London to Brighton

Veteran Car Run 2010


Sunday London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

Cars start from Hyde Park according to year of manufacture - so we had a relatively early start at 7.30 am (first car 7.04 am) and Bill had an 8.00 am start. We decided to be in place by 6.30 am so we could see the first cars go off. We left the hotel and drove the short distance to the park with Linda holding a flashlight in leu of headlights.

As the sun came up, with the Serpentine at our back, we started the car at the 6 minute warning. All around were the unique sounds of these very early cars, and the billowing and belching of the steam cars as they built boiler pressure. I think had the day ended then we would still have been satisfied. And then, with a wave of the flag, Linda and I were off. Through Marble Arch, past Buckingham Palace, along the Mall to Westminster Abbey and then past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as we crossed Westminster Bridge. I was amazed that the streets were lined with spectators, waving and clapping as we went by - and this did not change for the entire 60 miles to Brighton - over a million people cheering us on. Weather was excellent - clear mostly and not bitterly cold.

We planned to meet Bill at the first Assistance stop - some 15 miles after the start - and we arrived there pretty quickly. I did some routine lubrication and had a cup of tea while we waited...and waited.  When we finally reached Bill by phone, an hour had passed and he had inadvertently passed the stop. That hour was to prove crucial later on.  We pressed on.

The only mandatory stop is at Crawley, about 30 miles into the run. There, your time card is stamped and coffee, tea and wonderful doughnuts are provided. We cruised along very well to Crawley - probably averaging 15 mph. Traffic was heavy and a lot of lane weaving was required.  I did stop several times, to fuel up, refill water and change passengers - I was lucky enough to have many friends who came over for the event and I wanted each to have some experience. Every mile or so there would be a car or two on the side of the road - some would be repaired and resume the run, others would be put onto a lorry to try again another year. We arrived at Crawly at about 12.30 pm after mostly village after village of driving, and parked in the roped off area. The mayor was on hand to greet all.  At this point we met up with Bill who had arrived about 15 minuted prior to us.

Suitably refreshed, we left Crawley for what I thought would be an easy run to Brighton - it had been so far. The route changed to be more country, with periodic minor hills and long downhill stretches. Pastures and lanes on either side, again lined with wonderful spectators.  I changed passengers a few more times and life was good...until we were 15 miles from Brighton.

Cresting a small hill, the car died. No warning symptoms. I coasted to the side and my friend Stan, driving our “chase vehicle” who happened to be close by, pulled in behind me. Diagnosis was simple and quick - the copper fuel line from the petrol tank to the carburetor had broken and gas was pouring onto the ground. Fortunately, the break was distal to the shut off valve and I was able to stop the petrol flow. I removed the line and found the break right at the ferrule, inside the compression fitting. No way to repair this - I did try solder it without success, as well as jam the line into the fitting and JB Weld it there - it only has to last 15 miles - although that did work, there was too much petrol leak around it and I was afraid of a fire. Twenty minutes had now passed and I was now one of those cars on the side of the road. Stan managed to flag down a Royal Automobile Club (RAC) truck - they carry plenty spares and tools but don’t provide any technical support - and he was able to provide a modern flexible fuel line which I quickly installed. The car started and we were again off... for about 200 yards.

Fuel leak fixed, the car would start and die, start and die. OK - petrol, check. Spark, check. And yet no luck at keeping him running. Time passing. Cars passing. A million thoughts. A sickening feeling that we may not actually finish.

I got hold of Bill on the phone (best tool is the cell phone) - he had just finished the run. He had to push his car over the line as he was out of gas, but with new gas was having trouble starting his car. Sounds familiar. Over the next 10 minutes we spoke again a few times - he finally got his car going after discovering his trembler coil needed adjustment after the 60 miles. Aha. A eureka moment.

Although I had tested for spark, and had spark, it was inconsistent.  I accessed the trembler coil and adjusted the points to get good constant discharge - and with that the car fired right up and once again sounded healthy and strong. But now we had 15 miles to go and only an hour left to the official cut off time of 4.30 pm. It was going to be very tight.

Adam jumped on and we were off again. I drove as fast as the car would go, and must admit that red lights did not stop me. We pushed and pushed. I made one wrong turn - unusual as their signposting is excellent - but fortunately Adam caught it and persuaded me to turn around.  Would that mistake be the final time killer? We arrived at the most notorious hill on the route -  the 4x4 Club waiting to tow cars up the hill - and although it slowed us considerably, we did not need any assistance (they seemed disappointed!). At this point, we had 5 miles to go and 30 minutes in hand - I started to relax, but only a little.

Entering Brighton the traffic thickened a little, but they were very courteous and seemed to understand our urgency, making way for us at every opportunity. We turned into a park and then there it was - the official finish. We had made it. Our timecard stamped, we drove the final few miles to the ceremonial finish on the pier - but now time was of no consequence.

Driving onto the pier was very emotional. This was a childhood dream fulfilled. It was years if planning concluded. People were cheering. Applause surrounded us. It is hard to describe with true justice. Approaching the finish banner, each driver and car is announced - and when he said “..from America” a huge cheer resounded. That felt good.  As I pulled up I heard my name yelled from the crowd - there was our good friend Bernard Holmes - a UK resident and fellow Silver Ghost owner who had completed his run about an hour prior. The announcer then interviewed us at the line and although I don't remember much of what I said, it was broadcast over the PA system and others have told me I vowed to be back every year!

We parked on the pier and re-united with Bill and Krisi, as well as out wonderful friends who came over for the run.

It is not too much to say this was the best motoring day of my life. It is an experience that cannot be fully described, and needs to be experienced.

Sometimes, just sometimes, dreams do come true.

Thanks to Linda, Adam and Zaev, Bill and Krisi, Stan, Debbie, Dijon and Greg, Peter and Barbara, Sandy and Brian. It would not have been the same without you.

The annual event takes place on the first Sunday of every November and commemorates the Emancipation Run of 14 November 1896 which celebrated the passing into law of the Locomotives on the Highway Act, which raised the speed limit for 'light locomotives' from 4 mph to 14 mph and abolished the requirement for these vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot.

The law required the man on foot to carry a red flag but the requirement was actually abolished in 1878. However, the Locomotive Act was still widely known as the 'Red Flag Act' and a red flag was symbolically destroyed at the start of the Emancipation Run, by Lord Winchilsea.

Over 30 pioneer motorists set off from London on the 1896 Run to endure the rough roads to the Sussex seaside resort but only 14 of the starters actually made the journey, and some evidence exists that one car was taken by rail and covered with mud before crossing the finishing line!

The next run was staged in 1927 as a re-enactment of the 1896 Run and organised by the motoring editor of the Daily Sketch. The Run has taken place every November thereafter, with the exception of the war years and 1947 when petrol rationing was in force. From 1930 to the present day the event has been owned and professionally organised by The Royal Automobile Club.

Not a race but an endurance of man and machine the annual event today attracts some 500 automobiles with an eligibility criteria that requires the cars to be of four or three wheel design and certified that their build took place prior to the 1 January 1905. Occasionally however the organisers invite a small number of vehicles just out of period to join the celebration.

Many famous celebrities including members of the Royal Family have been seen on the Run and for many years the 60 mile route has been lined with over one million spectators standing in the early winter Sunday mornings to cheer the drivers of this wonderful spectacle of early motoring.

The world's longest running motoring event attracts entrants from all over the world. In the 1996 Centenary Run some 680 cars and drivers took part with over 100 of the participants having shipped their cars from all over Europe and across the globe from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc

To owners of Veteran cars worldwide it represents the high point of the year's Veteran car events and a rare opportunity to take their extraordinary cars to a wider audience

It has long been a dream of mine to participate in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, and as it occurs in November, it seemed that 2010 would be the ideal time to do it as on November 6 2010 I would turn 50 years old - in fact, the very weekend of the event.

As the event requires a car of vintage pre-1905, it was necessary to first find an eligible and good car - not an easy task as a LB eligible car can be difficult to find as they are not often sold. So, I began the search in 2006 and bought my car - a 1902 Curved Dash Oldsmobile  (CDO) - in 2008.  The car was in very good shape, but did require me to partially rebuild the engine, redo the water tank, obtain a new water pump, install the correct carburetor which did come with the car and miscellaneous other tasks. Over the two years before the planned LB run, I drove the car quite a bit, with the longest drive being 24 miles before I was comfortable that it, and I, would be ready for the event.

Bill Kenney, in Taylorville, Illinois is a very good friend and Silver Ghost man par excellance. He too has a CDO and decided to join the fun. We then talked a third Silver Ghost man - Lynn Boynton - into obtaining a CDO and we were set. We met at Bill’s factory in August 2010 to fine tune the cars and ready them for shipping. Unfortunately, Lynn’s car could not be completed and Lynn was forced to withdraw.  Bill had manufactured custom steel skids for the cars, which allowed us to put them into a shipping container perfectly secure, and ship them by rail to the port before they boarded the ship to arrive perfectly intact in London.

And so, on November 4 2010 we arrived in London to begin what would be an incredible adventure.

From the event’s website:

Link to SUNDAY imagesLBVCR_Photos.html
Quick link event website

Saturday International Concours

One hundred cars are invited to participate on Saturday’s concours.  In our best period clothing, we drove ourselves the three miles from our hotel to St James Square, where we parked for about an hour, during which time cars were judged and we caught up with old friends from other events - Irvine and Christine Laidlaw, Bill Hall and Phil Stainton. Then, in convoy, we drove the short trip to Regent Street, just off Picadilly Circus, and parked in the center of the closed off street, under the new Christmas decorations and in front of some terrific stores. Over the following 4 hours, an estimated 250 000 people visited with us.  We posed for countless photographs and had a terrific time talking to the many, many spectators who seemed genuinely interested in all the cars. Walking up and down the road revealed spectacular cars, including Genevieve - the star of the movie of the same name.

We left Regent street at about 4.15 pm (sunset 4.30 pm) and quickly got ourselves lost trying to find our hotel adjacent to Hyde Park. Driving around central London in a 108 year old car, past all the well known sites and in pretty heavy traffic was an experience in itself, and will not be forgotten. After our unplanned tour of the city - in the dark with no headlights - we finally managed to park under cover at the hotel. A great day.

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Link to  SATURDAY imagesLBVCR_Concours.html