Similarly, just like archaeologists uncovering forgotten treasures, a monogram was uncovered beneath layers of paintwork. Worth’s detective work tracked the initials - EE - to Ernest Estcourt, a wealthy builder, who was one of Britain’s first car owners. You might expect a 117-year-old car to ooze history but, as the 6hp, two-cylinder engine cranks into life, the moment becomes all the more special: EX10 isn’t just a preserved moment in time, it is a living, moving testament to former times and the hard work and dedication of an owner and team who evidently cherish it.
We’re here in the cold and dark at 5.30am to prepare for the London to Brighton Veteran Car run, of course, celebrating the 121st anniversary of the first running of the event in celebration of the repeal of the Red Flag Act, which had required motor vehicles (“mechanically-driven carriages”) to be preceded by someone waving a red flag or ringing a bell, to warn of the impending danger of a moving vehicle.
John is kindly carrying three passengers as guests of event sponsor Hiscox, and if the theatre of the start-up procedure (spark plugs were yet to be invented, although the gas tank is a modern-day adaptation on practical and safety grounds) is anything to go by we are all in for a day to remember. The last job before we get going is to light the candles that sit inside the headlights. They may not cast much light onto the road ahead, but they are surprisingly bright. “They’d had a fair few years to perfect lanterns by then,” smiles John, reminding me that while the idea of the motor car (autocar) was new, they were ultimately the sum of many other well-known technologies.
In some regards, the 65 miles that follow as we wind our way from Hyde Park at 7.30am to Madeira Drive in Brighton for 2.30pm are remarkably normal. For all its prestige, EX10 is still a car: four wheels, an engine, clutch, brake, accelerator, four gears in either direction and even room for four (or five, but for the fuel, water, oil and tools we carry). There's even a round steering wheel; something many of the cars taking part forgo for a tiller. Not everything we take for granted today was a given. It’s a realisation that distils the oft-quoted creed of today that the car industry is, courtesy of electrification and autonomy, about to undergo its biggest change in 100 or more years.
But, of course, the sensations are anything but familiar. The chain driving us along clatters, the cold wind smacks us in the face, the delicacy (and sometimes a bit of force) with which John guides us onwards far in excess of our cosseted driving lives today. “Momentum is key,” smiles John as he winds his way through traffic, both modern and veteran, dodging round queues in a quest to keep up his hard-earned pace. When you only have a top speed of around 25mph to play with, you value every one of them.