1901 Autocar

1901 Autocar (only one extant)

The “London to Brighton Run” is a sixty-mile endurance rally that is held in England each year in early November. A history of the event is presented here, courtesy of the Royal Automobile Club. More information can be found at www.veterancarrun.com/introduction/history.html

The Royal Automobile Club’s annual Veteran Car Run takes place on the first Sunday of every November and commemorates the Emancipation Run of 14 November 1896 which celebrated the passing into law of the Locomotives on the Highway Act, which raised the speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4 mph to 14 mph and abolished the requirement for these vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot.

The early law required the man on foot to carry a red flag but that requirement was actually abolished in 1878. However, the Locomotive Act was still widely known as the ‘Red Flag Act’ and a red flag was symbolically destroyed at the start of the Emancipation Run by Lord Winchilsea, as it is today just before the start in Hyde Park of each November’s celebration Run by members of The Royal Automobile Club.

33 pioneering motorists set off from the Metropole Hotel in Central London on the 1896 Run to endure the rough roads to the Sussex seaside resort and the Metropole Hotel of Brighton. But only 14 of the starters actually made the journey, and some evidence shows that one car, an electric model, was secretly taken by rail and covered with mud before crossing the finishing line!

The first formal re-enactment of the 1896 Run was staged in 1927 and organized by the motoring editor of the Daily Sketch. The Run has taken place every November thereafter, with the exception of the war years and 1947 when petrol rationing was in force.
From 1930 to the present day the Run has been owned and professionally organized by the Royal Automobile Club of Pall Mall London. In 1936 the Club moved the start of the Run to Hyde Park which has hosted the ceremonial early November Sunday morning assembly ever since and for 2012 celebrates the 76th Anniversary of the start from this Royal Parks venue.

Not a race but an endurance of man and machine the annual event today attracts over 500 automobiles with an eligibility criteria that requires the cars to be of three or four wheel design and certified that their build took place prior to the 1 January 1905. Occasionally however the organizers invite a small number of vehicles just out of period to join the celebration.

In 1963, my father developed a fervent desire to make this rally. Because it would only accept cars from 1905 and earlier, he had to find an appropriate vehicle. A brief discussion of the goal with his close friend and fellow “Old Car Buff”, Henry Austin Clark, led him on a pilgrimage to Austin’s museum in Long Island New York. He returned with a 1901 Automobile, complete with a two apposed cylinder engine and tiller steering. There was a considerable amount of rot in the wooden frame, body and fenders. The wheels would have to be re-spoked and the engine had a considerable crack in one of the cylinder mounting flanges. As an eight-year old boy, I was fascinated.

Dad worked on this car for about a year and taught me many woodworking skills during the restoration. One interesting feature of the car was its fenders. During this period of car production, it was pretty common to use parts that were mass-produced for buggies and horse-drawn carriages. Leather fenders stretched over a steel frame was common for the day. This Autocar had laminated wooden fenders attached to forged struts.

Before Dad finished the restoration, he found a 1912 Columbia and became captivated by the find. (see the story elsewhere on this site) The 1901 Autocar, the only one left in existence, was left in the corner of the garage while other, more interesting restoration work was commenced.

By 1986, I had begun a restoration facility at my home in Carrollton, Georgia. My father had lost interest in the Autocar, so I made him an offer. Donze Restorations was the name of my company, but we operated a little differently than other restoration shops. Rather than look for clients that needed restoration work to be performed on their cars, I chose to create a “stable” of desirable cars that I wanted to work on. At one point, we were up to twenty-five cars, with about half of them awaiting restoration.

By 1990, another professional challenge came along and I started reducing the stable. Still unfinished, I sold the 1901 Autocar to a collector from Bridgeport, Connecticut. The picture shown here was from the day it arrived in Berea, Ohio in 1963. In all the years that I owned or worked on this car, I never thought to keep pictures of it. However, I do know that it is the only one of its kind.