Veterinarians in Practice: London-Brighton in 1904 Lanchester

London to Brighton 1 The annual London Brighton veteran car run celebrates the 'emancipation' of the car in 1896. We'll join the pioneers for a walk on the south shore

We are surrounded by elegance. Ladies in dress style, gentlemen in tweed. Only Duncan Pittaway is letting the side down. Yes, he wears a shirt and tie, but the man was very dirty. Dirty face, black hands, shirt not white. But then he spent most of the day shoveling coal in the firebox of his 1896 Salvesen steam car. “We have to stop every 12 miles across the water,” explains Pittaway, “that we pinch off fire hydrants.” Which is true, because I saw him wet his car as we drove by in our 1904 Lanchester.

I can't believe I haven't been involved in a London Brighton veteran car run before. I didn't even watch the start in Hyde Park or finish in Brighton. Many friends and colleagues have already done this, including our man Kroplya. I made the same mistake with strawberries: not touching things when I was little, but then discovered in my youth that they are the most delicious things in the world and have been consumed in large quantities ever since.

What I have done many times (like Kroplja) is to ride in the pioneers to work for old motorcycles. Bicycles must be pre-1915, but these youngsters are compared to cars' 1904 cut-off dates. Another difference is that the bikes start from Epsom and not in central London. Both, however, expect to get up very early.

So at 7.00, the fields were brushed aside by celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh. I've already spotted a few car deities, including promoters founder David Richards, suitably tweeded, and a few friends from the auto industry. One is Tim Jackson, who stepped down as Renault's PR boss a few years ago. A total enthusiast, Tim bought himself a De Dion-Bouton. Mechanical problems have plagued the car, but he is hopeful the new transmission will get him to Brighton this year.

As explained, I'm going to 1904 Lanchester. I know virtually nothing about veteran cars, if only because they never interested me much. This will change soon. Our driver is David Manchester, a career man in the trade engine who now runs his own consulting company. In the opposite direction we have David Bond, md classic car insurer lackey Jacob, and the man from Lange & Söhne shoes which is a luxury watch manufacturer and one of the sponsors of the event.

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Presumably, Manchester's career have become bolder in making decisions without too much thumbs down. This ability to make quick decisions is prevalent in his movement. As we head south through Brixton, Streatham and towards Surrey, we are tangled up with early morning traffic, most failing to appreciate that we have minimal braking and tiller steering which makes modern BOT steering feel pretty well. I'll check Manchester about the controls when it's less busy.

Oh, there's my buddy Tim on the pavement with various De Dion-Bouton bits revealed. I think he's going to knock out the gun. He is not the only one who is having difficulty. Since we left Hyde Park, we have seen a lot of cars on the side of the road. Our Lanchester is pounded along by her driver, showing heroic loyalty.

I didn't know how big the crowd would be. In an open (and not too fast) way, you can acknowledge greetings with a polite good morning and sometimes they will ask how old your car is. As soon as we find ourselves on quiet roads in Surrey and Sussex, we see classic cars parked everywhere: a bunch of Lotus seven owners in the village, a car park hall, pride kosharas in a pub and random classics parked on the roadside. It's just wonderful.

You can communicate not only with the audience, but also with fellow runners. We're at a traffic light (the veteran motorist's nemesis due to weak clutches and engines liable to overheat) next to a three-wheeler. It's a 1903 Humber Olympia tandem being driven by Martin Tacona. “My father bought it in 1950,” he cries, “and it has been running since 1952.” Tacon's young son is in the seat opposite and will no doubt one day be the driver of the 'third generation humber'.

Interestingly, the participants in the old tale are usually quite ancient, but this event is designed to attract a wide range of ages; not only passengers, but also drivers. Both sexes too. We spotted two young men in purple striped blazers wearing a headdress. These were students from Imperial College, London. Their 1902 James Brown has been in college since 1934, and each year a team of students prepare and act as support for the team, one lucky bastard getting to drive. This year it was Barty Pitt's turn: “I did last year but I only got as far as Brixton before the crankcase blew up, so I was allowed again.”

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Just outside of Brighton, we're running through the hail and as Manchester rides in their usual press-on style, we get you a little shot blasting. Traffic in Brighton is terrible and it's not the first time we've stalled. Lanchester needs to be a push start and the three of us aren't enough. It's never hard to find volunteers. This time the Lady tosses her two children into her pram and lets us shuffle around. Thank you madam.

We roll down Madeira Drive and at the finish line to join a lineup of great cars and equally great people. The Pittaway steamer is still burping and dribbling water. The sensor next to the boiler room has its own needle crosses the red line: I assume that it is a pressure sensor and that I should be blown to France, but fortunately Pittaway is actually there and releases pressure.

Strawberry and London Brighton veteran car work. Two of my favorite things.

Our Lanchester

Our car is part of the Jaguar Daimler heritage collection. Why? Because Lanchester went bankrupt before the first war, and then became part of the Daimler concern after a buyout in 1931.

At our location in Gatwick, JDHT Eric Baptiste and Scott Barbershop refill Lanchester fuel, oil and water.

“These are extremely advanced designs,” Baptiste says. “It was the first engine to feature a pressurized oil system. It runs at 40psi for what is not far from the pressure of a modern car. It is a four-cylinder, 2,5-liter, overhead-valve unit with camshafts on both sides of the cylinders. This is a Crossflow design.”

The next piece of information has my hair on end. “It's fast,” Baptiste says, “we hit 65mph.”

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