Collector Bob Ames shares hard-won lessons from 30 years of London- to-Brighton veteran car runs
I did my first London to Brighton aboard a Curved Dash Oldsmobile I found in a Kansas barn and restored. Straight from Pebble Beach to London she went that fall of 1984. Thirty years on, I’ve been in Hyde Park on the first Sunday in November at least 18 times. Many of the runs were done on a lovely 1902 Renault, Josephine, which I kept in Sussex solely for this event.
Other runs were aboard my friend Monte Shelton’s 1903 Rambler in 1996, the Centennial year, and John Mozart’s Mors. In 2010 Robert Brooks, the Bonhams chief, and I were the first official finishers driving a 1903 four-cylinder Sunbeam. We were in Brighton when they opened the gate to Madiera Drive at 10 a.m. However Robert and I weren’t always so fortunate. The following year, amid torrential rain and gale force winds, we never got out of Hyde Park in Robert’s 1899 hot tube ignition Panhard.
The easiest trip I ever took was on a rainy November Sunday, some years earlier. Evert Louwman, our Dutch friend with what I think is the world’s finest motor museum, bundled our wives into his lovely fully enclosed Mors and motored to the channel quite dry, and without drama of any kind (which probably explains why eligible enclosed cars fetch a premium at auction).
This year was a very big deal for the modest Ames Collection. Three years ago I bought the 1903 Searchmont, a large chain-drive, 2-cylinder machine built in Philadelphia and designed by Lee Chadwick. I wanted a car big enough to take our adult sons with me to Brighton. The L2B is an event they’d heard me talk about for years but had never experienced.
We made it. A little drama along the way involving a stuck inlet valve only added to what will be great memories. Son Alex, who is 30, handled the navigation and all was documented by his brother Brian, 27, from the backseat with multiple cameras.
For future London-to-Brighton entrants (and any current ones who want to check my list) here are some do’s and don’ts I have learned in my 18 L2B trips. Some apply to overseas entries like me, others are general advice.
- Be able to document your car's date of manufacture, before you apply. New higher standards now apply.
- Use a door-to-door shipper, and avoid a third party packing your machine.
- Send along a tool roll with everything you could conceivably need, including duct tape.
- Drive the hell out of the car before you undertake the trip, including up some long hills.
- Allow plenty of time for transit and customs clearance in the UK.
- Arrange for the car’s transportation to near Hyde Park on Sunday morning, or use an available overnight parking facility.
- Make sure any such overnight parking garage opens by 5 a.m.
- Attend the Bonhams auction and cocktail party on Friday. You’ll meet the “Who's Who” of the veteran car world.
- Get a GoPro camera, mount it on the car and make your own version of ‘Genevieve’. The original Darracq will undoubtedly be there as a backdrop.
- Take passengers who are prepared to walk up hills, if necessary. This is important.
- Arrange for a tender vehicle with a mobile phone aboard to come help out, if you have a serious breakdown.
- Go to the Bonhams hospitality enclosure at the finish and drink lots of mulled wine to try and get feeling back in your hands and nose. You've earned it.
- Obsess about the weather forecast.
- Put up a top that will act like a sail – maybe in reverse.
- Worry about how to get back to London. The trains run twice an hour.
- Overload the car. Suggest all passengers lose 20 pounds before the trip (see note about walking up hills).
- Oversleep on Sunday morning. You came all this way and then…
- Risk the the drive through London traffic to Regent Street on Saturday morning, if you are a first time driver in London traffic.
- Forget you are three feet off the ground, and have no brakes.
- Forget that double-decker buses stop faster than you do, and more often.
- Forget to take a nap when you arrive in the UK, or you'll never get over the jet lag.
- And finally, don't lose the damn finisher’s medal!
Check out Brian Ames’ video of the trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hxywyWZ3_I