The RAC London to Brighton Veteran Car Run more than pays its way and has spawned many profitable imitators.
It was partly inspired by Harry Lawson who could be considered the Jeremy Clarkson of his day.
He was part of the syndicate that founded Autocar magazine – television was still some way off – and effectively organised Britain’s first motor show.
He also railed against the speed limit. It was 4mph.
His lobbying paid off and to celebrate the legal top speed being raised to 14mph in 1896, members of the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) held the “Emancipation Run” from London to Brighton.
Sat in a queue of traffic on the A23 heading back into Brighton, you could be forgiven for thinking of 14mph as an aspiration rather than a limit.
Top speeds may have risen further. And Top Gear may reach many more people than Autocar today. So much has changed.
But some things seem to stay reassuringly the same.
And so it is that on Sunday (6 November) more than 500 of the world’s oldest cars are due to head our way once again for the annual re-enactment of the 1896 run.
There will be a few gripes – some about traffic hold-ups, others from those who hate cars and the infernal combustion engines that pollute our highways.
But even non-motorists in Brighton have reason to be grateful for the original London to Brighton run.
A study by Brighton University students found that the Veteran Car Run was worth about £1.1 million to the economy of Brighton and Hove.
They carried out an economic impact study in conjunction with the Federation of British Historic Car Clubs.
The study involved the use of various research tools from interviewing spectators to filming the crowds to count the numbers watching from Patcham to Madeira Drive.
They also accounted for the organisers’ and sponsors’ local spending.
Many of those taking part are among our wealthiest visitors. Some head home at the earliest opportunity. Others stick around and dine in our restaurants, drink in our bars and stay in our hotels.
As one of the organisers said: “There can be a brief inconvenience but overall it brings great benefits.”
And the RAC run has spawned many imitators. London to Brighton runs cater for Mini owners, camper van fans, coach drivers, motorcyclists and thousands upon thousands of cyclists.
Like the veteran car owners, plenty of participants in all these events are joined by partners, family, friends and supporters.
Few will leave Brighton without spending something.
And now the RAC has inaugurated a second run on the same weekend.
On Saturday (5 November) dozens of cars will set off from Brighton to London in electric, hybrid and low-emission vehicles.
The drivers’ goal is to use the least energy on a 60-mile route from Madeira Drive to the capital.
The event encourages and promotes new clean-energy cars and heralds tomorrow’s pioneering technology.
The old crocks should start to arrive in Brighton seafront shortly after 10am on Sunday.
Nick Mason, from Pink Floyd, is often among the first to finish.
This year retired Formula One driver Nigel Mansell is taking part in the event.
And although the organisers are at pains to point out that it is definitely not a race, one said: “I find it hard to believe that he won’t do everything in his power to cross the line first.”
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