Early each November, the collector car world focuses on England and the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which the Royal Automobile Club stages to commemorate Emancipation Run of 1896 and the end of the British law requiring a person carrying a red flag to run ahead of any motorcar on public roads. Included in that law was a 4 mph speed limit.
The London to Brighton event is open to cars produced before 1905 and annually draws more than 400 entries.
But did you know there’s another London to Brighton Run each year? Although canceled for 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, this other vintage vehicle run usually is held in May and is open to commercial vehicles, with around 150 antique trucks, taxis, buses and fire engines taking part.
“A trip from London to Brighton is a simple event for the motorist in his modern car; a journey he can accomplish in little over an hour if traffic conditions are right,” notes the online brochure of the Historic Commercial Vehicle Run. “But to most of these old-time commercials the run presents something out of the usual.
“For the oldest, with their solid tires and slow speeds, it is a very real challenge, and even for the ‘middle-agers’ the going is by no means always easy. But despite the temperamental uncertainty of old machinery, the hard driving and the hours of polishing and cleaning needed beforehand, the Brighton Run is tremendously popular with members.
“Indeed, it has become the highlight of the Historic Commercial Vehicle Club’s activities.
“It must be emphasized that this is by no means a race to see who gets to Brighton first, although there is plenty of competition after the vehicles have arrived there to select the best in each class.”
It also should be noted that the Historic Commercial Vehicle Club’s first president, elected in 1958, was Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the renown car collector and founder of the National Motor Museum.
We’d never heard of the event, either, at least not until receiving a notice from Bonhams about its upcoming MPH September Sale at Bicester Heritage, the former Royal Air Force training base that has been turned into a vintage vehicle showplace.
One of the vehicles on the auction docket for September 20 is a 1931 Leyland Lioness Six FE, FE short for fire engine, of which, Bonhams notes, only 5 of these models were built and of which this is the only running example of the 3 known survivors.
Reading further in the auction description, we learn that the Lioness was in service for 35 years to the Bristol fire department. It is fitted with a Braidwood body, twin water deliveries on each side, and an intriguing Ajax extension ladder.
Not only has the consignor restored the vehicle, it has been a class winner three times in the London to Brighton Run for commercial vehicles. The unit also was runner-up for best in class at the 1998 Concords d’Elegance.
By the way, Bonhams expects the fire engine to sell for £15,000 to £20,000 (about $20,000 to $26,775).
P.S. There’s actually a third London to Brighton Run, although this one is the 120-mile New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run usually held in early August between those communities in Minnesota (though canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic). The Minnesota event is open to cars produced before 1909, or for 1- or 2-cylinder vehicles produced as late as 1915.