The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Veteran Car Run

Category: Customs + Festivals

When the veteran cars set out on the London-Brighton run each November, they are celebrating one of the great landmarks in the history of motoring in Britain — the abolition of the rule that every “horseless сarriage’’ had to be preceded along the road by a pedestrian. This extremely irksome restriction, imposed by the Locomotives on Highways Act, was withdrawn in 1896, and on November 14th of that year there was a rally of motor-carson the London-Brighton highway to celebrate the first day of freedom — Emancipation Day, as it has been known by motorists ever since.

Nowadays when Emancipation is celebrated on the first Sunday of November, there is an important condition of entry — every car taking part must be at least 60 years old.

Hence the annual celebration has become kriown as the Veteran Car Run, and it provides the gayest motoring spectacle of the year and a wonderful opportunity to see these fine old ears (never, in any circumstances, refer to them as “old crocks’’taking the road in all the glory of immaculate paint and polish.

The spectacle changes little from year to year. The laterising November sun, struggling with the autumnal mist, begins to lend light to the scene in Hyde Park, where, backed into their numbered parking bays, are 250 of the “horseless carriages’ of yesteryear. Fussing around them are their owners, drivers and passengers, many garbed in period costume to harmonise with the vehicles. For the men — Norfolk jackets,* deerstalker caps, fur-lined helmets, goggles, leather motoring coats and capes. Gladstone bags* are in evidence, containing vacuum flasks and sandwiches to ward off cold and hunger; they will be especially welcome if a breakdown on the road necessitates a long session of patient tinkering to get the car re-started. For the ladies, a favourite choice is a Dolly Varden Hat,* plumed with feathers and anchored to the head with veils. Cossetted and bustled* in costumes which seem to us ill-suited to the occasion, they too may wear goggles, for many of the cars are lacking in such refinements as windscreens or roois.

But the chief interest is centred on the cars themselves, whose various classes of body design rejoice in descriptive names borrowed from the horse-drawn vehicles they were destined to elbow out of existence — Sociable, Phaeton, Dog-Cart, Surrey, Landaulette, Wagonette and so on. Museum pieces, one might call them, if they were not still capable of active service; single-cylinder Tricycles, “Vis-a-Vis’’ Companionables of 1899, a 2.3/4 horse-power Quadricycle with the Royal Enfield crest, and a swing-seat Tonneau made in 1904 by Allday and Onions, one of Britain’s oldest engineering firms.

The London-Brighton Run is not a race. Entrants are limited to a maximum average speed of 20 miles per hour and “antagonistic driving’ can lead to disqualification. The great thing is not speed but quality of performance.

At 8 o’clock comes the “OfP ‘, One by one they moved off — down Constitution Hill,* past Buckingham Palace, along the misty Mall* and over Westminster Bridge, with the tower of ig Ben rising in the background. Through the southern suburbs we go and out into the open countryside of Surrey and Sussex, where the procession of old cars is taking nearly an hour to pass a given point.

It is then, after the Run is over, that there is time to admire the grand old cars — and “all who sail in them”.

« ||| »

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.