Sunday, 26 July 2015

Ripping Yarns - the narrative behind all the pre-1905 vehicles in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

The 1901 De Dion Bouton owned from new by the Gresham family
on the 2014 Bonhams London to Brighton Run

There’s a great narrative behind all the pre-1905 vehicles entering the annual Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run 

Each and every one of the 450 remarkable vehicles that enter the annual Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run has its own extraordinary tale to tell. Some of these venerable machines dating back to the dawn of motoring have been passed down through generations, continuing long-running family traditions; others have been rescued from automotive graveyards all around the globe and restored especially to follow the iconic trail from central London to the Sussex coast.

First day out for the same car with James Gresham’s grandfather
out near Oulton Park in 1902

The family tradition is being firmly upheld by the 1901 De Dion Bouton owned by James Gresham which was purchased from new by his grandfather. A slightly more ‘modern’ De Dion Bouton dating back to 1903 has faithfully transported no fewer than four generations of the Clough family from Hyde Park to Madeira Drive. It seems the Run is in the Clough blood as the latest in the lineage, Xavier, completed his first Run when aged just six-weeks-old!

The 1901 De Dion Bouton owned from new by the Gresham family

Not all pre-1905 cars have been quite so treasured but somehow they have stood the test of time having received attention in more recent times. One example is the 1902 Delahaye entered into this year’s Run by Dr. Dan Suskin. This was found derelict under a pile of apple boxes in rural Normandy and, though still in its original ownership, had been unused for nearly 80 years.

Ivan Odds’ stylish 1903 Clement is another example of a car that previously suffered some neglect having come to light as little more than a pile of bits on the Isle of Wight.

Martin Tacon’s 1903 Humber trike was discovered languishing in a Norfolk chicken farm by his father, before being meticulously restored in time for its first Run back in 1951.

Then there is the 1903 Peugeot owned by Dr. Ken Butcher which was chanced upon in an even more unlikely hideaway – the smart two-seater had been dismantled, put into packaging cases and stored under the dusty floorboards of a London house. These cars are now regular sights on the world’s longest-running motoring event and will take their place at the start in Hyde Park on 1st November.

The 1901 De Dion Bouton owned from new by the Gresham family
Incredibly, at least two of the veterans embarking on this year’s extraordinary 60-mile spectacle to Brighton were among the first plucky participants partaking in the inaugural revival which took place back in 1927. It was then that 37 vehicles set off on the hallowed route from London to Brighton to commemorate the very first Emancipation Run that had famously taken place on a wet Saturday on the 14 November in 1896. That original journey – still followed to this very day – had been in celebration of the passing of new laws raising the speed limit to 14mph and removing the need for an escort carrying a red flag to walk 60 yards in front of any powered locomotive.

One of these cars was Dick Sheppard’s 1901 Panhard et Levassor which successfully completed the so-called 1927 ‘Old Crocks Race'; this well-engineered French car had originally been built specifically for Chevalier Rene de Knyff – he was a renowned racing driver of the age, as well as a director of the Panhard Company.

The light blue 7hp tonneau-bodied French creation was subsequently named ‘Le Papillon Bleu’ by the daughter of its second owner, Leslie Bucknall and, later in its life, was the first car to be damaged in the Mersey Tunnel soon after its official opening by King George V in July 1934.

The Panhard et Levassor has enjoyed somewhat better fortune on the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run having now completed no fewer than 57 of the 59 events it has started – a figure it will be looking to increase in November.

‘Le Papillion Blue’ - a veteran of the first ‘Old Crocks Race’.
The 1898 Stephens, now entered by Chistopher Loder, is another of today’s regulars to have completed in that very first recreation Run, driven by its designer Richard Stephens. Indeed, enhancing its claim to be one of the very first British sportscars, the racy little 10hp dogcart won a Gold Medal from the Daily Sketch for its performance back in 1927 and, nearly 90 years on, the Somerset-built speedster is still always among the very first to reach Brighton.

Owners of all pre-1905 vehicles who are planning to enter this year’s Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run have until Friday 31 July to take advantage of the discounted advance entry fee – after the end of this month the standard entry fee will apply. More information on the Run can be found at

The Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is the pinnacle event in a week of motoring in the capital during ‘London Motor Week’ – a series of events hosted by the world famous Royal Automobile Club which also includes a Literary Festival, Motoring Forum and the Regent Street Motor Show.

About Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run
With its unique atmosphere and camaraderie, the Bonhams Veteran Car Run travelling from London to Brighton (staged specifically as a non-profit making veneration) commemorates the Emancipation Run of 14 November 1896, which celebrated the Locomotives on the Highway Act. The Act raised the speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4 to 14mph, and abolished the need for these vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag.

The Emancipation Run was first commemorated in 1897 with a re-enactment following the same route in 1927 and has taken place every November since, with the exception of the war years and 1947 when petrol was rationed. The Royal Automobile Club has managed the Run with the support of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain since 1930.

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