World’s longest running motoring celebration gets underway at sunrise on Sunday, 6th November
As dawn breaks on Sunday, 6th November, London’s Hyde Park will be full of the sights, sounds and smells of the past.
From 6am, more than 350 remarkable veteran cars, their drivers and their passengers – many in period costume – will be lining up to potter their way to Brighton as the annual RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run gets underway.
And just after 7am – following the symbolic pre-dawn tearing up of the red flag – the cars will set off on the hallowed 60-mile journey to the Sussex coast. At sunrise three- and four-wheelers, mostly petrol-driven but including a few powered by steam plus several very early electric vehicles will all head south through Wellington Arch – and every single one built before 1905.
Some of the makes represented, such as Ford, Renault, Peugeot and Mercedes, will be familiar to today’s motorists. But there are plenty of long forgotten marques there, too: Mors, De Dion Bouton, Covert, Alldays and Gladiator to name but a few. The vast majority are completely open to the autumnal elements providing participants with an accurate insight into the hardships experienced by those spirited early motorists.
The oldest car lining up in Hyde Park will be a plucky Peugeot dating back to around 1892 entered by The National Automobile Museum in Turin, Italy. Others are travelling from as far away as America, Hong Kong and Australia to be part of this illustrious, world famous occasion.
The Run is a magical celebration of the dawn of the motoring era and hundreds of thousands regularly line the route to cheer on the intrepid crews as they recreate history, celebrating the day when motorised vehicles were given the freedom of the open road after centuries of mainly horse-drawn transport.
This year those lining the roadside will be able to spot stars such as land speed record holder Andy Green OBE, TV personality Alan Titchmarsh MBE, classic car guru Paul Cowland aboard Hagerty's 1903 Knox and former F1 driver Max Chilton who will be taking the tiller of Harrods’ battery propelled 1902 Pope Waverley. One much-loved four-wheeled star is Genevieve, the 1904 Darracq that was the eponymous lead in the 1953 film comedy movie about the Run.
Other notable entries include the three fearsome Napier racing cars which are being reunited from across Europe to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Selwyn Francis Edge’s milestone victory in the illustrious 1902 Gordon Bennett Cup. Edge’s famous feat in a Napier was not only the Britain’s first major international motorsport success but also the origin of British Racing Green.
Adding to the spectacle, a number of veteran cycles and motorcycles are also now invited to join the Run. The former often includes eye-catching penny farthings while the latter this year features the legendary 1903 Dreadnought, hailed as the first motorbike built for competition.
From Hyde Park, the traditional starting point since 1936, the hordes of veterans head down Constitution Hill, passing Buckingham Palace and onto The Mall, before making their way under Admiralty Arch and into Trafalgar Square. They then turn right onto Whitehall, skirting The Cenotaph towards Westminster Square.
Once there, the veterans pass Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament – where 126 years ago the Locomotives on the Highway Act was passed. This raised the speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4mph to 14mph and abolished the need for the vehicles to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.
The issuing of the Act was celebrated by the first ‘Emancipation Run’ when 30 cars travelled from London to Brighton. It was held on 14th November 1896, the very day the Act came into operation.
Then, to alleviate congestion and give participants a more pleasurable drive out of the city, the route splits into two with half the field crossing Westminster Bridge and taking the traditional A23 route via Kennington, Brixton and Streatham. The other half crossing the river Thames via the neighbouring Lambeth Bridge and then following the A3, A24, A217 and A236 over Clapham Common and on through Tooting and Mitcham.
The two routes merge once again on the A236 north of Croydon with all cars reunited as they head south through Surrey and towards Crawley for the official halfway halt, now based at The Hawth Theatre.
Although there’s no public access to the CARS supported Pit Stop at The Hawth, there will be ample opportunity for spectators in Crawley to get close to the veterans along the town’s Boulevard.
Once refreshed and refettled, the crews and cars will then head over the scenic – yet demanding – South Downs towards the finishing line on Brighton’s Madeira Drive. The first to arrive are expected from shortly after 10.00am while, to be sure of a coveted finishers’ medal – plus a hard-earned hot toddy courtesy of Aberfeldy single malt whisky – participants need to make it to the seafront before the 4.30pm curfew.
There are no special prizes for those reaching Brighton first as the Run is not a race. However, to add a competitive element there is a Regularity Time Trial running between Croydon and Redhill. Supported by the event’s official timing partner, A. Lange & Söhne, this requires drivers to get as close to a chosen average speed as possible.
Aside from the paddocks at Hyde Park and Madeira Drive, the organisers have suggested the following locations as popular viewing points:
6:45am Ceremonial Tearing of Red Flag, Hyde Park, London
7:02am The Start, Hyde Park, London
7:02am – 8:25am Constitution Hill, London
7:02am – 8:25am The Mall, London
7:10am – 8:30am Whitehall, London
7:10am – 8:30am Westminster Bridge, London
7:10am – 8:30am Lambeth Palace, London
7:20am – 8:20am Clapham Common, London
7:25am – 9:50am Mitcham, London
7:35am – 11:05am Coulsdon High Street, London
7:40am – 11:05am Merstham, Surrey
7:55am – 11:35am Redhill, Surrey
8:25am – 2:00pm The Boulevard, Crawley
8:25am – 2:10pm Handcross High Street, Sussex
8:30am – 2:25pm Staplefield village, Sussex
8:50am – 2:35pm Cuckfield High Street, Sussex
10:02pm – 4:30pm Brighton, Sussex
“There is nothing to rival the 126-year history and unique character of the RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run – it is an extraordinary and uniquely evocative showcase celebrating the dawn of motoring,” enthused Ben Cussons, Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club (photo top below tearing red flag with Andy Green in 2021), the organisation which has curated what is the world’s longest motoring event since 1930.
“Being part of this wonderful cavalcade driving en masse from the capital to the coast is an incredibly special privilege. If you encounter these veterans on the road, though, please treat them with respect and remember that they do not have the same dynamic abilities as a modern car,” reminded Cussons who will be driving a 1901 Mors (reg RAC 1) entered by the Royal Automobile Club.
“The heritage, the fun, the eccentricity and the sheer camaraderie that surrounds the Run, makes it a unique institution with which we are delighted to be associated,” said Peter Wallman, Chairman, UK and EMEA, RM Sotheby’s.
The Run is just one element of the Royal Automobile Club’s London Motor Week – a seven-day celebration of motoring, which includes an art exhibition, motoring lectures, a motoring forum and a motoring book awards evening.
Two other highlights are the prestigious RM Sotheby’s London Sale auction and the free-to-view St James’s International Concours both taking place right in the heart of regal Westminster on Saturday 5th November, the eve of the Run. The former is set in the grounds of Marlborough House and the latter close-by right outside St James’s Palace on Marlborough Road which links Pall Mall to The Mall.