Charles White tells us all about his day on the 2021 run!
“The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run 2021 began in 1896 and 2021, is the 125th Anniversary of that first run. My own experience runs a rather shorter time span and came about through my membership of the Beaulieu 100 group. I joined Beaulieu 100 in 2018 after 20 years of Beaulieu Friends membership and at the Annual Dinner of that year, which takes place in the museum with the tables occupying the floor around the cars; I was fascinated by the annual auction whose winner secured a seat in a NMM Trust car for the Annual London to Brighton Run. At the 2019 annual dinner; I was determined to win that auction. There was only one other serious bidder and fortunately he hit his ‘ceiling’ before me. I won the seat for the 2020 run and had but a year to wait before the dream ride was realised – or so I thought. Well, we all know what happened in early 2020 and inevitably the Run was cancelled. Groan; another year to wait.
Shortly before the November 7th Sunday date for the 2021 run, Beaulieu confirmed my DoubleTree by Hilton hotel booking in the Bayswater Road, adjacent to Hyde Park where the Run traditionally commences. I made my own plans to travel to London and for the return trip home from Brighton to Southampton where I live.
I left home at 9AM on Saturday and so began 32 hours of almost non-stop action. My son, Martin, dropped me at Southampton Central station to catch the 10 AM train to Waterloo. It was 20 minutes late, of course, due to Engineering Works at Redbridge although on Saturday, time was not of the essence. The Regent Street Motor Show is a precursor to the Brighton Run and the opportunity to visit was too good to miss. So, London tube Bakerloo line to Piccadilly Circus and I emerged at the entrance to Regent Street for a Hot Dog lunch.
Closed to traffic for the day, the free Motor Show stretches the length of Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and there is much to see.
I have a number of medical issues that make walking a little difficult these days [no problems when seated in or driving cars] However, taking a couple of hours to walk the motor show road with plenty of rest periods allowed me to make the trek in reasonable comfort. Displays of classic cars such as Aston Martin, Ferrari and Jaguar and more modern BMW and Kia electric car variants; a full-on simulator with a drive around Silverstone by Lewis Hamilton; a classic Land Rover and more modern Defender featured in the Movie, ‘No Time to Die’ complete with James Bond look-alike; an hourly musical dance show by ‘West End Kids’ and of course a display of a large number of the veteran cars running in the next day’s run to Brighton. Weary by now, I took the Central Line from Oxford Circus to Queensway and the 200 yard walk to my hotel for the night. After a pleasant meal in the hotel’s restaurant it was early to bed after setting the alarm for a 5AM wake-up.
I was in the lobby at 6 AM to greet Doug Hill and Stan, Beaulieu engineers and drivers and for my first sight of the 1903 22 HP Daimler parked outside that was to be our transport to Brighton. I was also introduced to Nikki, my travelling companion, who was taking the second passenger seat in the Daimler. Stan explained some of the intricacies of driving this veteran vehicle; including the centre mounted accelerator and right placed brake pedal…
Soon we were on our way to Serpentine Road in Hyde Park where we parked in Section 8. The sections are meant to separate the cars into some kind of order before the start with the oldest cars given the lowest numbers and starting first.
Our start time for the run was set at 07.38 and so there was plenty of time to admire our fellow contestants and soak up the atmosphere. We arrived at Hyde Park in the dark of the early morning, but dawn was breaking as the start time of 07.06 for the first car was reached. Soon, it was our turn to join the small start line queue and we were away at 07.40. With Stan at the wheel, it was down Constitution Hill, through Pall Mall and past Trafalgar Square; already many spectators were up and about to wave us on our way. Soon the routes split into two to alleviate traffic in London and our route led us over Lambeth Bridge, Balham and Mitcham to Croydon where the routes converged once more.
My friends David and Frances Ackland live close to the route at Coulsdon and were waiting outside the ‘Full Monty’ café. Frances said, ‘We waited nearly 1.5 hours for you with the smell of frying bacon drifting by from the Full Monte café’. As we approached, Frances broke into a frantic arm-waving dance and we exchanged waves and mouthed greetings. David meantime snapped the Daimler’s approach and the picture were soon posted on social media.
Initially, our Daimler was flying and we passed many other slower participants including two brightly coloured Penny Farthing Cycles whom had set out prior to the cars. However, as we approached the half-way stop at Crawley, the Daimler’s engine began overheating and lost much of its power. We signed in at the Crawley paddock area but continued on the journey as Doug explained that Beaulieu cars normally stopped at Pease Pottage Service Area, a few miles down the road, where there was less crowding and a NMMT service vehicle and engineer were waiting.
Soon the water was topped up – after a suitable cooling period – and after removing the engine cover, several Beaulieu engineers including Doug and Stan set about the engine. We made use of toilets and a welcome cup of coffee and I tucked into the breakfast box provided by the hotel in lieu of breakfast. We were delayed about an hour; although the Daimler was running better, there was still an issue present to affect performance. Fortunately, the engine was pronounced good enough to continue the journey with Doug at the wheel for the final stint.
It was a little cold for our departure from Hyde Park at 7.40 AM; but it soon warmed up and fears of typical November cold and wet were soon swept away as the early morning greyness gave way to sunny spells far milder than expected. The journey was an exhilarating experience and to be part of it is on enormous privilege. The route was packed with spectators for almost its entire length. Chairs were placed outside front gates and residents settled down for the pure joy of watching the veteran cars roll by. Cars were parked on almost every inch of the grass verges and in every pub and car park along the way as it seemed half the country was determined to enjoy the occasion. We saw hundreds of classic cars from the 1930s to the ‘90s and it was clear that many classic motoring clubs were enjoying a day out with modern classics and supercars too as their owners came to salute the occasion.
Maybe it was the effect of nearly two years of lockdown and cancelled events; or the 125 year anniversary of the run or the first run for two years that inspired the festival and carnival spirit that prevailed. Everywhere you looked there were huge smiles and so many people waved as we passed by to which we gave an answering wave. One developed different kinds of waves from the slow regal wave to the faster more enthusiastic wave to small children – who might have been wondering what the fuss was all about… Nikki and I were like a couple of kids in the proverbial sweetshop; excitedly savouring every moment as the miles rolled by.
The Daimler was running fairly well now, although it has a leather clutch which becomes dry after a period of running. The result of a dry clutch is a severe jolt as the clutch is re-engaged and the answer is lubrication with an oil can which either Doug or Stan administered depending on who was not driving at the time. All too soon the Daimler swept through Brighton and into Madeira drive which is the official finishing post. As we parked in the allocated paddock my mind flew back to September of this year when I had competed in the Brighton Speed Trials in my BMW from the very same paddock at a ‘slightly’ faster speed. There can’t be too many people who have competed in the Speed Trials and participated in the Veteran Run in the same year.
All participants in the Veteran Run are given a stew, hot drink and hot toddy and Doug shared his champagne with me, fresh from the Royal Automobile Club’s stand.
Nikki and her husband, Tig, who had followed the rally down from London in his Volvo, ferried me to Brighton station for my train journey home. I have known Tig and Nikki for just a few short hours but found them kindred souls in a shared passion for things automotive and are grateful for their help at the day’s end.
The final train journey was as mundane as could be expected and Martin was waiting at Southampton Central station. I arrived home around 5 PM just 32 hours after my departure and what a 32 hours it had been…