Does the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run really count as motorsport? It depends entirely on who you are riding with, as I discovered in 2014 when I joined ex-historics racer Irvine Laidlaw for the annual run, which takes place once more this Sunday.
Lord Laidlaw didn’t hang about (relatively speaking, of course) as we motored south from the start on Hyde Park’s Serpentine at 7.30am. His 15hp four-cylinder 1904 Panhard et Levassor didn’t miss a beat, and apart from the traditional breather at the George Hotel in Crawley, we didn’t stop until making it to Madeira Drive just before 11am on a crisp, autumnal morning. I hadn’t pushed anything and hadn’t even got wet. I felt like a bit of a fraud.
The run is supposedly non-competitive, but as we reached Brighton, I noticed Lord Laidlaw hunching a little lower over the steering wheel. How he cut past ‘moderns’ and jumped to the front of queues at traffic lights suggested the old racer’s instincts had kicked in. Turned out he was on for a PB. But no, it’s not competitive…
We’re blessed with many great motoring traditions in the UK, but none is older or more heart-warming than the LBVCR. It dates back to 1896 and what became known as the Emancipation Run, created to celebrate the lifting of strict laws on these new-fangled motor vehicles. The speed limit had risen from 4mph to 14mph and a man with a red flag was no longer required to walk in front of automobiles, heralding the dawn of the motoring age.