Special achievement medals given to three participants who have each taken part in more than 50 London to Brighton Runs
John Dennis knows exactly where he was on the Sunday, 1st November 1959. He knows exactly where he was on Sunday, 6th November 1960, too. In fact, he can pinpoint where he was on the first Sunday of November of every year, ever since. Bar one year in the 1990s, when he was in America on a business trip, on the first Sunday of every November, Dennis has been behind the wheel of his veteran car, making his way from London to Brighton.
Not just any veteran car, either, but one made by his grandfather’s company 115 years ago. It’s a 1902 Dennis Tonneau built by the Guildford-based Dennis Brothers, a company better known today for its buses, trucks and fire appliances.
This year, John Dennis OBE will be driving the same car – registered P 26 – for the 58th time on the annual Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, supported by Hiscox. The car, however, will be on its 66th Run, having completed eight runs with John’s father at the wheel in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
John and two other drivers who have taken part in 50 or more Runs are to be given special Gold Medals by the Royal Automobile Club in recognition of their remarkable achievements. John will be joined at the ceremony by John Kemsley and John Newens, who have participated in 50 and 61 Runs respectively.
“My father acquired the car in 1936 and took part in his last Run in 1954. I accompanied him on a couple of those Runs as a passenger before doing my first as a driver in 1959,” said John Dennis.
The Dennis company was founded in 1895 and produced Speed King bicycles before building its first motor vehicle in 1898. It started car production in 1900 with the first Dennis bus arriving in 1903 and its first fire engine in 1908. Commercial vehicle manufacture quickly took off and car production became a side line before ceasing in 1915.
It is thought the company made between 2,000-3,000 cars in that time, of which just three are known to have survived: and all three are owned by John, who has cars 1909 and 1915 to go with the 1902 veteran.
The Dennis Tonneau is powered by an 8hp single cylinder engine and was discovered by John’s father, then assistant managing director of the company, languishing at the back of the factory in 1936.
“We think it must have been taken back as a part exchange many years earlier when a customer wanted a new car. It was pushed into a corner and largely forgotten until my father rescued it. When he got hold of it, many parts were missing – presumably, it had been used as a donor vehicle when other customers needed parts.
“At least we still had factory drawings, so my father could get the missing parts remade and he restored the car so it could take part in the Veteran Car Run,” said John.
Remarkably the Dennis has never failed to make it to Brighton in time to be a classified finisher – “all the finishers’ medals are on the car… goodness knows how much extra weight they add” – but there have been some close calls.
“One year we had a wheel bearing collapse. You can’t expect to turn up at Halfords and get a spare part off the shelf, of course, but we did manage to find an old-style garage nearby which, luckily, just happened to have the right size of ball bearings so we could rebuild the part. We got to Brighton at about 3 pm that year.
“Then about eight years ago I was due to take the lady Lord Mayor of Westminster and her consort down to Brighton, so I arrived in Hyde Park with an otherwise empty car. She arrived with a heavy cold and apologised profusely that she and her husband wouldn’t be coming after all.
“I put a message out on the public address that I had a spare seat if anyone was interested in a ride. When I got back to the car there was a long queue of hopefuls, with an attractive young lady at its head.
“It turned out that she was in Hyde Park to support her boyfriend who was in another car and she had been due to take a train down to Brighton to meet him at the other end. I was not only able to give her a lift but also to invite her to a splendid VIP lunch with Sir Stirling and Lady Moss at the other end that had been intended for the Lord Mayor. Her boyfriend wasn’t terribly amused.”
The 2017 Veteran Car Run will be held on 5th November – the first Sunday in the month – and is organised by the Royal Automobile Club.
As dawn breaks, a red flag will be ceremoniously torn up and the 450+ entries will start their journey from capital to coast: the Run celebrates the passing into law of the Locomotives on the Highway Act in November 1896, also known as the Red Flag Act and refers to a time when these new-fangled machines had to follow a man holding a red flag.
The Emancipation Run stopped in 1903, but was revived in 1927. The RAC took over its organisation in 1930 and in 1936 the start moved to Hyde Park. Aside from the war years and 1947 when petrol rationing was in place, the Run has taken place every year since. The first Sunday in November has been the date of the Run since 1956.
The Veteran Car Run is the final act in the Royal Automobile Club’s annual London Motor Week – a week in which the Club presents an array of functions and events to suit all motoring tastes, which this year includes its annual Art of Motoring exhibition, the Motoring Lectures, a Motoring Forum, a dinner with FIA President Jean Todt and the Dewar and Simms Trophy presentations, awarded for British engineering excellence. The week culminates with the free-to-view Regent Street Motor Show on Saturday 4th November and the world-famous Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run supported by Hiscox.
For more information on London Motor Week, visit www.londonmotorweek.co.uk.