On the first Sunday of November in London, England, there’s a bit of a rumble coming from Hyde Park right around sunrise. As you sip your morning coffee from the hotel balcony you notice one or two people decked out in leather coats, headgear, and goggles heading towards the low rumble. You find it a bit strange, but then again, you’ve never been to London before, maybe this is normal. A little while later, you’re on your way to Brighton via the A23 road to see the sights as part of your vacation and you notice an odd little antique vehicle with two people (again decked out in early 20th century apparel) crammed together on top. Then you see another antique car, and another, and another, and before you know it, there are nearly 500 of the sputtering contraptions all on the A23 on their way to Brighton.
Chugging along in South End, Croydon — Photo courtesy of Peter G. Trimming
This is the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, a fifty mile ride of hundreds of cars from Hyde Park in London to Preston Park in Brighton. The rules are fairly simple: your car must have been built prior to 1905 and you cannot exceed twenty miles per hour along the way. Definitely do not make the mistake of referring to the event as a race. The finishing order is not recorded, and there are mandatory stops along the way for tea and coffee. However, if you complete the run before 4:30pm, which is fairly rare, you are awarded a medal.
So how did this event get started? What was the occasion? The Queen’s jubilee? The winning of a war? None of the above. The event was actually launched to celebrate the repeal of restrictive speed limits in England. On a rainy Saturday in the middle of November in 1896, an Englishman by the name of Harry J. Lawson decided he would celebrate the raising of speed limits from four miles an hour to fourteen by driving from Hyde Park to Preston Park with a group of like-minded people. The next year, the group did it again and every year after that. What began as a run of about a dozen vehicles has now grown to a yearly tradition with as many as 484 cars participating.
One of the more unique vehicles from the early 1900's — Photo courtesy of Peter G. Trimming
If you find yourself near London in early November this is definitely something you won’t want to miss. The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is the perfect thing to top off your vacation overseas with just enough old English moxy to make you want to don the traditional racing leathers, scarf and goggles. God save the Queen.