I spent a lot of time on the Brighton Road this weekend, taking part in two motoring events that were closely related but vastly different. The first was The Future Car Challenge, which runs on Saturday from Brighton to the Smoke: there my mission was to accompany Land Rover chief engineer Peter Richings in a Range Rover Sport Range_e prototype as part of this year’s Future Car Challenge (55mpg estimated, 89g/km CO2).
Next day I headed back the other way as part of a four-person crew in Daniel Ward’s fine 107-year-old, 20HP Renault, as a participant in the traditional Brighton Run for veteran cars, all made before 1905. This was the second time the Royal Automobile Club has associated its new future car event with the following day’s traditional blue riband festival for the world’s oldest cars, and I’m convinced they’ve struck a wonderful formula which will rapidly grow into one of the most important world motoring events of the year.
The original Brighton Run was born to commemorate the repeal of the UK’s infamous Red Flag Act (which required all cars to be preceded by a man on foot, carrying a red flag). That did much to lift the British motor industry out of its torpor, to become a world leader 50 years later.
Today’s Future Car Challenge provides the same kind of stimulus: it is a way for car manufacturers to display the shape and capability of the cars we will drive in future, if we are to cut CO2 emissions and save fuel reserves. The parallels are dazzlingly clear. Better still, the atmosphere surrounding the two events is amazingly similar. Saturday’s FCC has a competitive element, but its main function is as a technology show, a way for the world’s best engineers to show that tomorrow’s cars should be desired, not feared. The pervading mood is optimism for the future.
Sunday’s Veteran Car Run brings strong elements of nostalgia into the mix, but its emphasis is also on success. It is no small undertaking to drive a chuntering, oil-spewing 110-year old car successfully to a destination 56 miles away. The many thousands of British people who turn out every year to smile and cheer know this well. They are happy, I like to think, about the many improvements brought into their lives by 100 yards of automotive progress...