For a moment there, it looked as though this staple of the English calendar might survive, but not even the iconic London to Brighton Veteran Car Run can withstand the chaos that is COVID-19. The 2020 event has been cancelled, but lovers of vintage vehicles and automobile charm can sleep safe in the belief that it will return in 2021. This is the world’s longest-running motoring event after all.
The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is no ordinary race, largely because it isn’t a race at all. This famous day of showing respect and admiration for the vehicles of yore began as a celebration, a way to rejoice at the passing of a law allowing cars to do what cars were invented to. The Locomotives on Highways Act was passed in 1896, putting an end to archaic speed limits (4mp/h) and unnecessary rules (all cars must be preceded by a pedestrian with a red flag). The UK’s first motoring club has established almost immediately, and the first edition of the event was held a year later. It was known as The Emancipation Run. Within a year, the run had grown to include 280 drivers and a five-course luncheon with all the trimmings.
The initial race was the brainchild of the man behind the motoring club, the imaginatively monikered Motor Car Club of Britain. That man was Henry Lawson (also known as Harry Lawson), a bicycle designer and motor industry pioneer from London who eventually moved to Coventry and attempted to monopolise Britain’s motor industry, acquiring foreign patents and a bevvy of companies along with them. It all collapsed in the early 20th century and his name became synonymous with fraud and shame, but the run that he helped established has long surpassed him.
Initially held exclusively in London, by 1900 the route was extended all the way south to Brighton. There was also an attempt to run to Oxford but the lure of the southern sea was too strong, and Brighton has become indelibly linked to the race since those early days of the 20th century. Each early year seemed to pass with a new flagship moment, but 1905 sticks in the mind more than most; this being the cut-off year for automobiles hoping to enter the run. Simply put, if your car was made after 1904, it is ineligible.
The run has been a fixture on the calendar since 1927, with the Hyde Park stating point established in 1930. The only thing to stand in its way - until COVID-19, of course - was World War II and petrol rationing, although these vintage vehicles were back on the roads by 1948, drawing crowds and generating cheer with every passing mile. Ol’ Lizzy herself (The Queen, if you were confused) got involved in 1971, entering a car but declining to take the wheel herself. Keep an eye out for HRH Daimler when the next run kicks off.
That will be in 2021, of course, as the lockdowns and global crisis brought on by the COVID-19 virus has forced the organisers to put the breaks on the event for this year. The decision was held off as long as possible in the hope that a miracle might occur (such things are always possible when vintage cars are around), but no such moment was forthcoming. Instead, all attention turns to 2021 and the 125th anniversary of this famous run, inked in for November 7 of that year.
Also thought to be the largest gathering of veteran cars in the world, the run sees a mass of ancient automobiles leave Hyde Park at sunrise, moving in a convoy of chuntering and charm across 54 miles to Brighton, stopping only in Crawley for a coffee. No car is allowed to go faster than 20mp/h, a somewhat ironic rule when you take into account the reason for the event’s beginnings but an important one. Besides, these are cars to be savoured and admired, not to see fly by in a flash.
Interested in taking part? Get your application in by the spring and you may just be able to follow in the footsteps of Stirling Moss, Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell and many more, including sort of but not really The Queen. Who hasn’t dreamt of driving 54miles at tortoise speed in a car older than the Titanic? It doesn’t get much more English than this darling Veteran Car Run.
Put our app in your pocket