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A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics

Driven to distraction by David Burgess-Wise Published: 31st May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics A basic starting point - this unrestored 1901 De Dion Bouton Vis-à-vis sold for £10,575 last summer
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics This is how many veterans are found - a 1904 Societe d’Armes discovered in Sardinia in the 1970s…
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics …and the same car restored to full magnificence
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics Grandfather rights qualify this 1905 De Dion-Bouton for the Brighton Run
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics This Clement was a prize lot at one of the biggest sales of early cars in the 1960s…
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics Bought at the 1968 Smith Sale, this 1902 Baby Peugeot needed little restoration
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics The ideal starter veteran - the Curved Dash Oldsmobile
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics One of a kind - the unique 1900 Daniel Auge was found in Paris
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics Another rarity - a 1902 Boyer, typical of the products of many small French companies
A guide to Pre-1900’s Classics … and here is a similar Clement in 2005
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Ever since I was a very small boy, I had always wanted to own a Brighton Run car - that is, a true pioneer motor car built prior to 1905.

Ever since I was a very small boy, I had always wanted to own a Brighton Run car - that is, a true pioneer motor car built prior to 1905. There was something about those very early cars that appealed to some fundamental instinct in me, just as I’ve always liked early aircraft. Perhaps it’s the fact that in both cases it’s the element of watching a hero controlling a machine that obviously requires a degree of skill to make it perform adequately (or indeed at all), or just the sheer visual attraction of a primitive piece of transport. Either way, primitive cars have been a lifelong passion, aided by the convenient fact that when I was a schoolboy we lived just a short bus ride from the Brighton Road. There was only one snag about veteran car ownership in my formative years, and that was the cost: veteran cars were always more expensive than any others in the 1950s and ’60s, so I had to be patient before I could realise my ambition. And vintage cars filled the gap quite adequately. It was back in 1989 that I was at last able to realise my dream and acquire an unrestored 1903 De Dion-Bouton, and maybe my experiences in acquiring a Brighton Runner might be a useful guide to any of you who are considering buying a pre-Great War car, which are becoming increasingly attractive as the price of modern classics skyrockets. Early cars, once the price leaders, have remained relatively stable in cost in recent years, though there are signs that their values are beginning to creep upwards. Now of course it alldepends what you want out of an old car. Early cars with limited performance are not the thing for motorways or fast dual carriageway roads, but on country byways there is nothing better. For me, part of the fun of driving a very early car is that element of skill that you need for changing gear or keeping up a good average speed, something that is lacking from a modern classic. The joy of a good gearchange on a gearbox with a tricky selector method and no synchromesh - the so-called “crash” gearbox – is something to savour!

What you have to realise is that, if you are seeking something as rare as a Brighton Run car, the supply is, to say the least, limited. My own estimate is that there are probably around 1500 pre-1905 cars in private ownership. Most common are De Dion-Boutons, of which approximately 140 of all types are known to the Veteran Car Club. And there are plenty of early makes of which only one or two examples survive. On that basis, Brighton Run cars - all of whichare now true antiques, since every one of them is now over 100 years old - represent astounding value for money, even though it is unlikely that nowadays you will find one in running order for much less than £20,000. But compare that with something like a popular sports car from the 1950s and 60s like an Austin-Healey, Triumph TR or an E-Type Jaguar that commands similar market values – prone to rust, with difficult to find plastic, trim or glass components despite a survival rate running into many hundreds - and a veteran becomes a much more realistic proposition.There are basically five ways: through a club, from a specialist dealer, from a friend, at an auction or… pure luck! If you’re interested in buying a veteran, membership of the Veteran Car Club is essential. Its magazine appears six times a year and always has advertisements for veteran and Edwardian cars for sale by members - a useful supplement to the advertisements by specialist dealers in Classic Cars for Sale. It organises rallies and meets, has a well-stocked library at its headquarters in the pretty village of Ashwell in Hertfordshire and operates the dating scheme that determines when a car was built - an essential factor in deciding whether or not a car is eligible for the Brighton Run. That’s essential, because if an undated car is submitted to the VCC’s Dating Committee and is found to have been built in 1905 - even if, to take an extreme case, it was completed on Monday 2 January 1905 - it is thus ineligible for the famous Brighton Run. “Hang on!” those of you who read their Brighton Run programmes carefully will cry: “What about the tiny handful of cars that appear right at the end of the entry list without a build date against them?”

Though the programme doesn’t explain the reason that no date is given, those cars possess a very special (and somewhat contentious) qualification known as “Grandfather Rights”. Basically, they are cars built in 1905 that wereofficially dated as 1904 models in the past when dating was a less exact science and took part in the Brighton Run on that basis. Documents like the Wolseley order books that have come to light since then have moved some cars into the 1905 bracket, resulted in the issue of a revised VCC Dating Certificate and made them technically ineligible for the Run. However, since they had taken part in the event as officially certified 1904 cars, they are still allowed to enter. The most extreme example of that official loophole in action came at the Sharpe sale last summer when a 1905 De Dion-Bouton Y-Type two-seater with Grandfather Rights was sold for a whopping £61,100 (and a 1904 De Dion-Bouton 6-hp Two Seater sold for a still high £36,425!). But the number of “Grandfather Rights” cars is very small, so if you’re buying a veteran, it pays to do your homework if it doesn’t possess a Dating Certificate and be sure that it was built before the end of 1904, for “Brighton-eligible” cars carry a price premium. When I bought my De Dion- Bouton as an undated car, I was able to tell that it was actually a 1903 model from its technical features. So… join the Veteran Car Club, research the technical details of the car in which you are interested and remember that if mechanical work is needed, almost any job on a veteran can be carried out by a skilled machinist. Buying a veteran may involve some financial pain at first, but believe me, you will never regret the purchase!

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