On the first Saturday in November the entire length of the Regent street, between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus in London, is closed off to act as a giant crescent of motoring extravaganza, ranging from modern to veteran. It happened last Saturday and, as usual, was the prequel to the London to Brighton parade of veteran cars.
Old crocks’ race
Some of the more impressive participants in the Bonham’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run 2019 were parked all along Regent Street in a rare display of vehicles spanning the early years of motoring — to qualify, the cars must have been built before 1905.
The Regent Street show took place last Saturday. And on Sunday morning, before dawn, the old-timers and their owners were on parade in South London ready to follow the old A23 on the 50-mile drive to the coast.
The event was immortalised in the 1953 film Genevieve. It’s well worth taking a couple of minutes to watch this clip and to get a flavour of the day. Did they really speak like that 70 years ago?
The first event happened on 14 November 1896 and the vehicles involved were then the greatest and the best of the world’s fledgeling automotive industry. It was known as the “Emancipation Run” since it celebrated the passing of the Locomotives on Highways Act of the same year.
The new Act raised the permitted speed limit throughout Britain to a furious 14 mph. Even this was a vast improvement on the previous situation where the speed limit had been a miserable four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in town.
Even worse, an “escort” had to walk 20 yards in front of any vehicle travelling at these breakneck speeds. Prior to 1878, the escort had been required to carry a red flag. Of course, in those days, the vehicles concerned were steam-powered and mostly traction engines.
In 1927 the run was revived, this time to honour vehicles made more than 30 years prior, so that event is usually regarded as ground zero. It used to be called the Old Crocks’ Race, although it was never a race. Since then, though, the run has gone decidedly more upmarket.
Buying and running a veteran car was never a cheap pastime. But it is now very expensive. It’s no coincidence that the co-sponsor of this year’s run is A.Lange & Söhne, purveyors of fine and very expensive watches.
Rain on parade
Unfortunately, last Saturday it was pouring down for most of the morning and I nearly turned over in bed to give it a miss. Good that I didn’t though, because the weather cleared up for the very hour when I was able to be there with my camera.
In a nod to the weather, I picked up the Leica Q2 which is the only camera and lens combo I possess which claims to have an element of weather protection.
As it happened, the 28mm focal length proved just right for the occasion, although I didn’t make that much use of the available wide apertures. I could have done as well with the M10-D and the little f/5.6 Summaron. If it hadn’t been raining.
The theme for this year’s event was “Route 66” and American owners and their cars were out in force, as were many German, French and Swiss drivers. I even stumbled upon a car and its owners from Barcelona, proudly flying the Catalan flag. I gather they were in favour of Cataxit.
Minimal meets maximal
Having had a dalliance with the extremely minimalistic Tesla 3 over the past week (no, I didn’t buy one…… yet), I was intrigued to compare dashboards and instruments of cars from the earliest years of motoring with the latest electronic arrangements.
Some of the old cars were almost as minimalistic as the spartan eco-warrior from California. Others were less so.
The imposing and rather wonderful 1904 Mercedes/Simplex must take the top prize for infotainment. It possesses a veritable grand organ of a dashboard — Simplex it ain’t —with a daunting array of gauges containing various levels of liquid to demonstrate the wellbeing (or otherwise) of the motor as it is driven furiously towards Brighton. Add a few dials and knobs and you have a mighty entertaining drive. There is never a dull moment, I imagine.
View from the front pew
I learned the origin of the term steering column in the straight-up monolith of on early runabout, a column which appears to incorporate all the car’s controls in one easy-to-operate unit. Others seem to major on large bulb horns as the major visible control; possibly this is because these veterans could go but couldn’t stop very easily.
Where there’s brass there’s brass
They used to say that where there’s muck there’s brass (a northern English term meaning where there’s dirt there’s money). But with the veteran car lot, there isn’t much muck but definitely a lot of brass.
Brass controls and accessories were much in evidence and I was, as usual, impressed by the grandeur of the headlights. One car, the 1902 Westfield, was a veritable cyclops, sporting an enormous brass centre light, although popular prejudice even then ran to two headlights.
Dressing for the occasion
The cars at the Regent Street show are always a delight, but sometimes they are upstaged by their owners who spare no cost in adopting period gear for the occasion.
The Harrods Floats
This year at the Regent Street show there was unsurprisingly a large contingent of the latest electric cars, including the Teslas. But electric vehicles are nothing new; they were around in the earliest days of motoring and electric delivery vans were common in the first half of the last century. Harrods ran a fleet of silent servants out of their Knightsbridge HQ and I found some representatives on display.
…..and Surrey with a fringe on top
Sadly, yesterday’s run was marred by a fatal accident on the M23 motorway at Hooley, north of Brighton. A US-made 1903 Knox Runabout was in a collision with a large commercial vehicle. The 80-year-old driver was killed and his wife is said to have been seriously injured. It seems that the car got into the wrong lane and entered the motorway instead of sticking to the prescribed route along the old A23.
The driver of the vehicle has been confirmed as Canadian millionaire Ron Carey who owns a £3.8m collection of vintage cars. His wife Billi, who was airlifted to hospital, is said to be recovering and is not in danger. She is president of the Canadian Rolls Royce Silver Ghost association.