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Veteran Car Run 2021

Veteran Car Run 2021

What could possibly persuade you to get up before dawn, to find yourself at Hyde Park Corner on a November Sunday morning? The veteran cars arriving through Kensington Streets on Friday and Saturday and the high tech trailers through the night gathering once again in Hyde Park raise the interest levels. The Imperial College garage doors in Prince Consort Road have been open a lot more recently showing off their own prize vehicle.

It is of course the London to Brighton run for the very earliest of these amazing models which have arrived from all over the world to join the journey.

I usually go along with our photographer, Paul Shelley, and while he takes dozens of photographs, I take the notes and look for the stories. There are always plenty of them and a palpable air of excitement around the drivers, owners and passengers. I couldn’t join him this year so he went it alone and took on the job of note taking as well as photographs. Not an easy task at all. He took, he told me, about 150 photos and selected 8. I don’t know how he could do that!

I do hope you enjoy reading Paul’s piece and perhaps even think about coming out for the start next year? It’s an exciting experience and I think he gives us a wonderful taste of it.

Sue Price

If you are a Friend of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, what better way to start the first Sunday of November than witness living history? Your chairman, Sue Price, and I have enjoyed the start of the London to Brighton veteran car run several times now and the spectacle never ceases to enthral. The antique treasures of the road are perfectly matched by the autumn tints and the rising of dawn over the Serpentine. And this was a timely reminder of how innovative motoring technology was at the end of the 19th century with hints of what was to come in the future.

This year was special because it is the 125th centenary of the event. It was first run to commemorate the repeal of the red flag law requiring a bearer to walk in front of the cars, thus restricting their speed to no more than five miles per hour. Perhaps that now seems positively fast on the central London streets. Coinciding with this anniversary was a timely reminder of the looming concerns of climate change. The clouds of exhaust fumes from some of the cars demonstrated how far we have come over the last century.

The start is always at sunrise and this year I arrived early in order to photograph the dispatch of the bicyclists on their penny farthings aiming to get to Madeira Drive in Brighton before nightfall. Andrew Millward looked apprehensive standing by his 1901 cycle. The bikes giving a foretaste of what a vital part they play as a component of London transport today.

This spectacle is immediately followed by the ceremonial tearing of a red flag, performed this year by Andy Green OBE, the fastest man on earth and Ben Cussons, Chairman of the RAC.

As daylight started to fill the sky the first car off was a steam powered Salvesen, complete with firebox, boiler and chimney stack, perhaps more a locomotive than a car. The glow of burning coals below the rear seats served as a reminder that coal power has had its day.

But what of petrol? This was answered by the splendid site of a 1902 electric Columbia. A century ahead of its time, it now incorporates upgraded modern batteries giving it a range of over 100 miles. The Columbia was piloted by charming Vanessa Tjega who admitted to being a little nervous.

The cars trundled out of the park gates on their way to the south coast with shouts of good luck from well wishers. Clattering gears and chains, thumping pistons at different beats and squawking bulb horns filled the air as they set off. They leave in ‘time controlled’ batches giving the spectators a chance to take in the beauty of their cars and their mechanics. I enjoyed a chat with the Imperial crew sitting at the ready in the college 1902 James and Brown. From left to right Ben Stevens, Andrew Beggs (sporting an impressive handlebar moustache) and Daniel Bella.

You will always have the opportunity to chat to the drivers and their companions and it’s such fun to hear some of the stories. I met Rosie and Ella Matchan on their 1904 Phoenix Trimo. It was Ella’s first time on the trip and I wished them luck as she gave an optimistic thumbs up from her seat in the front basket.

By this stage the sun was shining over the water as we waved off the Lightfoot family in their De Dion Bouton which they purchased in 1981. Tracey Lightfoot explained the design advances in their car, including a four cylinder engine and a four speed gearbox.

As a foretaste of Christmas, Santa Claus was there with a sack of toys on the passenger seat. He explained to me that he had given the reindeer the day off, but his bow fronted Oldsmobile was a close resemblance to a sleigh.

Sadly, a handful of the cars were still sitting in the paddock, unable to start. The drivers looked downcast. One of them said to his companion it was running like a sewing machine yesterday. His co-driver pointed out that perhaps it didn’t like the cold morning. But as I walked away, I heard cheers and looked round to see them spluttering into life and setting off for Brighton.

What a magnificent display. such engineering and design innovation. And it’s a free show. I look forward to seeing you there next year on the first Sunday in November!
Paul Shelley

Paul Shelley

Accredited Photographer
Friends Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens

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