The night before the Run, I went down to the hotel bar for some dinner.

There were perhaps ten or fifteen people in the tiny room, and you can imagine my astonishment as I noticed that a number of gentlemen present were wearing blazers bearing the insignia of the Veteran Car Club. 

The power of this coincidence was far too much for even my deeply-ingrained reticence to bear. I tapped the gentleman standing closest to me on the shoulder and asked him if he had a car in the Run.

This was Clive Hawley. Precisely the right person to tap.

We Americans harbor all sorts of stereotypes about the British. We believe that residents of the UK are, generally speaking, more intelligent, more compassionate, more kindhearted, and more genuine… than your average resident of the US.

Where did we ever get a goofy idea like that?

I'll tell you where… I'm guessing it all started with Clive Hawley. I'm sure it would be wrong to think that everyone you bump into in England would be like Clive… but it would certainly be nice to think that.

Clive responded that yes, he did have a car in the Run, and asked me if I had an interest in the Run. I responded that, in fact, I'd flown over to see the Run.

Now, thousands upon thousands of people make it a point to turn out for the London-to-Brighton Run each year. They line the roadways, applaud the cars and their drivers, take pictures, shoot videotapes… and host barbeques, parties and car meets all along the route. So the fact that I was in London to see the Run was thoroughly unremarkable.

But seemingly not to Clive, who called out to his group, announcing to them that I'd come "all the way from America just to see the Run." I was introduced to Clive's wife Maureen, to his son, Clive Jr., to Anthony Roberts, to David Potts. These were the people with the cars; these were the drivers and navigators; these were the stars of the show. Their interest in me - after all, just a spectator - seemed incredible but genuine.

Clive Hawley (left) and Clive Hawley Jr. cross Westminster Bridge on the 2000 Run in their 1903 Gamage Aster. According to David Burgess-Wise, "Gamage's of Holborn was a famous London Department Store that sold a variety of 'own-brand' cars between 1903 and 1905."

Imagine yourself going to see a new Harrison Ford movie… and meeting Harrison Ford in the popcorn line. You tell Harrison you've come to see his latest picture… and Harrison appears to be astonished and inordinately pleased by this. He's so astonished, in fact, that he makes a big fuss over you and introduces you to the rest of his party. Next, imagine that Harrison says, "I was actually just leaving to attend an elegant and exclusive party being held for the show business elite… why don't you come join us?"
I swear to you -- swap Clive Hawley for Harrison Ford and the that's pretty much what happened next. Clive and company were headed off for a London-Brighton champagne reception at the Royal Automobile Club. And Harrison… sorry, I mean Clive… said, "Why don't you come along?"  
I accepted immediately.
We headed down to the lobby. While waiting for the others to arrive, Clive walked me down to the hotel's underground garage for a brief visit backstage. Six or seven veterans were parked in the tiny space -- a thoroughly unexpected concentration of automotive beauty and history came suddenly into view. The gleaming brass; the spoke tires; the jumble of unfamiliar controls clustered ‘round the steering wheels… the odd combination of delicacy and ruggedness that Run cars project to even the most casual viewer.  
We did not linger. We climbed back up to street level and boarded a cab headed for the Royal Automobile Club. Click Here to go to Next Page