A Veteran virgin takes to the streets of Central London

| 13 Sep 2012

It seems almost inconceivable that, since joining C&SC in 1996, I have never done the Brighton Run. I've been at the start a few times or moseyed down to Streatham to watch it stream through amid that uniquely curious mix of spectators, those whose day is just starting and those on their way home after a big Saturday night.

Come to think of it, I have never even driven a Veteran and rarely been a passenger in one. It doesn't mean I don't adore them, or that I don't acknowledge their significance, but for some unaccountable reason, this has never come to pass.

So, conscious that this oversight needs to be remedied, when the stunt to announce the launch of this year's London to Brighton Veteran Car Run was unveiled, you couldn't keep me away.

Veterans were to take to the roads to promote the LBVCR – not that the already full run really needs it – not wending their way down to Brighton as is traditional, but battling the clogged streets of the West End.

Brilliant, just my sort of challenge. And what fun it was.

The funny thing is, the traffic played into the Veterans' hands: meaning any speed differential between them and the modern traffic was instantly wiped out.

Technically, we hacks were to have a ride in just one of the cars, and yet more pressure was put on the schedule when only two of the five planned cars made it to the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, but as soon as the rides started and I saw the gung-ho attitude of the owners, I knew that I would get a go in both if I was patient.

First up was Shaun Crofton's 1900 De Dion Bouton vis a vis. Harking from an age when De Dion Bouton was the world's largest motor manufacturer – it pretty much made as many cars as everyone else put together – this wonderful little machine puttered faultlessly around the capital.

With everything operated from the tiller, including both its speeds, it is rear-wheel drive and powered by a single-cylinder motor of under 500cc.

Crofton has had it for more than 15 years – completing a host of Brighton Runs in that time – and though slightly intimidated by the soaring values for Veterans, has no intention of letting it go.

My second turn was in John Dennis' 1902 Guildford-built Dennis. No, the name is not a coincidence. Dennis was gifted the car by his father in 1959 when he passed his driving test and he has competed in the Brighton Run every year bar one since he was 17… and always finished.

The rear-entry tonneau has supremely comfortable rear seats and Dennis pilots it with gusto, boasting that at least with a single cylinder, "you always know which one has gone wrong".

All too soon my runs are over and I am flush with a new discovery – the awesome, addictive fun that is Veterans. I now realise why I have never met anyone who owns only one Veteran car.

Most amazing, though, was the reaction of the public, standing mouths agape on every street corner, smiling, applauding and snapping away with their cameras, not a frown in sight or a disrespectful comment to be heard.

All in all, a wonderful advert for Veteran motoring; roll on the first Sunday in November!