Sunday, 6 November 2011

Brighton or Bust

It’s been a good weekend for old car enthusiasts in the Capital. The annual London to Brighton run took place, as usual,  on the first Sunday in November. 

Commemorating the Emancipation Run of the 14th November1896 which, in turn, celebrated the Act of Parliament raising of the speed limit for “light locomotives” on the road from 4mph to 14mph. Commonly known as the Red Flag Act, the earlier law originally required vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot carrying the said flag. Although the need for the flag had been abolished in 1878, the walking pace speed limit remained. The jump to 14mph was seen as a great leap forward by the motorists of the late 19th century.

In 1896, thirty three motor enthusiasts set off to drive from Central London to Brighton. Although only fourteen of the vehicles made it to the final destination, it was a fine achievement considering the available technology and the state of the roads. It does however seem that there may have been some ungentlemanly behaviour on the day. There is a suggestion that an electric vehicle may have made most of the journey by train, Although it wasn’t a race, I suspect that there may have been a wager involved somewhere along the line.

The first official rerun of the 1896 event took place in 1927 and, with the exception of the war years and 1947 (due to petrol rationing), it has taken place every year since. Organised since 1930 by the Royal Automobile Club, the run started from Hyde Park at sunrise on Sunday morning. 

At this point I have to confess that I wasn’t there to see it. I’d like to say that it was due to circumstances beyond my control……..but I can’t. I will say no more! I have been to the start before and it is well worth making the effort. Next year I will try a little harder and, who knows, one day I may even make it down to Brighton to see them arrive at Madeira Drive.

Fortunately,  for the last few years, it has been possible to see a number of the cars in Central London on the preceding Saturday. Part of Regent St has been closed of to allow the cars, and their owners, to be displayed for the public to enjoy. There is also a Concours d’Elegance with prizes awarded for a variety of categories.

This year the event was extended with the introduction Regent St Motor Show. Featuring vehicles from three centuries, the19thC was represented by the earliest of the London to Brighton cars, the 20thC by the remainder of the veterans and the 21stC by a politically correct range of  fuel efficient and zero emission vehicles. The 20thC was further enhanced by the fact that this year is the 50th anniversary of both the Jaguar E Type and the Mini Cooper and there were some very fine examples if both of theses marques on display.

Not everyone will think that closing a large chunk of Regent St on a Saturday is a good idea., I think that we can easily live with it. This is a free event in the heart of the Capital and seemed to be enjoyed by everyone. You can get up close and personal with some very interesting and colourful vehicles, you can talk to the owners and, if you ask them nicely, you may even be able to sit in one and honk the horn!

Go and take a look next year. It may even inspire you to get up early to watch the cars leave Hyde Park or, perhaps,  to stake out a place along the route to offer your encouragement to the participants.

Did I mention that they still symbolically destroy a red flag before the first cars are waved off? It makes you proud to be British!


  1. Love the photos of the old Minis. And I didn't know that Mini is 50 this year. (My Mini just turned 7.)

  2. The Cooper is 50 this year but the original Mini first hit the streets two years earlier in 1959. With love and care yours may well make it to the big five oh. It's very unlikely that I'll be there to see it though LOL.

  3. I had fun looking at these cars. Last year even mamged to get a ride around the block in one.