The Annual London to Brighton "Emancipation" Veteran Car Run 2010
Held every year on the first Sunday in November, the Annual London to Brighton Rally commemorates the coming in to force of The Locomotives on Highways Act 1896 - commonly known as The Emancipation Act - in November of that year. Eligibility for taking part is limited to cars manufactured before 1 January 1905.
The original "Red Flag" Act had been passed in 1865 and required a locomotive on the highway to have a crew of three - one of whom should precede the vehicle by no less than 60 yards carrying a red flag - and the speed limit was 4mph in the countryside and 2mph in towns. With the passing of the Highways and Locomotives Amendment Act 1878 the requirement for the red flag was done away with, although there still had to be someone walking in front of the vehicle - now at a distance of 20 yards (18 metres) - and the need for a three man crew and the speed limits remained in force. Furthermore, a licence of £10 had to be obtained for each county the vehicle passed through. While these Acts were originally conceived with steam vehicles in mind, they were found to apply equally to the prototype motor cars that began to appear in the early 1890's and which consequently found themselves unwelcome on the roads. A campaign was mounted to change the law, which produced the so-called Emancipation Act of 1896. This created a new class of "light locomotive" under two tons, which did not require a crew or a man walking ahead and thus the infant motorcar in the UK was freed from its shackles. The speed limit was raised to 14mph in an attempt to equate the performance of the vehicles with the offence of "furious driving" for a horse drawn vehicle.
The passing of this Act was celebrated at the time with a run from London down to Brighton and the event continues to evolve slowly. In addition to the annual auction by Bonhams of veteran cars a day before the run, it is the practice to put a selection of entrants on show in London's Regent Street the day before and it is even possible for some lucky people to obtain a ride in one of them.
RREC member Dan Suskin from the USA stands in full driving regalia beside his 1902 American Oldsmobile Curved Dash in Regents Street in 2010. This is Dan's first ever run and he has come over to England especially to take part - and on this very day he also celebrated his 50th birthday (photo Philip Sage).
A few things will strike even a casual observer: firstly there can be no doubt that although the motorcar was invented in Germany, it was perfected in France and for the whole time span covered by eligibility for the run it was the French who dominated their manufacture. Secondly, if you see one in motion you realise that they can be quite difficult to manage due to the very high gearing of the steering wheels - in fact ex-chairman Ian Rimmer once told me that AX201 (usually on display at the Hunt House) will go from full lock left to full lock right in about half a turn of the steering wheel. And lastly, one can only wonder at some of the grotesques that populate the Victorian era. Their large carriage wheels create a sort of spidery effect, although dinosaurs are the things most likely to come to mind. Indeed, if you look underneath the bonnet their absurdly small engines resemble the tiny brains we ascribe to those creatures and you wonder how ever this could be enough to propel such a thing along its way. The reason why the early cars are so underpowered was explained by the great motor engineer Frederick Lanchester, who looking back in later life, said that in those days they considered themselves as competing with the horse and carriage and not the railway train.
At the time of writing there is only one surviving Rolls-Royce eligible to take part - a 1904 10hp two cylinder car no 20154, which you can read about elsewhere on this website. However, there are other cars with a connection to the Rolls-Royce story, albeit more oblique - so have fun seeing how close you can get to spotting a similar model in the run.
Charles Rolls' years as a sporting motorist neatly span the decade from 1896 -when he bought his first car - to 1906 when he won the second Isle of Man Tourist Trophy in a four cylinder Rolls-Royce Twenty. By then his interest was already passing on to ballooning and then it moved on to aeroplanes. The years up to meeting Royce in 1904 might be looked upon as his journeyman years when he tried a variety of makes, from which he drew his own conclusions and to which Henry Royce gave substance. At one time the only decent biography of Rolls available was "Rolls of Rolls-Royce" by Lord Montague, but in 2007 a really excellent book was brought out: "Why not ? - the story of Charles Stewart Rolls" by David Baines and published by Dalton Watson: ISBN 978-1-85443-224-7. Rolls had a rather elusive personality which even very few of his contemporaries knew really well. Anyway, these are the cars that he either owned or drove:
Peugeot 3¾ hp 1896
While still an undergraduate at Cambridge University Rolls had already identified Panhard Levassor as the leading French make; however our Charlie was also a canny lad with a shrewd eye for a bargain and such was first buy - a Peugeot of 1896:
In this car he set out from Cambridge with a full complement of passengers, intending to take part in the Emancipation Run of 1896, but he suffered a broken axle near Hatfield and missed it. About this time Rolls also shrewdly spotted that there was money to be made from the sale of new and second hand cars.
Leon Bolleé Tricar 1897
Two Bolleé tricars had been first and second in the original run of 1896 and as a result of this success they enjoyed a brief vogue, and it is not surprising that Rolls was to try one in 1897.
He later spoke very slightingly of it, saying it made a noise like a hog grunting and was made out of biscuit tins which had to be constantly soldered back together. A number of them survive and if you see one you might think it better made than Rolls gave it credit for, but it was too much of an unconventional design to be part of the mainstream of development and their day soon passed.
The cars Rolls had bought up to now were all very well, but what he really wanted was a "racer". In December of 1897 Rolls bought his first Panhard Levassor - and no ordinary car was this. In 1896 Panhard Levassor had brought out their 8hp model which was the first car to have 4 cylinders. In such a car they won the Paris-Marseilles Race of that year and the three team cars from that race were subsequently bought by Henry Lawson (at vast expense) for use in the first Emancipation Run, which was organised by Lawson himself.
Rolls himself paid a high price for it when he bought it off Lawson about a year later, but he abandoned the car early in the following year in favour of a new 8hp Panhard Levassor which he claimed was the first car in England to have wheel steering. This latter car still exists - in somewhat modified form - and can be seen in the Bridewell Museum in Norwich, UK. It took part in the London to Brighton Rally several years ago after a thorough restoration, but when I spoke to the museum they told me it was very unlikely that it would do so again. Rolls looked on these cars as the finest available at the time and in 1898 began to deal with them in a small way on his own account. He made a number of trips over to Paris to bring cars to the UK for sale and when he did set up in business in 1902 his principal agency was for Panhards. He entered the 1903 Paris-Madrid Race in an 80hp monster and was in a creditable 6th place when the race was abandoned. The solid design and construction of the Panhards make them well represented in the London to Brighton run and examples still exist that were sold by Rolls in his dealership and bear his plaque.
De Dion Bouton Tricycle
Rolls soon passed over the Bolleé Tricar and early in 1898 he bought a very different item - a De Dion tricycle.
These vehicles were some of the fastest things on the road at the time and were capable of speeds approaching 60mph. They had a number of racing successes and were given their own class in the road races which were then in vogue. There are a few survivors and you may well see one, or perhaps one of their several imitations.
As the only other Englishman with experience of Continental racing, Rolls was invited by Selwyn Edge to be the riding mechanic in the 1900 Paris-Rouen-Paris Race using the new 16hp four cylinder Napier - looked upon as the first British racing car. The car retired after 50 miles due to faulty coils.
In 1903 Rolls used a Napier to compete for selection in the British team for the Gordon Bennett Race to be held in Ireland, but was not successful. Edge himself did not just drive Napier cars in various racing events, he was the principal agent for selling them and thus never missed a trick for their promotion. He prevailed on Montague Napier to devise a six cylinder car, which was first unveiled to the world in late 1904 and which Edge lost no time in promoting as "the best car in the world". Despite the high quality of the early Napiers they are very scarce in the London to Brighton run, but you may see the odd one.
In 1901 Mors had produced a ten litre four cylinder car of 60hp and Rolls entered one in the Paris-Berlin Race in July of that year. In 1902 he entered a slightly smaller Mors in the Paris-Vienna Race and in 1903, using this car, he set a speed record of 82.84 mph which at the time was the highest road speed ever recorded.
You will see the occasional Mors in the London to Brighton run, but these are conventional road-going cars and a world away from the monsters that Rolls was racing.
The plain truth is that as a mechanic Herbert Austin was not in the same class as Henry Royce, but it has to be said that the two cylinder horizontally engined cars that he built for Wolseley had their virtues and gained a reputation for reliability and robust construction - which was indeed wholly characteristic of all the vehicles that bore his name. You will see several of these in the London to Brighton run, but I doubt very much if you will ever see the four cylinder version that Austin tried to develop as the next step. The horizontal engine proved impossible to balance and they were very prone to broken crankshafts - in fact I doubt if a single example survives. Austin nonetheless devised a trio of four cylinder horizontally engined racing cars which had a varied career from 1902 to their last outing in 1905 when one was driven by Rolls, first in the Gordon Bennett eliminating trials and then in the race itself in which he finished 8th.
By this time Rolls had met Royce and his path was set, and a fellow driver recalled that Rolls took no interest in the car or even the race itself. In fact, Austin's horizontal engine design was the sort of idea that Rolls strongly disapproved of for its failure to learn the lessons from Continent, resulting in designs that were doomed to failure.
Royce had established a good reputation for the manufacture of industrial electric cranes and other electrical goods and it was the erosion of his business around the turn of the century that made him start thinking about another product to manufacture. His first encounter with motorised transport was in 1901 when he suffered a bout of ill-health due to overwork and his doctor suggested a hobby that would enable him to relax:
De Dion Bouton Quadricycle
Royce, his doctor and his partner Ernest Claremont all bought de Dion Quadricycles, which by all accounts were crude affairs and Royce built a rockery specifically to arrest his vehicle's progress should the brakes prove ineffective. Their day was also a brief one and being entry-level models to the motoring world survivors are rare - but you may well see the odd one and like the tricycle, there were a number of people making different versions.
One make of particular interest is Decauville, for it was a 10hp car of 1902 that Henry Royce purchased when he was thinking of going into the business of building motorcars. Their first car was a Voiturelle of 1898, then in 1899 they brought out a front engined two cylinder car of 5hp which was a considerable improvement and in 1901 they brought out their 10hp two cylinder model, an example of which was bought by Henry Royce in 1902. Only a handful of Decauvilles survive, but you might see one at the London to Brighton Rally and in recent years at least two decayed remains have gone through the auction sales, hopefully to be restored. One regular entrant is the 1902 10hp model of the type bought by Royce, currently owned by Paul Wood of P & A Wood & Co - can members kindly note that there is no "s" on the end of the name - and which was once owned by Geoffrey de Havilland. Here he is having successfully completed the run in 2010:
Haaarrumph! A few years ago I followed the London to Brighton run and stopped at the halfway post at Crawley. I generally pick up the traditional motorcyclists fare of a bacon sandwich at the Scout barbeque tent next to the entrance point and listen to the commentary on the cars as they arrive. There is something of a carnival atmosphere and it's all very agreeable - at least it was until I heard the commentator gleefully describe an arriving Arrol Johnson as "the car that beat a Rolls-Royce in the Tourist Trophy Race of 1905 and therefore is one car that is better than a Rolls-Royce!!!" Ha! Well, win it did and I do not begrudge them their one moment of glory, for it surely was the only one they ever had. They might have had another in 1919 when they sold a car to the Prince of Wales, but it broke down whilst on a Royal Tour and the model was deemed "unreliable and unsaleable" and withdrawn. If someone has taken the trouble to record the history of the Arrol Johnson car then I am sorry for them, for no-one reads it unless it is an owner of one of the few surviving examples, but I did see one in 2010 and thought it worth a photo for its rather attractive wooden bodywork.
At a previous London to Brighton run I saw a three cylinder model which for some reason had been made with one cylinder slightly larger than the other two and the driver told me that you could tell every time it fired, because you could feel it going off. I know that some steam engines were made with three cylinders, having one cylinder smaller than the other two to capitalise on the expansive properties of the steam rather than brute pressure from the boiler, but I can't see what this has to do with an internal combustion engine. With such irrational nonsense in mind I scornfully left them to crow and continued on my way.
We like to think that the RREC knows how to organise a rally and if you have ever been on one for the various Sections and Registers then you will know just how enjoyable they can be; but there can be nothing that quite catches the sense of the romance of the road like the annual London to Brighton run. There are generally a few members actually taking part and the route takes you through the geographical area of two of the Club's Sections - the South Eastern and the Central Southern. The South Eastern Section do not organise a formal meet as such, but some of them congregate informally in one of the pubs just south of Pease Pottage, but which unfortunately so far I have been unable to find - maybe next year. The Central Southern Section arrange a more formal meeting and I caught up with them a little further down the page.
If you wish to watch the cars start from the south east corner of Hyde Park into Hyde Park Corner then you must be an early riser, for the first one is away at dawn and the last car will have departed by 09:00. The route follows the old A23, but note that after Crawley this has been replaced by a modern and different road. The old road still exists, but it is called a different name and now only merits classification as a B road and this is the one the run follows. You will have no trouble following the route, for almost immediately the cars start to fall by the wayside. You will pass them on the verge panting and gasping like so many dying horses - but take heart, for many will rise again and continue on their way with assistance from the near ubiquitous orange RAC vans.
Enthusiasts line the route to watch the cars go by, take photographs and check them off against the list in the published programme. After Croydon one starts to see groupings of other classic marques lining the route, finding in this occasion a fine excuse to have a gathering of their own to watch it go past. Crawley is the half way point and it is a good place to stop and have a walk about, look at the cars, listen to the commentary and generally refresh yourself. Here I bumped into RREC members Jane and Rob Pedler who every year organise the marshals for the Annual Rally - how about volunteering this year ? it is a great way to get involved with the running of the Club, you will get time off to enjoy the Rally and your admission fee will be refunded.
Jane explained that they have been members of the VCC for some time and have "aspirations" in that direction, hoping one day to own an eligible British car. Well, that certainly narrows it down a lot, I thought, but I look forward to taking their picture crossing the line in Brighton one day.
And if ever the debate starts up again about extending the date for eligibility, then please note that as we stood and chatted, a 1904 Mercedes Benz was played in by the band and we found ourselves all eyeing it with silent disapproval. Jane spoke all our minds when she said that somehow doing the run in a car like that didn’t count - "its just too easy." I also saw a curious thing at Crawley: walking past behind me was a man dressed in a black morning coat, wing collar and top hat who was pushing an old penny farthing bicycle. I thought no more of it, thinking him another colourful celebrant of the day's general charivari; but some ten minutes later I was standing near the entry line when the same man came cycling in on his penny farthing to great acclaim from the crowd, who assumed he had thus cycled all the way from London. I was to see this man again before the day was out.
As I left Crawley I saw a vehicle leaving the compound bearing a plaque saying "Benz Victoria 1893". Now I don't know if this was the oldest vehicle in the run, but it could not have been far off. Having perfected his three-wheel prototypes Karl Benz devised the Victoria in 1893 as a vehicle more suited to production, although it is the Velo of 1894 that is looked on as the first production motorcar. The car ticked and chugged along at a brisk walk, at which rate I reckoned it would take a week to get to Brighton, but this was another thing I was to see again.
Half way between Crawley and Brighton I stopped at the Oak Barn Restaurant and Bar to say hello to the Central Southern Section who were celebrating the run with a Club lunch.
In the photograph the gentleman on the left and the lady on the right are Gottfried and Christine Kern from Austria, who were staying in the George Hotel in Crawley and had flown over especially to see the run. I learnt that this intrepid couple own several very old motor cars as well as a 1964 Silver Cloud lll Chinese Eye Mulliner, Park Ward Coupé in which they had recently driven all the way from Vienna, joined the Central Southern Section on their Southern Ireland Rally, toured southern England and then driven all the way home, making a round trip of over 3,000 miles - marvellous! The other couple in the photograph are Ted and Kate Meachem the Section Secretary and they are all standing in front of Ted's car, which struck me as an especially fine example that I couldn't quite place. In response to my query Ted had the following to say: "Contrary to Bulletin statements my motor car is not a Corniche V (there is no such model). To be absolutely correct (according to Crewe who of course built just 45 motor cars) it is a 'New Corniche Convertible, Last of Line' - a "Last of Line Corniche". I have never seen one before and don't tell him I said this, but it really is very handsome.
And so I went on to Brighton, where the road re-joins the A23 and the official finish line is in Preston Park on your left as you follow the road in. Another couple of miles after this is the ceremonial finish line in Madeira Drive on the sea front itself, where a crowd gathers to cheer the cars in. Just inside the finishing line there is a commentator with a microphone who greets the finishers with a few words, so sometimes a small queue forms as the cars have to wait. I stood and watched for quite a while. The crowd particularly liked a de Dion Bouton that pulled up in gorgeous blue livery, carrying a trio of ladies in period costumes that matched the paintwork. When they came to move off the lady driver aaaaaaalmost stalled it and juuuuuuust picked it up to a great cheer from the crowd. And who should I see come along but the man on the penny farthing bicycle who also got a cheer from the crowd and brazenly waved back at everyone. I myself stood there trying to imagine him coping with the interminable and punishing hill immediately outside Crawley - on a penny farthing? Hum.
After a while I moved further up the Drive and took advantage of the small privilege of wandering around the Finishers' Enclosure to see if there was anything of interest. I have used a few of the photos already further up the page, but here is a couple more:
Italian cars are a great rarity in the London to Brighton run but I did see this one FIAT - a huge thing which as you can see has absolutely no instruments at all to assist the driver:
I also saw a Napier, which looks like an early example of one of the four cylinder racing cars:
Unfortunately it was unattended and I can give no further information. There were several early two cylinder horizontal engined Wolseleys:
Here is an example of a Mors car - a world away from the racing monsters that Rolls owned:
I also got spotted a rarity in the form of a Dutch Spyker:
The name Spyker appears as a tiny footnote in the RR story as the first firm to devise a six cylinder car, but it was a failure. This example looked like a very capable item.
Then who should I bump into but His Worship the Mayor of Brighton, who graciously paused for a photograph:
The object to the right of the camera that he is eyeing somewhat warily is in fact his wife, and when I suggested that perhaps the Lady Mayoress might like to join him in the photo I got an answer of the "that's no lady, that's my wife" variety. I don't know what the item is he is holding up for the camera as if it were some kind of emblem of Brighton, but given their reputation as a week-end holiday destination I can only guess it is a packet of condoms, discreetly packaged - perhaps all the entrants got one free. Anyway, "Brighton welcomes the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club" says the Mayor.
After this I met Bill Kennedy from the USA who had just arrived in an Oldsmobile Curved Dash. Twenty yards from the finishing line the car stalled from having run out of petrol and they had to push it over the line. Bill might be familiar to some of our members as he is the Technical Advisor to the Silver Ghost Association founded in 1986. Its aim is to educate, advise and encourage members who are interested in Silver Ghosts to maintain and drive them as they were intended. It runs the Wholly Ghost Tour annually, usually in the USA, and has some 570 members in 26 countries. My spies also tell me that Bill himself owns a number of 40/ 50hp cars, three of which are Springfields.
And no sooner had I finished exchanging pleasantries with Bill, than my ears were caught my the commentary coming out of the loud speakers. The 1893 Benz Victoria had arrived in Brighton and the driver was explaining that the car was only in its second ownership and that the first owner had kept it all his life and bought it off Karl Benz. I subsequently read that 85 examples had been made in 1893 and the top speed when new was only 11 miles an hour. It came all the way from London like that - a truly magnificent feat that fair raised goosebumps on your skin. I could not resist trying to catch a clip of it as it came by.
And then with the afternoon beginning to wear on, fellow 40/50hp enthusiast Danni Suskin finally arrived in his own Oldsmobile Curved Dash, having suffered a broken fuel line and worn points along the way. Danni also owns the magnificent example of a 40/50hp formerly owned by the late Tom Love, who had also owned the world's oldest Rolls-Royce mentioned above. Here he is at the finish with his son Adam (14) as navigator, being greeted by Bill Kennedy and Bill's partner Kris Dougherty.
Danni told me there had in fact been a third person who also bought an Oldsmobile Curved Dash intending to join them on the run, but it could not be made ready in time and he remained back home in the States - so maybe we will see all three of them next year ? Poop poop !