A crowd of more than 50 people gathered by a road junction outside St Andrew’s Church on Southbridge Road over the course of Sunday morning, lured by the prospect of hot sausage rolls and the chance to view some historic vehicles close to hand.
The community gathering – promoted by Inside Croydon – was attended by councillors and council candidates, as well as neighbours young and old, some getting together for the first time since last year’s lockdowns, as hundreds of old cars pootled through the neighbourhood in the 125th anniversary London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
There taking the pictures was LEE TOWNSEND
Nearly 300 pioneering veteran cars had set off from Hyde Park at daybreak on an unseasonably mild November morning for the RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
It’s now 125 years since the original Emancipation Run, which was held in 1896 to celebrate the recently passed Locomotives on Highways Act. This raised the speed limit for “light locomotives” from 4mph to 14mph and abolished the need for a man to walk ahead waving a red flag.
Many of the vehicles on display were made when Victoria was still Empress Queen, so it perhaps was not such a surprise that a couple of the pre-1905 vehicles had to pull over on Southbridge Road to carry out some running repairs.
The oldest vehicles had started the run first, phutting and hissing their way through Wellington Arch, down Constitution Hill, past Buckingham Palace, Admiralty Arch and Whitehall into Parliament Square.
Here the 60-mile route split into two, in an effort by the organisers to alleviate traffic congestion in south London.
Half of the plucky participants followed the traditional A23 route past Big Ben and over Westminster Bridge via Kennington, Brixton and Streatham Common; the other half journeyed via Lambeth Bridge and then through Vauxhall, Clapham Common and Tooting.
The routes merged on the A236 just outside Croydon, the cavalcade reunited as it headed towards the challenges of the climbs up to the South Downs and on to the seafront in Brighton in what is the world’s longest-running motoring event.
There were a couple of non-motorised participants, too, intrepid cyclists in costume pedalling their way on penny-farthing bicycles from the era, heading for Madeira Drive on the south coast.
Not every driver or navigator was clear on the route to take, it is fair to say.
At least one of the old cars was seen circling around the three-lane roundabout under the Croydon Flyover after they missed their exit. Others shouted out for directions from the crowd.
And the modern convention of waiting for pedestrians to cross at a zebra crossing was not always popular with some of the drivers of the old cars, as their breaks squealed into action on Southbridge Road: getting these old cars started again once stopped is not always straightforward. Fortunately, there were no collisions…
It was not only the infernal combustion engine on display. Among the starters was the Salvesen Steam Car – basically, a steam locomotive running on the road complete with stoker shovelling coal into the boiler’s fiery furnace plus an evocative choo-choo steam whistle.
There were also a number of primitive motorised tricycles complete with riders and passengers sporting period costumes.
Some among the crowd remembered how they had been brought out on frosty Sunday mornings in the past to see the parade of “old bangers” by their grandparents.
Others remarked how they had not been able to attend a gathering such as this for nearly two years, since the first of the covid-19 lockdowns at the start of 2020. There really was a feel-good, community spirit about the day.
There followed a staggering variety of antique machinery dating back to the era of innovative and experimental vehicles – some fitted with steering wheels, others with naval inspired tillers and helms, some powered by petrol engines, others propelled by steam and electric batteries.
The drivers and passengers were well wrapped up against the expected November chill, as few of the vehicles had protective roofs or windscreens, never mind on-board heaters or radios.
The diversity of their powertrains illustrated the embryonic industry’s innovative spirit as different sources of propulsion vied to preside over the next century of the car’s development.
A similar dilemma faces the world more than a century later.
This year’s entry included cars from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland as well as 10 from the United States.
In total, 87 different marques, ranging from Albion and Alldays to Winton and Wolseley, were represented on this year’s entry – some, like Cadillac, Renault, Vauxhall and Mercedes, still well-known today, but the vast majority lost to history.
According to the organisers, “the vast majority of the 286 starters completed the journey to Brighton well before the 4.30pm deadline to claim a coveted finishers’ medal”.
The first car to reach the Sussex seafront was the 1902 Mors driven by Clive Evison – the French four-cylinder machine completing the journey from capital to coast in just under three hours.
Another of the notable finishers was the ever-popular Genevieve – the 1904 Darracq from the 1950s British comedy film starring Kenneth More, Kay Kendall, John Gregson and Dinah Sheridan, and featuring the evocative harmonica soundtrack of Larry Adler.
While the Run is famously not a race, the A Lange & Söhne Regularity Time Trial provided a competitive element with participants attempting to keep to a strict pre-selected average speed for the stretch between Croydon and Redhill.
The winner was Austrian entrant Andreas Melkus driving an 1902 Curved-dash Oldsmobile runaround who covered the 10.7-mile section in 35 minutes 45 seconds, just five seconds over his target time.
“The RM Sotheby’s Veteran Car Run embodies the true spirit of motoring and it is always rewarding to see that the passion and enthusiasm for these pioneer motor cars is as strong as ever,” said Ben Cussons, the chairman of the Royal Automobile Club, who have been overseeing the event since 1930.
“The glorious weather has been really kind this year, which makes a big difference for these types of extraordinary vehicles, and I have seen lots of happy smiling faces amongst our participants, many saying this has been their best-ever Run.
“I would, once again, like to thank all the people that have come together to make this 125th-anniversary event so special.
“Thanks must go first to all those who keep these amazing cars going and then to all the marshals and volunteers who made it such a real pleasure to drive from London to Brighton.
“My final thank you is to the astonishing numbers of spectators who, as ever, have lined the route from start to finish, offering fabulous support and encouragement to all of us following in the wheel-tracks of those incredible pioneers who first set out to Brighton 125 years ago.”
Full details of the 2021 RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run are available on the event website at www.veterancarrun.com.
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