London To Brighton Veteran Car Run: It's a family affair

London To Brighton Veteran Car Run: It's a family affair

Not many entrants on the Veteran Car Run have been in the same family ownership since new – this one has…

With histories stretching back to the dawn of motoring, every single one of the pioneering cars participating in the RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run (Sunday 6 November) has its own remarkable story to tell – few, however, can claim to have been in same family ownership from new.
It was 119 years ago in 1903 that ‘Tramway King’ Sir George White, a Bristol-based businessman, stockbroker and later the founder of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, splashed out £750 on a sparkling new  Panhard-Levassor as a generous 21st birthday present for his son Stanley White. And the French car remains in the White family to this very day with Stanley’s grandson – also Sir George White – gearing up to drive the loyal Panhard on this year’s Run. His son Philip is also a keen enthusiast in his own right.
Far from being handed the keys on his 21st birthday, Stanley was dispatched to Paris to collect the 2.4-litre four-cylinder ‘Centaure’ engined machine which came with a four-seater tonneau body by Labourdette. Capable of 40mph and with its enthusiastic new owner behind the wheel the return journey, though, was far from a hardship.

When purchased the Panhard was painted white with subtle red detailing (photo top below form 1903 with Stanley at the helm in Newquay), but this was changed to the family’s dark green and black livery and, with the introduction of number platers, it was registered AE 10. “That was the last time it was painted – 1904,” smiles Sir George who inherited the car in its authentic condition on his grandfather’s death in 1964.

Stanley’s other improvements included a plate glass windscreen and a hood. Being a lover of speed, he also commissioned an interchangeable lightweight racing body. 

Having been semi-retired to White’s holiday home near Chard in Somerset where it became transport for fishing trips to the River Yarty, AE 10 was first entered into the Veteran Car Run during the fifties when Sir Alec Croydon, head of BAC’s Engine Division, was allowed to enter it into selected events.

The current Sir George believes this will be the Panhard’s 20th London to Brighton, the first nine under Sir Alec’s stewardship and the most recent 10 under his own ownership ­– most without too many issues, a fact he believes to be a mixed blessing.

“Somebody said to me once, that the fun of the Run is that you know you’re going to break down, but you don’t know where or when! I think that’s true,” he admits. “The extraordinary thing about the Panhard is that if we prepare it properly, and if everything goes as you hope it’s going to go, you just drive to Brighton. It’s actually really rather disappointing if you haven’t had a real battle to get there!”

On current form, AE 10 should sail into Brighton but, whatever happens, Sir George will relish the opportunity to back aboard the very car his great grandfather received on his 21st birthday all those years ago.

“It is ridiculously exciting, because it shouldn’t be, should it?” he says with a laugh. “You’re pottering along in a silly old car, but there’s a tremendous sense of achievement! There really is something quite wonderful about meeting in Hyde Park at dawn. I remember one year, there was a low mist over the whole of the park and over the water. Standing in the semi-darkness with the mist everywhere, I remember a car that appeared with candles in its headlights. It was quite, quite extraordinary.

“Then leaving Hyde Park is wonderful. There’s a tremendous sense of exhilaration and a fantastic sense of satisfaction if you do get to Brighton and that terrible feeling of, oh no, we’ve got to wait a whole year before we can do this all again…”

The full lifetime story of AE 10 is one of the many features to be found in the official RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run programme priced at £5 and available either from vendors along the route or via the website. 

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