The magic of the annual Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run always attracts a host of high profile personalities from right across sporting and entertainment spectrums. Last year’s staging of the world’s longest-running motoring event starred TV personality Paul Hollywood and Olympic heroes Sir Ben Ainslie and Sir Steve Redgrave.
Formula 1 legend Ross Brawn OBE was another of last year’s well-known figures making his debut on the hallowed route from Hyde Park to the Sussex coast. Now, bowled over by that ‘tremendous experience’, he’s returning for another veteran car adventure next month (Sunday 1 November).
Brawn is renowned for his engineering wisdom. Before stepping down as Team Principal of Lewis Hamilton OBE’s all-conquering Mercedes outfit in 2014, he was the technical genius behind the championship-winning Benetton and Ferrari Formula 1 teams as well as owner of his own Brawn Grand Prix team that took Jenson Button to the 2009 title.
Indeed, it’s this deep-seated fascination with automotive mechanics that attracted him to not only participate in last year’s Run but also to buy and enter his own pre-1905 veteran car. Adding further to his involvement, Brawn also joined the judging panel for the EFG International Concours d’Elegance which, as tradition now dictates, takes place during the Regent Street Motor Show on the eve of the Run. He’ll be joining the judging line-up once again this year.
The pioneering machine the 60-year-old Lancastrian mastermind now owns is unsurprisingly very special and highly innovative. It’s the only known surviving British-built Wilson-Pilcher dating back to 1904. Among a host of groundbreaking components, it features a 2.7-litre, water-cooled, flat-four 12/16hp engine, a Phaeton chassis, a remarkably low centre of gravity and a novel transmission fitted with dual epicyclic gears.
The forward-looking four-seater remained in its creator’s family for more than a century before Brawn acquired it in 2013 via a sale organised by auctioneers Bonhams. It was then recommissioned just in time for last November’s trip to Brighton – a memorable outing the rare Wilson-Pilcher’s new owner relished for lots of reasons.
“It was a tremendous experience,” he recalls. “I was just staggered and impressed by the support the event gets from the public – they love it. Even though the weather wasn’t great, the amount of people out waving and cheering was really enjoyable and impressive.
“Driving the car for the 60 miles was completely novel. I’d had some lessons from someone who knew what they were doing but driving that far was certainly an undertaking. It was nice to challenge myself with something different – normally I’m watching someone else do the driving!”
As well as enjoying his time behind the wheel, Brawn is still intrigued by the technically advanced Wilson-Pilcher.
“It appealed to me because of the history of Walter Wilson who designed the car,” continues the brains behind no fewer than nine Formula 1 Constructors’ Championships. ‘Wilson was one of the most innovative engineers of his era and went on to design the First World War tank and the famous Wilson Pre-Selector gearbox. You just look at the car and there are so many interesting engineering concepts. They didn’t have the materials or the methods that exist now but what they achieved within the limitations they had is just staggering. Every time I look around the car, or do something on it, I discover something new that really impresses me. It’s a great car.”
Despite having to overcome a few little problems in true period style as well as battling a heavy rain storm when crossing the South Downs, Brawn and the Wilson-Pilcher made it all the way to Madeira Drive last November – a feat he is now aiming to repeat next month.
“As you get more into it, I think finishing becomes more of an important objective,” he admits. “For me the first year was just taking part and I was just glad to finish – now I want to make sure I finish!
“I can see the compulsion of people wanting to get to Brighton – we’ve had some more work done on the car this summer to get it ready and we’ll keep doing that. The car had been kept in reasonable condition but not had that much done to it over a number of years, so it’s now my responsibility to ensure it’s kept in full working order.”
Those wanting to catch Brawn en route to Brighton can find full route information on the official Veteran Car Run website. This year’s Run takes place Sunday 1 November with the first cars departing from Hyde Park at 06:54.
The Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is the pinnacle event in a week of motoring in the capital during ‘London Motor Week’ – a series of events hosted by the world famous Royal Automobile Club which also includes a Literary Festival, Motoring Forum, motoring lectures and the Regent Street Motor Show.