Even though I have been the Publisher of Octane since its launch, I had never had the opportunity to join the London to Brighton veteran car run. Each year the magazine gets a number of invitations to participate, but it is such a prized engagement that the invite never gets past the editorial staff. 2011 was different though and I was the grateful recipient of an invitation, courtesy of James Knight at Bonhams to join them in sector 15 at Hyde Park at 7.30am on the morning of 6 November.
By the time I arrived, a number of cars had already set off. Cars are released in chronological order with the oldest heading off first. As the car I was joining was built in 1904, it was one of the younger cars on the run. Our host for the day was Allan Hollett, the owner of a single-cylinder Rambler – one of just three of its type currently in the UK. As with many veteran car enthusiasts Allan is a hugely enthusiastic engineer with many interests and projects on the go. He is currently re-building a 1903 Rambler, has just finished a half-scale model of a steam engine, and has a 1928 Austin C-van and a 1909 Stationary engine tucked in his garage awaiting restoration.
Alongside Allan in the four seater Rambler was his long-suffering wife Tracey, and Keith Gapp who is head of strategic marketing at EFG International. They are a supporter of the London to Brighton run as well as sponsors of a number of historic motoring events. This was Allan’s ninth London to Brighton run, and he gave us real confidence that we would complete the event. He had finished on seven previous occasions and the car had been fully prepared and raring to go for a number of days. Allan confidently estimated our finish time at Madeira Drive in Brighton at around 1.30pm. Unfortunately fate had other plans.
We trundled out of Hyde Park at the scheduled time of 8.02am and followed the route through central London towards the A23 to Brighton. As a way to sightsee London it is difficult to beat, passing Buckingham Palace, Pall Mall, the Houses of Parliament and across Westminster bridge towards South London. I had heard that enthusiastic crowds gather along the entire route, but I was surprised to see the variety of people who turned out to view the procession. From young children waving flags and old couples with smiles on their faces, to a Brixton gang giving the thumbs up, and a guy wearing a string vest and boxer shorts taking photos, the event brought out all manner of humanity, and with it the best of humanity.
The day started to take a turn for the worse as we headed south of Croydon. The Rambler was losing power and Allan was at a loss to understand why. It was initially thought to be the clutch overheating in the heavy traffic that had converged on the veteran cars making steady progress very difficult. We stopped a number of times to try and cool it down, but the car was still struggling though.
Allan tactfully suggested that the additional weight the car was carrying with Keith and I on board may be causing too much strain on the engine so we retired to the support vehicle whilst the car carried on. There then followed a very frustrating three hours where Allan valiantly tried to nurse the Rambler along the A23, stopping every few minutes to furrow his brow and stroke his chin whilst trying to understand what was wrong. In the end the only course of action was to admit defeat and place the car on the back of the trailer for the final 20 miles to Brighton.
It was a disappointing end to the day, but we weren’t alone. The verges were littered with vehicles in various states of disrepair. Arriving in Brighton we witnessed the joy of many people as their veteran cars either romped or crawled across the line. It was a great day, and if the editorial team ever let an invitation slip through their hands again I will look forward to attempting to finish the London to Brighton for the first time once again