500 vets in world's oldest race

2012-11-05 07:28

If you’d been in London on Sunday November 4 you could have watched the start of the longest-running motoring event in the world - the London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run.

There were 500 vehicles for the 2012 run but to be eligible for the event all had to be built before 1905. It’s an odd sort of event, because the organisers don’t even record the order in which the vehicles cross the finishing line and the drivers may not take their elderly steeds to more than 32km/h.


It takes a while…  but the event is run on the first Sunday of every November from the Hyde Park Corner in the British capital 87km to the south-coast holiday town, starting at sunrise (not quite sure if it ever comes up during England’s winter months – Ed.).

Any that finish before 4.30pm are awarded a medal for their troubles. A small percentage tend to fall by the wayside each year but the camaraderie of these pioneer motorists suggests nobody is stuck for long.

Every year the organisers celebrate a chosen country to celebrate and for this year it was Great Britain’s turn, tying in quite nicely with the Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the 2012 Olympic (and Paralympic) Games – each of which was held in the British capital.

The organising Royal Automobile Club’s spokeswoman, one Helen Holness, said: “The entire race was run in particularly wet conditions this year but even that did little to deter the field and all the entrants got off the start line.

“We’ve had some big puddles en route but the cars went around them and every one was still running.”


Celebrities like to participate; 2012 was no exception with the likes of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Nason (an avid car collector), legendary British racing driver Sir Stirling Moss (83) and Lady Moss – although not driving, but acting navigator this time around.

Chris Jacques was the driver/owner in his 1903 Panhard Levassor, a car he acquired 40 years ago. The Panhard had been laid up since 1926 but it took Jacques only 24 hours to get it running again.

He said: “Nowadays the interest in cars of this type is much higher than it was when we first took part in 1973 – although there were quite large crowds even then.

“Although the start was early this morning there’s a wonderful atmosphere right along the route with the old engines firing along beautifully leaving a haze of smoke that everyone will remember.”


Perhaps the best quote came from Moss, who quipped: “Everybody leads such a hectic life these days that it’s nice to relax the pace every so often. My wife and I really looked forward to the gentle trip down to Brighton.

“However, even at that moderate pace, it still takes a lot of skill and concentration to steer one of these old cars to the finish. At least there will be little chance of my being stopped by a police officer and asked: ‘Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss’?”

• The run commemorates the Emancipation Run of 1896 when more than 30 pioneer motorists set off for the Sussex seaside resort to celebrate “doing away with the red flag” and the official adjustment of the Locomotives on the Highway Act which raised the speed limit from walking speed, preceded by a pedestrian waving, yes, a red flag, to 22im/h.

And abolished the man-and-a-flag law.