The Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is one of winter's great automotive adventures. The oldest automotive motoring event in the world invites cars built before 1906 to dash 60 miles down a two-lane highway, usually through awful weather, from the U.K. capitol to the trendy seaside town.
Watching is entertaining and, at times, hilarious, but participating is a real adventure. To be part of the low-speed action, you need a car built in 1905 or earlier. If you don't happen to have one of those laying about, you will need to buy one.
Bonhams makes it easy to purchase a veteran car by hosting an auction for eligible cars the day before the Run. Prices at this year's auction ran from about $50,000 for a 6.5-horsepower 1903 Stanley Steam Runabout to close to $600,000 for a luxurious 1903 Clement in concours condition. Less-expensive veteran cars are available, but some of them are best suited for skilled mechanics. However, some of the participants at this year's Run told us the less-expensive, lighter, simpler cars are sometimes the most reliable and the easiest to field.
If owning a machine constructed during the dawn of the automobile is not on your list of things to do, perhaps you can scam a ride with someone else. That's what my wife and I did.
Just a few months after we had moved the London to Brighton Run high on our bucket list, our friend Nick Grewal invited us to ride along in his 1905 Cadillac. Naturally, we jumped at his generous offer.
Grewal loves his old car. Though a serious Formula Junior racer, he never seems to stop laughing when he's around his 1905 Cadillac, which is understandable because there is so much to laugh about. Starting one of these cars is always humorous, and a herd of them jockeying for position at 10 mph leaves everyone in stitches.
Period clothing was worn by many, including Grewal, who was clad in top hat and fur coat. The day before the Run, he arrived with a vintage music player (as well as period vinyl) to create even more atmosphere in the parc ferme on Regent Street, a block down from Piccadilly Circus.
Veteran cars are a reminder that electric cars are not new. Power for roughly a third of the 450 cars entered in the Run came from electric motors, a third used gasoline engines, and a third used steam engines. One entry was a rolling cartoon, a steam-powered 1896 Salvesen that featured a boilerman furiously shoveling coal into a boiler mounted on a trailer as the rig flew down the road trailing thick black smoke.
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Formula 1 team principal Ross Brawn participated in this year's Run, but anyone who owns one of these cars is considered a celebrity by this crowd.