EVENTS With Liese Spencer
The Eye on Events
Saturday 02 November 1996
The re-enactment of the 1896 Emancipation Run takes place around Whitehall today from 8 to 11.30am
Second-hand car rally, one careful owner, 100 years on the clock. The RAC's Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton celebrates its centenary this year with, you guessed it, a spot of genteel motoring. However, there's also the added bonus of a re-enactment of the very first run in 1896.
"No event in connection with transit, traffic or locomotion has caused so much excitement since the world began," gushed The Sporting Life in 1896, breathlessly reporting the first "Emancipation Run" from London to Brighton in which cars no longer had to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag. From the vantage of today's gridlock, road rage, drive- by shootings and pollution, it's tempting to see the Highway Act as more enslavement than liberation. So perhaps the stuffy Sunday Times was right when it refused to be transported by the idea of internal combustion and chose instead to sound an apocalyptic note: "It is difficult to feel absolute confidence in cars, as they seem invested with a gruesome, superhuman power, capable of anything disastrous".
Instructions for the race warned against early joy-riders, reminding participants that "motor cars are on trial in England and any rashness or carelessness might injure the industry". With most vehicles puttering along at an average of 4mph and a legal speed limit of 14mph, it would have been a very determined motorist to achieve anything approximating recklessness. But there were other perils. Mike Mutters, the present owner of an 1896 Whitney Steamer notes that his vehicle has "a nasty habit of catching fire".
Among the ancient wheels around on Saturday are an 1895 Panhard Levassor Dos a Dos, the first car to be imported into England, and an 1884 De Dion Bouton et Trepardoux, the world's earliest original working car. The De Dion Bouton was originally fuelled by coke (fossil fuel rather than fizzy stuff) and water and while it may look prehistoric, the venerable old banger has a name to shame today's Unos and Protons. On Sunday, 660 veteran vehicles from Angola to Brazil, from New Zealand to Turkey will be spluttering down to the South Coast.
London (7.30am), Croydon (8.05am), Redhill (8.30am), Gatwick (8.50am), Burgess Hill (10.05am), Brighton (10.40am); times are for the first car. The stately procession will take at least three hours to pass each point.
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