‘It’s 5 am’ says the operator – ‘It’s your early morning call, Madam’.
5 am?! On a Sunday?!
But I’m taking part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run and it was my idea, so there’s no one else to blame. Breakfast is at 6, we have to leave the hotel at 6.45 and I’m going to be a passenger in a Beaulieu car. Wow!
Up to the roof car park and I see the 1904 de Dion. Gosh, it looked bigger in the museum and is being fussed over by two of the Beaulieu engineers along with the magnificent Daimler of Lord Montagu and the other de Dion to be driven by his brother Jonathan.
Excitement is taking over from fear – someone helps to tie my hat on – you must wrap up, layers are better – I will not dwell on how many layers or of what . . . and we set off.
Off, meaning leaving the car park. Now, leaving a car park in a modern car on the circuitous decent is one thing, leaving seated high up on the de Dion is another (fear takes over again) apart from the fog it is still dark, so the lamps have been lit – Don’t touch, they get hot I’m advised. Out into the road and other Brighton runners are being off loaded or wound up with starting handles so there is lots of popping and banging and pushing. Not much sleep in this part of London.
Hyde Park even at this time is crowded, keeping the stewards busy, and it is a dream of over 450 wonderful veteran cars from all parts of the globe.
Despite the heavy fog, the atmosphere is amazing and you can feel the excitement.
We leave in groups of 10 – I think, (the start is a bit vague – I’m still nervous). One of the cars in front breaks down immediately after passing the start line! There are other casualties in the park, but I’m told not to worry, it’s usually only minor problems and they will catch up. They do. Out on the main roads of London I’m amazed how many people are watching and, the amount of traffic about at this time in the morning that these cars have to negotiate.
We have special permission to travel along the Mall and on over Westminster Bridge and hopefully the famous picture with Big Ben, but the fog is still thick and you cannot see St Stephens Tower let alone Big Ben. I will have to do it again next year to get the picture!
On to the A23, as we don’t do motorways.
In Croydon there are masses of people on the pavements all waving and taking pictures, with people in cars hooting and waving. Even the red London bus drivers hoot and wave in admiration at these wonderful old vehicles and on to Coulsdon and Redhill. We have a bit of an oil problem so stop for a few minutes to sort it out – nothing serious. I’m in a Beaulieu car so feel quite safe.
All the way to Brighton there are many car clubs parked on the sides of the road having picnics, watching us go by, waving and taking pictures. Going through the Gatwick runway tunnel was quite something, with us popping and banging and planes overhead coming into land with the roar of their engines!
So it went on all the way to Brighton with crowds of people all calling out and wishing us luck – there was a real carnival atmosphere.
For a few hours you live in a false world away from the horrors of today even though the fog was still thick, and you could not really see properly – especially if the steam car was in front of you and someone was pumping water like mad to the top of the hill. At the top there was a wonderful sign WATER FOR STEAM CARS – where else would you see a sign like that?
And then we arrived in Brighton at 2.15 in brilliant sunshine and the parade along Madeira Drive. Sadly it was all over until next year! Oh yes there has to be a next year!
Yes, I know I was spoilt. Doug Hill and Ian Stanfield were wonderful drivers and it was an amazing experience.
Thank you Beaulieu!
Thank you Johanna for such a wonderful write up of your experience. We are all so pleased you enjoyed your day. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of the Beaulieu One Hundred members.