Home Events Veteran Cars: Where there’s brass there’s even more brass

Veteran Cars: Where there’s brass there’s even more brass

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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.

Drying and polishing
Drying and polishing the 1904 Humberette
More polishing and a bag for the lamp
More polishing and a bag for the lamp

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.

Despite the on-off rain, the crowds were out in force
Despite the on-off rain, the crowds were out in force. Here one spectator gives the 1904 Mercedes 45hp a close inspection

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.

Route 66

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.

A hardy couple all the way from Louisiana, although the garage their Oldsmobile with friends in Somerset
A hardy couple all the way from Louisiana, although they garage their Oldsmobile with obliging friends here in Somerset
Another American visitor, this one from Montana
Another American visitor, this one from Montana
A Swiss contingent, from Lucerne. I learned a new word. What, I asked, is the German for pennyfarthing. It's a Hochrad or "high bicycle".
A Swiss contingent, from Lucerne. I learned a new word. What, I asked, is the German for pennyfarthing. It’s a Hochrad or “tall wheel”.
Separatist inclinations - a veteran from Barcelona flying the Catalan flag
Separatist inclinations – a veteran from Barcelona flying the Catalan flag

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.

Pure minimalism. Not a button or knob in sight inside this Tesla Model 3.
Pure minimalism. Not a button or knob in sight inside this Tesla Model 3. Now read on.
Mercedes Organ: Try keeping an eye on this lot
Mercedes Maximal Organ: Try keeping an eye on this lot

Some of the old cars were almost as minimalistic as the spartan eco-warrior from California. Others were less so.

1904 Mercedes/Simplex owned by Dr. Ulrich Knapp of Ludwigsburg. Check out the dashboard in the picture above

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

Pumps on the dash
Pumps on the dash
Elegant simplicity and a brass horn to hand
Elegant simplicity and a brass horn to hand
More organ controls, all on one screen, just like Tesla
More organ controls, all on one screen, just like Tesla
How do you learn how to drive one of these things?
How do you learn how to drive one of these things?
Tiller, no steering wheel but an enormous horn
Tiller, no steering wheel but an enormous horn
Now here’s a good idea. One column for everything, steering, controls, the lot. Elon Musk would understand
Brass steering column, faraway knobs
Brass steering column, faraway knobs
Elegant symmetry
Elegant symmetry and another tuneful little organ to play
The basics. Just like Tesla.
The basics. I can see this would have been Elon Musk’s choice

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.

Numero Uno, an 1894 Benz runabout

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.

Bit of muck here, but probably plenty of brass under the bonnet. In a way, this “everyday user” car speaks more for the social use of the car in the period than the rest of the pampered and burnished parade of cars at the show. This is probably how it looked after a few years’ use and when it was still a good daily runner

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.

René Mächler’s 1903 Martini with a twist

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.

One of the earliest Harrods floats, although I suspect this one is petrol engined
One of the earliest Harrods floats, although I suspect this one is petrol engined
Battery pack from 100 years ago.
Battery pack from 100 years ago.
Pride in ownership and creating a good impression for Harrods of Knightsbridge
Pride in ownership and creating a good impression for Harrods of Knightsbridge. See the duster (and below)
Cockpit for the electric conductor
Cockpit for the electric conductor. The duster in the side window is wielded by the man himself, keen to keep up appearances
Domestic touch with brass switched. Now what could that brass plug be for?
Domestic touch with brass switches. Now what could that brass plug be for?

Fire, fire

Wicker baskets

Wicker baskets about, just like Leica’s camera bags of 2020
Wicker baskets about on this 1904 Rambler, just like Leica’s camera bags of 2020. Note the Christmas decorations already festooning Regent Street. They get earlier every year
Wicker umbrella case — and a stiff whisky to keep the memsahib happy
Wicker umbrella case — and a stiff whisky to keep the memsahib happy
Wicker hamper for convenient roadside picnics
Wicker hamper for convenient roadside picnics

…..and Surrey with a fringe on top

Surrey with a fringe on top
1904 US-made twin-cylinder Columbia, the Surrey with a fringe on top

Last drippings

Old cars, like old people, sometimes have their problems

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.

More on veteran cars on Macfilos

27 COMMENTS

  1. “Their 1903 Knox Runabout Old Porcupine – a tiny, open-cabin vehicle with a single-cylinder engine and max speed of 35mph – collided with an HGV near Junction 7 on the southbound M23, outside Hooley, Surrey..” said the Guardian ..they must have taken a wrong turn, as they shouldn’t have been anywhere near the motorway. The first and only mortality in all these years?

    These cars, though, look splendid.

    I was invited on the (similar) Vintage, or Veteran (can’t remember which) ‘Commercial’ run many years ago – for ancient buses, vans, lorries, etc. We only just scraped under a bridge (we were in an old double-decker bus) and almost had to let down the tyres (tires). Somewhere I have a (silent) film of the journey ..in black-&-white 16mm, not the glorious colour (and sound) of “Genevieve”.

    (What a rotter Kenneth More played ..constantly cheating! ..End yes, one did speak lake thet sixty yars ago ..heve you noticed hie the queen’s pronunciation hes changed over the years? ..Now she speaks rather more lake Herry – sorry; like Harry – then beck in 1953. That’s what the world does ..it changes..)

    • David. When you mentioned the accident, which I had written about, I realised something had gone wrong. What you currently see in the site is a draft article. For some reason the final has been lost or overwritten. I am investigating.

      • Mike: your later version which did include a mention of the traffic accident WAS here earlier this morning, and my comment, with the Guardian’s commentary, was just a bit of amplification of what you’re written.

        But your ORIGINAL, lengthier, article now seems to have disappeared, and has been replaced by the present truncated version.

        So it WAS there ..but now it’s been replaced by your ‘draft’. Odd!

        • Now that’s strange. I scheduled the article for 1 pm and about 10am, while on the bus going to Leica to have a sensor cleaned, I notice the article came up on the RSS feed. I checked it and realised it had posted earlier and that it was the draft. Don’t know how I’m going to sort this out. It all comes from the WordPress habit of leaving several tabs open in the browser. I must have saved an earlier version, but I really can’t understand how it was right to start with an then…..

          • Problem solved…. fortunately, the final version was sitting in as an open tab on Safari and I was able to save it to overwrite the draft. Everything is now up to date. Sorry about this, folks. Mike

  2. Excellent piece Mike, I am always forgetting this event, so your great pictures are a timely kick in the backside for me to be more aware.

    There is something very human about these old cars. The idea that many, if not most were designed and built by a single person and then if successful ported to a big shed where perhaps three people made them. The fact that parts were designed and manufactured on a human scale, which may have had the downside of resultant parts being larger than necessary, but also meant that such things could be achieved in a garden shed by an interested hobbyist.

    The massive downside of course being that only the wealthy could afford such things, unless such a man designed and built it for himself.

    Anyway, rather a long winded way of saying that I prefer the idea of a Model T Ford, or an Austin 7, easily afforded, easily maintained simple design, but on a human scale to modern far more slick designs like those of Mr. Musk (whose products do seem very deer).

    I am beginning to think that the connection between human hands and the things in the world that we build is perhaps more important than the manufactured thing itself.

    In other words, is the attraction for these old things, or indeed for old film based cameras, vinyl or shellac recordings, proper books etc., a recognition of their importance in the history of a given product, or perhaps a sad reflection on what is gradually being lost by ever more remote technology?

    • Apologies to all readers of this post but it was an unfinished draft which went live by mistake (or, at least, my mistake with the date). I had done a lot more work on the article, including adding details of the cars and of the dreadful accident on the M23.

      Unfortunately I am away from the office at the moment but when I return I will see if I can substitute the correct version or, at worst, redo all the amendments I made. Drat!

    • iPhones are built (assembled) by hand ..and most of the new products appearing on Indiegogo and Kickstarter (hi-capacity battery banks, new camera lenses, new cameras! ..belt holsters for several-lenses-at-a-time, miniature hi-capacity pumps and all the rest..) are all hand-assembled ..in China, of course.

      But “..their importance in the history of a given product..” (that’s to say old film based cameras or old cars) IS definitely worth knowing, understanding and preserving. It IS worth knowing – and preserving the knowledge of – the problems which, say, Mr Maitani had to overcome to create a fast-revolving and then fast-stopping shutter for the once-new Olympus PEN-F half-frame SLR.

      It IS worth knowing how sound recording evolved, from mechanical means – like a needle on wax, or a moving waveform photographed onto film or onto the glass discs of the old telephone speaking clock, to magnetism frozen onto dragged-past-a-static-coil paper- and then tape-recording – all the way to solid-state electronic recordings.

      I’m all for keeping – and using – old cameras ..generally for nostalgia’s sake, as film has been far surpassed by digital cameras.. so as to follow their family tree, and see how – and WHY – an innovation here, a new idea there, changed – or didn’t! – the course of camera manufacture.

      “..a sad reflection on what is gradually being lost..”..? ..No, I think it’s more like ‘what is gradually being incorporated in a different form’ into more modern devices.

      Look how the original Leica ‘accessory shoe’ evolved into the ‘hot shoe’ and then evolved into Canon’s – and others’ – ‘intelligent accessory shoe’. Look how the pioneering ‘automatic stop-down’ pin in, say, Pentax film cameras and lenses – to allow focus at maximum aperture, and then to automatically stop down the lens to your chosen aperture at the instant of taking the picture – look how that’s been incorporated into virtually every SLR lens since the fifties.

      I don’t think that old tech gets lost ..it just morphs into new tech. As Darwin might have said.

  3. I keep looking for Jack Lemmon Tony Curtis Peter Falk. What a lovely way to start my week. Those folks look as if they really belong to the car and the time period. Terrific thank you!

  4. I saw the tragic news about the accident last night after work, and must confess I thought it was an odd place to be. These things add a layer of sadness to what is usually a wonderful event.

    Your images Mike make it look like it was great fun, and do the Q2 proud.

    If you do think about buying a Tesla 3, I might have a couple of spare three point plugs just in case you need them. Personally I have ditched my diesel in favour of less polluting petrol for now, while I decide what hybrid/electric variation is my cup of tea for the future. I did consider a Toyota hybrid car, but baulked when I saw the servicing costs for replacing the battery pack.

    Anyway great article, just sad to hear the news of the accident. For those taking part it must of marred the day.

    Dave

    • Thanks, Dave. As you gathered, I have been looking at the Tesla Model 3, encouraged by all the enthusiastic reviews. At some stage, I will move from the current diesel to a hybrid or electric, but I will need some pressure to part with my Macan. I do have a few reservations about Tesla. One is the reputation for unreliability, although I believe this is largely a problem with older cars. There is also the problem of high repair costs which could mean high insurance premiums. Quality is also an issue and I couldn’t help noticing on the demo car in Regent Street that some of the trim is not up to the standards I expect. But perhaps the greatest reservation is that everything has to be done on the iPad screen. Adaptive cruise control, for instance, is something you need instant control over and I wouldn’t fancy having to stab the screen to change the settings. I do need to drive the car to get a better impression.

      If any readers have advice (or, perhaps, someone actually owns a Model 3) I would be interested to hear. If I do a test drive I might make a little feature and see if it draws out any comments.

      • Some of the hybrids are fairly decent, I actually like the Toyota variants and a friend of mine owns the hybrid variation of my car. However the replacement battery pack which occurs at a service interval is considerably more expensive than I was prepared to pay – in fact it totally wipes out the cost savings on petrol, tax etc etc over the life time of the car.

        Have to admit though, think I would be slow to replace a Macan if I owned one with a Tesla – sorry the Tesla store in Bluewater when I have nosed around it, just doesn’t cut it for me. Sorry Eion, I just don’t see the same vision as you do.

        I suspect when I next change my car, the self charging electric/petrol(something else) hybrid will exist without the need to plug in to the mains – and then I will cross the great divide.

  5. Lovely series of images, Mike, including excellent people, car detail and whole car shots! Reading your article was like a trip to the big city for a country bumpkin like myself!
    As I told you when we met, my Grandmother told of being driven around by her father in the early days of motoring (1904) and having to stop regularly to adjust the acetylene gas lamps on the front. These worked by dripping water from a reservoir onto solid Calcium Carbide to produce a fitful and flickering light. The steady and even rate of water flow was the tricky part.
    I think mending punctures and adjusting air/fuel mixtures in to the carburettor were also part of her upbringing as a young lady.Those were the days!
    Thanks for an enjoyable read.

    • Thanks, David. Yes, I remember you telling me about all that. It crossed my mind when thinking about braking and that awful accident that these old cars are very difficult to stop. Your grandfather Herbert Frood eventually got to grips (no pun intended) with that problem with his Ferodo brake linings.

      Owners of expensive pre-WWI cars were obviously refined and used real water to drip on to their acetylene. I know (not from personal experience but from having spoken to people who did have that experience), that less-refined motorcyclists were wont to pee on their acetylene. After all, it wasn’t easy to find water and light was very important.

      • Reminds me of a story my Father-in-Law used to tell of when he was in the North African desert in WW2. He was with a few comrades isolated in the desert to monitor enemy signals etc and water was very short for all purposes. The battery of their truck had to be topped up with wee in order to save fresh water for more important purposes.

    • Wonderful, I am sure you will enjoy reading it. I’m thinking of buying the Kindle edition so I can read it and then use the book for the pictures…. I hardly ever read real books these days. So heavy.

  6. There is something so appealing about the charm of the old vehicles that cars since the 80s are so missing. The people in their period clothing really add to the feel of the event. It is nice that people get so interested in carrying on the legacy of these vehicles instead of letting them rot. I wish I could have been there. You have captured the atmosphere of the event and I enjoyed all of the informative article. Thanks! Brian

    • Yes there is. It usually runs from Epsom to Brighton (or it did, I have lost touch). When I was in my early 20s I did the run on an early belt-drive single speed bike which a collector had allowed me to borrow, as I remember. At that time I was capable of push starting and jumping on every time I started. Now I think I’d need a clutch and gears!

      The motorcycle event is called the Pioneer Run and usually takes place in March.

  7. Hooley is local to me. Just past Starbucks the road splits in a shallow Y. To take the A23 a driver has to manoeuvre into the right, ‘fast’ lane which can be difficult at the best of times. The M23 starts on the left fork of the Y and the most natural thing to do is to follow the left side of the road which inevitably leads to the motorway. I can only sympathise with the couple.

    Two years ago the run was routed down Reigate Hill and one person died after, as I understand, the car’s brakes failed. The hill is bad enough for a modern car let alone a vintage one.

    The run passes the end of my street and I had to pass through a gap in the run, waved on by a traffic marshal, as the old cars came up the hill from Redhill. However the marshal, with his back to the traffic coming from the south, was directing us through a red traffic light into the path of the running traffic. Some serious questions need to be asked about the marshalling of the run.

    Lovely images Mike and apologies for ‘p ing’ on the party but I wanted to give some local background to the tragic accident.

    The end of my street is a favourite spot for photographing the run so if any readers want to stop for a coffee in between photographing the cars as they struggle up the hill, what we call here a P and T, just let me know!

    • Thanks for the insight, Kevin. I think I know that particular junction and I can see how a slow old vehicle could get stuck in the wrong and. That said, even a slow old vehicle should have been safe, even though it shouldn’t have been on the motorway. There is always the possibility a broken down car or, even, pedestrians from stopped cars. So all users should keep their eyes open.

      I’ve occasionally tried to photograph the route along the way, ideally with a zoom to get the close ups. While the Q2 was great for the static shots at Regent Street, it wouldn’t be my choice for moving shots en route. Perhaps in a future event I should come to the end of your road!

    • Thanks, Jean. I am warming to the Q2 after a few months of so-so relationship. Currently I find myself using the Q2 and M10-D almost exclusively. And, curiously, the M10-D is mostly wearing the 28mm Summaron. Although I have quite a number of 50mm lenses, I haven’t used them much in the past year.

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