieth century, of French manufacturers. Unfortunately, after numerous accident-free years, this year’s LBVCR saw a crash: the 1902 Benz belonging to Englishman David Corry suffered a head-on collision with a modern car after its brakes failed on a long downhill section of road just beyond Reigate. The crash, which left two occupants of the Benz injured, was nobody’s fault, just the result of a very unlucky set of circumstances: the fact that the brakes went while the car was travelling downhill, the presence of a line of vehicles at the bottom of the slope, and the fact that Mr Corry, forced to steer to avoid them and hoping to find a free opposite lane, instead turned into the path of an approaching modern car. Because of the traffic, the usual 4 p.m. deadline for arriving in Brighton was put back an hour, and the last participants reached the coastal road of Madeira Drive well after the sun went down.

Some of the people and some of the cars

Every LBVCR entrant deserves respect, because a 6- to 7-hour journey on open roads in a car that is at least 110 years old is, at best, an adventure. This year, they were blessed by warm and very sunny weather for the entire journey, a blessing after the heavy rain and freezing cold of some previous years. Among the entrants we spotted some famous faces. One, wreathed in smiles, was that of Peter Read, Board Member and Chairman of the Motoring Committee of the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in Great Britain, who behind the wheel of a 1903 Daimler 4 Cylinder Tonneau belonging to the RAC, was easy to spot in his distinctive red hat. Another well-known participant we spotted was F1 guru engineer, Ross Brawn, OBE, driving a 1903 Peerless two-cylinder Rear Entrance Tonneau.

 

Mr Thierry Peugeot himself was there, too, as was German “pre-war collector” Peter-Heinz Kern. As for the cars, the winner of the trophy for the “Most Historically Important Car” went to a 1892 Peugeot Type 3 (chassis #25), the 25th Peugeot ever built, and the very first car registered in Italy, on January 1st 1893. The car, which belongs to the collection of the “Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile di Torino”, was making its London to Brighton Run debut. It was last driven before the First World War, after which it remained hidden away for 30 years. In the late 1950s it was donated to the museum in exchange for a, back then, modern Fiat, and there it remained, totally untouched, until a few years ago when it was restored with the support of Peugeot Italia. Even then, it remained silent, however, as the engine still lacked several parts. Just a few weeks ago, after some months of hard work, a bunch of passionate veteran collectors, in partnership with the museum, managed to fix the engine and get it running once again. Unfortunately, after its success last Saturday, car Number 001, — 001 marking it out as the oldest in the run — failed to start because of a transmission problem. We all look forward to seeing these fascinating cars again at next year’s Run…

Miracle do happen!

Italian collector Corrado Lopresto entered his 1901 Isotta Fraschini “type 1902” (chassis #1), the very first Isotta ever built, in the Run. He debuted with the car two years ago, and made it to Brighton without too many problems. However, as he explained, this year “was considerably more difficult, and the car stalled a few times. The problem was that, after the 2015 LBVCR, we did almost nothing to the car, and it was not until the beginning of this summer, when we were almost ready to ship the car to Pebble Beach for the celebration of the Isotta Fraschini brand, that we decided to go take part in the Run again and started the necessary preparations. The idea was to get the car back to Italy ahead of the London to Brighton in order to do the final preparations at home, but a late shipment meant that we had to skip this final stage, and the car arrived in London directly from the USA. My mechanic, Fabio Verin, achieved something of a miracle, working for two full days in a parking lot. Basically, he needed not only to prepare the car, but also to fix it, since the engine simply wouldn’t start. He finally succeeded at 10 p.m. on the Saturday, and finished the car at midnight. The car’s arrival in Brighton is a testament to his capability as a mechanic and his determination as a person.” Indeed, he provided a perfect illustration of the saying “nothing’s over until it’s over!”

All pics courtesy of the author.

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