The Regent Street Motor Show has proved to be a roaring success, helped it must be said by the wonderful autumnal weather. Simon Hildrew and the editor were out armed with cameras, plus a little help from the organisers.
Great Britain’s capital, London, has a fair number of landmarks that are famous all over the globe. Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament are examples of this notoriety, so is Piccadilly Circus. If one heads north from the statue of Eros, the centrepiece of the latter, it will be along Regent Street, one of the major shopping streets in the West End of London. It was named after the Prince Regent (later George IV) and is associated with the architect John Nash, whose street layout survives, even if all bar one of his creations have vanished.
Busy as this tourist boulevard is, the last Saturday of last month it was closed to traffic from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus for the Regent Street Motor Show. This festival is part of a week-long celebration of cars, The London Motor Week, promoted by the Royal Automobile Club. The organisers claim that hundreds of thousands attended on Saturday, it certainly was busy and the clement weather will have tempted out the crowds.
The central attraction on display was a collection of around 100 cars due to take part in 2015 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, the following day.
The trip from London to the South Coast’s largest city is now the world’s longest running motoring event. First held in 1927, it is a re-enactment of the original Emancipation Run, which was held on 14th November 1896 to celebrate the passing into law of the Light Locomotives Act which raised the speed limit to 14mph and removed the need for a person to walk in front of a mechanised vehicle waving a red flag to warn other road users. The irony of the Health & Safety Regulation-driven use of marshals to escort the cars to their assigned parking spots was obviously lost in translation………ah well.
The participants for the run were from all over the world, accents from Australia, New Zealand mingled with distinctive American twangs, the veteran car fraternity are a cosmopolitan bunch who really get into the spirit of the event with period costume, it is automotive street theatre.
This group of Italians had quite a tale to tell about their Isotta Fraschini dating back to 1902. For those of you who have not heard of this fine Italian car company they produced luxury limousines that were much sought after by stars of Hollywood and the like in the ’20s and ’30s. However the destruction of the global economy following the Wall Street Crash and The Depression and the militarisation of Italy under Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, meant that both production and sales dwindled.
Back in 1931 Henry Ford considered a plan to build a major Ford Motor Company plant in Italy, actively encouraged by Il Duce. As part of the incentives offered, Mussolini “encouraged” Isotto Fraschini to donate the first car they produced to Ford’s museum.
Unfortunately for the Italian dictator and Ford as soon as Fiat got wind of this plan to install one of their major rivals on home ground the scheme was halted in its tracks. The car sat in the museum until Italy declared war on the USA following Pearl Harbor. It was removed from display and lost in a storage unit for over half a century. It has now been repatriated to Italy in the hands of a collector, a happy ending.
The populace is regularly told that electric powered cars are seen as the next best thing, well as long as we ignore where the electricity to charge the batteries comes from, assuming it is a form of fossil fuel. That issue will be solved in due course. Certainly great progress is being made on hybrid energy recovery systems and motor sport is contributing to this cutting-edge technology in Endurance racing and Formula One.
The famous London department store, Harrods, was using electric vehicles back in 1904. This Pope Waverley was built in Indianapolis in 1899 and imported into the UK a few years later. It was used by Harrods for local deliveries to the palaces and great houses that were close to Knightsbridge. Harrods continued to use electric delivery vehicles for many years subsequently. They designed and built their own version, constructing a fleet of 60 vans between 1938 and 1941.
The above vehicle was taking part in the London to Brighton Run and it was estimated that four changes of battery would be required to complete the route’s 54 miles.
Anywhere classic cars are gathered there will be a concours, here are the judges, one of whom is Grand Prix legend, Ross Brawn. Brawn has amassed a fine collection of cars down the years with his major contribution to teams like Ferrari and Honda. He is the proud owner of a 1904 Wilson-Pilcher that he has run twice in the London to Brighton.
The Regent Street Motor Show featured other, more contemporary aspects of motoring. Would you fancy turning this pile of bits into a working car? In less than six hours? In front of the public? Well Caterham did.
Actually four of Caterham’s engineers did. Why? Over half of the Caterham Sevens sold in the UK are for self-assembly. This dates from ’50s when sportscars such as the Seven were sold in kit form to avoid Purchase Tax, which could save up to 33%. To get round the rules the kits were supplied with a “Disassembly Book”. Customers had to follow these instructions in reverse……………
There are no such problems these days. The dynamic four managed to complete the task in under five hours, which is impressive.
Like most major cities London suffers from congestion and pollution that blights the lives of all who experience it. Transport for London are tasked with improving London’s air quality and aim to have the greenest bus and taxi fleet of any city. They had on display one of their new electric buses and also one of their oldest buses as well.
Forming part of this initiative a Low Emission Motoring Zone has been introduced to regulate older lorries and vans. There is a substantial tax ($300 per day) for using vehicles that have not been modified to reduce emissions while operated in Central London. In addition to this as of 2020 there will be an Ultra Low Emission Zone in force in the heart of London with charges payable on a daily basis for non-compliant vehicles. Manufacturers such as BMW, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Renault brought along their latest products to Regent Street to show their solutions to this issue. The star was undoubtedly the BMW i8, Munich’s dramatic hybrid Grand Tourer.
Speaking of stars, the Aston Martin display attracted much attention from the passers-by and none more than the Aston Martin DB10 that featured in the latest James Bond movie, Spectre.
Spectre’s premier was only a few days back, so the timing of this exhibit was perfect. The DB10 was created specially for the film, hand-built by Aston Martin. One almost felt sorry for all the other cars.
Almost I said, as for some of us even the DB10 is shaded by the Ferrari ‘Breadvan’ which greeted visitors arriving from the Piccadilly Circus end of the show.
I explained the history of this unique Ferrari 250 GT SWB earlier it is certainly special a very cool car.
One of the celebrities that turns out for almost every serious motoring event held in the UK is the mildly annoying DJ and new Top Gear presenter, Chris Evans. Evans is tireless in his work to raise money for the charity Children in Need, indeed he has his own event to benefit that cause, I went along last year to CarFest.
Whatever my opinion is of Mr. Evans, he is a serious car-guy, owning a fabulous collection of Ferraris and other desirable cars. In the run up to the 2015 London to Brighton event he trained to drive a bus, getting his PCV Licence. Lodge’s Coaches provided a pair of ’50s vehicles and Evans auctioned a ride to Brighton on his morning radio show. He raised the astonishing sum of $525,000 for 40 passengers.
The Regent Street Motor Show is the UK’s largest free-to-view, motoring event, if you are in the West End next autumn, pop along you will not be disappointed.
John Brooks, February 2016
Photography Copyright and Courtesy of Simon Hildrew and the Author. Additional material courtesy of the organisers.