Photos by Howard Koby
On November 14, 1896, 30 motorcars participated in the Emancipation Run, a drive that celebrated the passage of Britain’s Highway Act, the law that raised the speed limit for “light locomotives” from 4 to 14 miles per hour and did away with the requirement that such motorcars be preceded by a man on foot holding a red flag.
Of the 30 motorcars that started that day, 14 were able to complete the 60-mile distance from London to Brighton.
Except for war years, the Royal Automobile Club has re-enacted the Emancipation Run annually since 1927, most recently with sponsorship from auction house Bonhams. This year, more than 400 pre-1905 motor cars were painstakingly prepared for the drive from London’s Hyde Park to the Brighton beach getaway in East Sussex on the south coast of Great Britain.
The event is open to all 3- and 4-wheeled vehicles constructed before January 1, 1905, but there sometimes are exceptions and slightly newer cars are accepted. The majority of the cars come from UK, but this year there also were entrants from the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, Sweden, Denmark and Australia.
The London-to-Brighton run highlights a weekend of motoring nostalgia and is free to view along the 60-mile route that follows as closely as possible the original 1896 event, using the historic A23 with some routing changes needed because of safety or road construction.
With steam cars sprouting billows of mist, petrol cars igniting to a classic rumble, and electric cars whirring like a well-oiled sewing machine, the golden age of motoring comes to life with statuesque motor cars cruising out of Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace and over the River Thames at Westminster Bridge down to Lambeth, Brixton, Streatham, Norbury, Croydon past Gatwick and into Crawley for the mid-way checkpoint.
Spectators are able to chat with the drivers and see the cars up close as they double check the running condition of their most valued treasures.
From Crawley the challenge for the veterans are a series of hill climbs, including the sometimes-dreaded Hammer Hill, which separates the men from the boys. Some have to be pulled up the long inclines by volunteers from the local All Wheel Drive Club before motoring on to the finish at Preston Park in Brighton.
All the cars that successfully finished the journey (360 of the 445 entered this year) are displayed in an exclusive paddock car presentation on the seafront at Madeira Drive.
Many British celebrities participated on the historic run, which was “reasonably dry and the second half was reasonably wet,” said five-time Olympic gold medalist rower Steve Redgrave, who drove with his wife Ann in a rare (one of 13 survivors) 1904 Thornycroft, an open four-seat tonneau-bodied car powered by a 20-horsepower, 3.5-liter hp four-cylinder engine.
As a very spoiled Californian, the only condition I had to get used to in UK was the “wet and cold,” but with the overpowering passion for cars, I quickly learned the British ways and enjoyed every second of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
For more information, see the London-Brighton website.