I love cars, whether they are steam powered old crocs from the Victorian era or modern supercars. I am, however, very aware that many people do not share my passion. Indeed there are many who have an irrational hatred for cars. The recent attempt by Green Party run Brighton Council to cancel the city’s famous 100-year-old speed trials is a manifestation of that.  As such it is imperative that those organising motoring events give no excuse to the car haters to further restrict our hobby.

I have been watching the London to Brighton veteran car run for many years. On the relevant Sunday in November I get up early, braving drizzle and cold, and head to the High Street in Crawley, Sussex,  the halfway stop for the veteran cars on the run from Hyde Park in London to Madeira Drive in Brighton.  Crawley is an uninspiring new town built around an old mediaeval core centred on the High Street. The town has suffered in the last decade or two, but has recently made a significant effort to regenerate its town centre. One of its showcase events has long been the London to Brighton run.  In years past the council has shut off traffic to the High Street allowing the veteran cars to pull up in front of the old George Hotel where the crews were able to take a well earned break and warm themselves up with coffee and hot chocolate. There was always  plenty of room for the public to come and watch, which they did in their hundreds. In addition the local scout troop set up a tea tent and served good value bacon sandwiches, earning funds for themselves and local charities and at the same time providing spectators with something hot on a usually bitterly cold day. The local radio station would also attend to broadcast live from high street and there was a real feeling of community engagement and pride in the event. The old cars looked great hissing and clanking past the medieval buildings and off on their journey to the South.

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The stop at Crawley as it used to be. Contrast with the image of the Honda garage below from this year.

 

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Good views for the public in previous years.

 

 

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The Scouts tea tent from previous years – great bacon sandwiches too!

I was horrified to find that this year the run would not be stopping on the High Street in Crawley. Instead it was stopping on the outskirts of Crawley at a Honda dealership. From there the cars would drive around the edge of Crawley bypassing the High Street. The local Council, MP and residents were naturally upset. I asked the RAC (who organise the run) what had caused the change. The cynical view of certain observers was that Honda as a sponsor had demanded more for their sponsorship – or had upped the level of their support. This was not denied and it was argued that without sponsor support the run could not happen.  Given that even the cheapest cars on the run now sell for over £60k I am not convinced that additional money from sponsors is that necessary. Putting the entry cost up would surely not deter too many of the well heeled owners for whom the annual run is often the only time they drive their veteran cars.  The RAC also argued that the facilities at the George Hotel were no longer adequate for the crews. Harrods, a new sponsor last year, had provided the catering from a gazebo and now presumably wanted better facilities.  This year they were able to take over all of the inside of the Honda showroom and provide covered seating for the crews. Given how poor the weather became on the day I expect this was welcome. But couldn’t a better temporary facility have been provided in the High Street?  Another argument put forward to support the change of location was the need for undercover areas for people to work on their cars.  Again I can see why that would be vital but the fact is a garage was always made available to crews in need of help on the approach to the town.

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Crawley half way stop 2014. Not quite the Power of Dreams..

When I dutifully made my way to Crawley on the Sunday morning for the Run the net result of the changes to the stop off point were worse then I had expected. There was very little space for spectators and as a result numbers were substantially down. The Scouts were no longer able to sell their tea and bacon sandwiches and as a result a vital piece of engagement with the community had been lost. More practically, there were no refreshments at all for the spectators who were not permitted to visit the Harrods indoor facility. I met a party of Dutch and Belgian tourists who travel to the UK every year to see the run. They were very disappointed with the change and said they would not be coming back to Crawley. Since they had all stayed the night in a hotel in the town centre, the change will therefore also have a tangibly negative impact on the financial rewards the Run brings to the town. The overwhelming feeling amongst spectators I spoke to was that the London to Brighton Run appeared to have turned its back on Crawley.

The veteran car run does cause inconvenience to locals as roads are shut and traffic delayed and diverted. I would not be at all surprised if the council in Crawley decide to withdraw their support for the Run given the Run seems to have withdrawn its support of Crawley.

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Whilst attending the RAC Motoring Forum I had the pleasure of bumping into Wayne Carini of US TV show, Chasing Classic Cars. Wayne was in the UK to take part in his first London to Brighton veteran car run.  Accompanied by a camera crew, he was going to be driving an early Ford for an episode of the new series of his show. We had a good chat about his excellent show and the challenge he was likely to face getting his car to Brighton. A thoroughly pleasant guy, I look forward to seeing how he got on.

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With the excellent Wayne Carini.

 

In recent years the RAC has arranged for Regent Street, in the heart of London’s West End, to be shut to traffic on the Saturday before the London to Brighton veteran car run.

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Regent Street Motor Show – Veteran Car Concourse D’Elegance

 

The focus of the show was a Concourse D’elegance for some of the veteran cars taking part in the run. It presented a good opportunity for members of the public to get close to the beautiful old crocs without the need to get up at dawn on the Sunday to watch them depart from London for the coast.

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Genevieve, a 1904 Darracq, and star of the eponymous 1953 film that was arguably responsible for firing the enthusiasm of the public for old cars.

 

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Wood, brass and steel. The beauty of a veteran car.

 

It was a busy event so it was surprising so few manufacturers displayed any of their cars. Apart from Tesla, only Renault and BMW attended with their current electric cars, a Zoe and an I3.

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A nicely patinated Healey Silverstone. Not pretty but very fast for its time.

 

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A neat solution for the spare tyre which doubles as a bumper!

 

In the week leading up to the London to Brighton veteran car run, the organisers, the Royal Automobile Club, hold a number of motoring events in London including a motoring forum at the RAC club house in Pall Mall.  This year the guest of honour was former Ferrari and Benetton team manager Ross Brawn.  As well as having won manufacturer F1 World Championships with both those teams Brawn has the unusual distinction of having won the same title with his eponymous team in their first year of operation. Until recently he also managed the Mercedes Benz team following their purchase of a majority interest in Team Brawn in 2009.

After struggling for a couple of years the Mercedes team has now won this years Formula One manufacturers title. Brawn expressed his pride in having contributed to the team’s success. He said winning the title was harder than he thought it would be as Mercedes-Benz were initially unwilling to invest in the team. Brawn pointed out that Red Bull spent over £200 million each year to win each of their recent titles . Brawn said that unfortunately Formula One was like that nowadays . Investing a lot of money was not a guarantee of success but not investing enough money was a guarantee of failure .

The cost of running a successful Formula One campaign was very high and could not be met, even for the large teams, by the income they received from the commercial rights holder. Sponsorship could close the gap to some degree but, due to the recent recession, this was not as plentiful as before. As such the manufacturers have an advantage today because they are able to support their race teams from other resources and also supply engines to other teams which generate an income. The complex hybrid engines being used this year are over twice as expensive as last year’s engines and as such Brawn believed the cost of such new technology has undoubtedly had a negative impact on the smaller teams.

When asked what was the greatest challenge of his time at Mercedes-Benz Brawn said it was getting them to think as a team. The engine guys had initially been sceptical of a Mercedes-Benz team as they already had a good working relationship with a successful team – McLaren.  Getting the engine guys and the chassis guys to think together on a “one-car “basis was the key to the current success of the team.

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Ross Brawn at the RAC Motoring Forum

When asked about his impressions of Michael Schumacher Brawn said that he first came across Schumacher when Brawn was working for the Jaguar sports car team at the end of the 80’s. At the time Schumacher was racing for the Mercedes sports car team and Brawn and Tom Walkinshaw were very impressed with Schumacher as he was the only driver at the time who threatened the dominance of the Jaguar sports cars.

When Walkinshaw and Brawn were recruited to Benetton with Briatore it was Tom Walkinshaw who approached Schumacher and poached him from Jordan, not Briatore who often claimed the credit for what turned out to be a vital hire.  Schumacher quickly established himself as a very impressive driver who worked very hard and was always available for testing, unlike some of his colleagues. brawn said he was a great team player who took a real interest in all members of the team. He knew the names of all the mechanics and never criticised the team.

When asked which current drivers he rated Brawn tactfully mentioned Hamilton and Rosberg but also expressed admiration for Alonso. Alonso was one of those drivers able to get the best out of any car in any circumstance.  Brawn contrasted this with Vettel’s performance this year where he’s been consistently outshone by his teammate.

Asked what he thought about double points being awarded to the winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix he said he thought it was a “stupid idea”. Brawn was firmly of the view that the most consistent driver of the year should win the championship – it should not be decided on such gimmicks at the last race of the season.

Currently “retired” Brawn was due to take part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in his recently acquired 1904 Wilson Pilcher.

The concours of elegance which have been held for the last three years at various royal palaces have emerged as the premier concourse d’elegance in the UK. The first event at Windsor Castle in 2012 was a great success. Last year’s event at St James’s Palace was also good though a rather less grand affair. This year’s event at Hampton Court Palace was the best yet. Held in the grounds of Henry VIII’s palace on the banks of the River Thames, this year’s event was blessed with good weather and a fantastic turnout of world-class cars. Indeed many of the cars in the concourse had been shipped across the Atlantic direct from Pebble Beach. As in previous years, the premier motoring clubs in the UK were invited to enter 50 cars each for a supporting show. I entered my MG SV with the Royal Automobile Club.  Having become an established feature of the London motoring scene next year’s event will be held at Holyrood House in Edinburgh, the Queens official home in Scotland. Whilst this will undoubtedly provide grand surroundings and whilst Edinburgh is a fine city, I wonder whether there will be a sufficiently large market to support an event of this nature. We will find out next year.

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1933 MG K3 under close examination.

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Lord Bamford’s gorgeous 1933 razor edge Rolls Royce Phantom II Continental. The one off coupe coachwork was carried out by Freestone & Webb. Lord Bamford showed the same car at Salon Prive and the Goodwood Revival the following weekend. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

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Epitome of 50’s sports cars, 1957 Ferrari 250 TDF GT Scaglietti Corsa Berlinetta.

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Old and new. 1896 Lutzmann Victoria and 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari.

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The Aston Martin Owners Club brought a fine selection of DB4’s and 5’s.

 

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Jaguar XK120 Jabbeke Coupe. This modified XK120 was built to claim back the Land Speed Record, which it did at Jabbeke in Belguim in 1953 at a speed of 172 mph in the hands of legendary Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis.

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This immaculate Ferrari 275 deservedly won best in show from amongst the club entered cars.

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This one off Zagato Jaguar XK140 was built after its Italian owner (and friend of the Zagato family) bent the original body in a crash. Zagato hoped that Jaguar might order further cars but they did not. It is much better looking than an XK 140!

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A car that attracted lots of attention was this barn find 1934 Frazer Nash. It belonged to an RAF officer and remained in his ownership until the current owner purchased it recently following the first owner’s death. Shabby but with oodles of patina, the current owner was asking for views on whether to restore it or not. I think its best to get the mechanicals sorted but leave the body as is. Its only original once!

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By contrast, here is a similar restored Frazer Nash. It looks brand new.

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Another view of the beautiful Zagato Jaguar XK140 Coupe.

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Patina..

 

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The Beast looking good – compare the lines with the Ferrari 550 Maranello behind.

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Old Beauty

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MG SV on show

The British Grand Prix was another thrilling race in what has turned out to be a classic season. Although it might lack the glamour of Monaco or the first rate facilities of Abu Dhabi and the other new circuits, Silverstone more than makes up for such deficiencies with the passion of the 120,000 fans who make the pilgrimage to Northamptonshire every year. All the British drivers, including Max Chilton labouring at the back of the pack, received loud applause every time they went past the packed grandstands. And foreign drivers received sporting applause when their conduct merited it. In the end the fans got what they wanted, a British victory. Although the mechanical failure which robbed Rosberg finish handed the race to Hamilton, I think the fans would have preferred to have seen him take the lead following an overtaking manoeuvre. Instead, for thrilling overtaking and racing the fans had to look to Alonso and Vettel who battled it out wheel to wheel for many laps. Bottas also drove magnificently, finishing second having started 16th. Ultimately though it is Hamilton who will be happiest with today’s result as it now leaves him just four points behind Rosberg in the race for the championship.

Below, Hamilton crosses the line and takes the chequered flag for only his second British Grand Prix victory.

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Below, the top three on the podium face the ecstatic British fans. Bottas received his second place trophy from the legendary John Surtees who was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his world championship with Ferrari. Incidentally, as noted below (“Dinner with Emerson Fittipaldi”), the famous British Grand Prix Gold cup was at Silverstone to be presented to the winner. However all Lewis got was a horrible plasticky trophy based on sponsor Santander’s logo. He had the good taste to show his disgust and ask “Where is the gold cup? ” Where indeed?

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Last week I and some other RAC members had the rare privilege of having dinner with two time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. Although now in his 60s he looked incredibly fit although he has long since lost his former trademark muttonchops. It proved to be a great evening as Emerson turned out to be a thoroughly charming and patient man. Down-to-earth, he took time to answer all our questions even though he had probably heard them all many many times before. He entertained us with incredible stories about his career, both in Formula One and in IndyCar. It’s astonishing to think that he started racing in the same year that Jack Brabham retired and only finished racing in 1997 when he was well into his late 40s. Over a varied career he not only won the world championship twice but also the Indianapolis 500, also twice. He also won the British Grand Prix twice and will be driving his Silverstone winning McLaren M23 tomorrow before the British Grand Prix.

What was particular striking about Emerson was that he clearly has a real interest in the history of motor racing. For the dinner the Club could not, unfortunately, decorate the table with the British Grand Prix trophy as it had already been sent to Silverstone. Instead the beautiful Tourist Trophy took pride of place. Emerson took a real interest in the trophy, looking carefully at the names of the illustrious drivers who had won it in the past. I think he regretted the fact that his name was not on it! However he explained he never really took to sportscar racing and never did Le Mans as a close friend of his father whom he had looked up to as a child was killed there in the fifties.

Of course, like many other British men my age, the thing I particulary remember about Emerson Fittipaldi is the Corgi toy Lotus 72 JPS. I think every boy at school had one at the time of Emerson’s first world championship in 1972. I took my own along to the dinner and Emerson very kindly agreed to sign the box. It will be treasured even more now!

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Emerson Fittipaldi with the Tourist Trophy