This is a website that caters to all types of car fans. From rust buckets to race cars, stance to super, and now we go beyond vintage into veteran! Now, please recognise that I am no writer and this is my first post on Opposite Lock. Part of me hopes this will get picked up, but since I’m not writing about brown Volvos or Miatas, I recognise that my chances are extremely limited.
Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I took part in a veteran car event. What is a veteran car you ask? To put it simply, any car built by 1905. Now I am a strange person. Regardless of whether you believe me or not, by some stroke of luck I have been granted access to some of the rarest and most sought after cars in the world. I have driven Le Mans winning Ferraris and single owner Miura’s. I learned to drive on Mini Mokes and my daily driver back home is a Honda Beat.
I didn’t write that to rub it in anyones’ face, I said it because I want you to believe me when I say that driving a 1903 Cadillac 54 miles from London to Brighton is one of the best things I have ever done in my entire life!
All of the cars are different. There were: tiller cars, vis-a-vis cars (where you sit opposite your passengers and stare at them the entire time), steam cars, single cylinder, twin cylinder, everything you can imagine!
The car I drove was a single cylinder 1903 6 1/2HP Cadillac Rear-Entrance Tonneau. If you think saying that is complicated just wait until you hear how to control it. There are two pedals on the floor: the right one is the brake pedal, which I believe is just there for show as I think road friction was stopping me faster. The left pedal is for first gear, however, it acts like a clutch as well, so you have to feed it in to prevent a jerky start and then press with all your might to keep it in gear without slipping and damaging the belts. Controlling the speed is done with a tiller under the steering wheel. You manage this with your left hand, because once you reach 5 MPH it’s time for second, or top!
Pry your foot off the left pedal, and with your right hand advance the second gear lever and you are off towards a blistering top speed of just under 30 MPH! Do you desire more speed? Well look no further than your right heel, because there is a floor mounted exhaust cut off! Maybe good for another MPH or two, but definitely adds to the decibel count. While driving in top, you still need to manage the advance and retard to make sure you get max power.
At this point, I presume you are pretty bored of the explanations, but please recognise that I still haven’t covered how to start the car in the first place. That’s because I’m still pretty unsure of how to do it! If you think driving sounds difficult, starting is much, much more difficult.
What’s it like driving on wooden wheels at 30 MPH with 4 people in a 1903 car? Amazing. It handles remarkably well, eventually you get used to the all top-end power, which you monitor by sound of the engine as there are no gauges at all. On the three hills en-route to Brighton we had to drop back to first and slowly crawl up, but down hill we hit nearly 40 and I terrified my passengers!
An interesting part of this event is that a lot of people roll through red lights and stop signs. The drivers are all very aware, but stopping some of these cars can be tricky. I found myself driving on the wrong side of the road on two occasions just to avoid modern cars that stopped suddenly.
We only had one issue during the day. As the second gear belt drive heated up it started expanding and slipping. We pulled over to adjust it, and by the time we had, it had cooled and re-tightened, so we had to adjust it again. We lost about half an hour in the stop, but didn’t mind at all. We all stretched out our shaken bodies and cheered on the other cars as they went by.
Normally the rain slows everyone down, with time to finish taking around 8 hours. My first year’s weather could not have been any better. Having started at 7AM from Hyde Park, we arrived at the Brighton Pier at Midday. 5 hours, the fastest ever time this car has accomplished in it’s 11 years of running this event. A fantastic 5 hours if you ask me and I can’t wait to run it again next year!
A little bit about the event. The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run started in 1896 and it has been run most years since its revival in 1927. This year over 500 vehicles participated with an estimated half-million spectators lining the route! Smiling and waving to everyone was hectic while trying to drive!
Staging in Hyde Park before the start.
This post is pretty devoid of pictures, because I was driving and didn’t have anymore hands to take any. Once I get the official shots and our team pictures I will edit and post them here. For now let me link you guys to these:
I hope this wasn’t too long and crazy and you guys enjoy it!
TLDR: Really, really old cars, drive slowly and break down, but are fun. Look at the pictures above!