One has the sense of coming into Brighton through the back door.

Since the route avoids the main highway, there’s probably some truth to that sensation. It seemed that each Brighton building we passed was facing the other way, presenting us with only blank, windowless walls. Perhaps these buildings all faced the Channel. The sensation of approaching the finish line “from backstage” was heightened by the route immediately following a final checkpoint, where we made a sharp left and proceeded across an open field and a stretch of rough road reserved for Veterans only.

A few more turns and we were suddenly, shockingly out in the open. We could catch glimpses of the sea, and sounds from yet another public address system came and went with the wind. A quick U-turn brought us into a queue with other cars approaching the finish line, where each car was announced and each driver interviewed.

Mary turned back to me. “Not as many people here, I think it’s the weather.” The wind was strong, whistling in our ears, and the skies looked as if they might open up at any moment. Yet, despite the cold, choppy sea to our right, and the threatening skies above, there was a substantial crowd of people on hand to see the finish, as warm and receptive as the water and weather were cold and forbidding.

“And here’s another of the Darracqs here,” said the finish-line host, walking to meet us halfway as we pulled up to the finish banner. “All the way from Merseyside… two-sixty-two, the Bill Ellam car… and has it done everything it should?”

Above: Approaching the finish line in Brighton

Bill’s answer began with “Yes…” and -- though I was sitting less than twelve inches behind him, and though his voice was well-amplified through a series of giant loudspeakers -- his answer was drowned out by the car that had pulled up behind us and blown out to sea by the wind. I’m reasonably sure Bill somehow qualified that “yes,” though -- it’s his nature. I did catch the very end of his remarks.

“We have a guest from America with us, who’s come over…”

“I shall speak to your guest from America… the first time you have been on a London to Brighton Run?"

“Yes… first time in Brighton.”

Above: Now I know how Alan felt.

“It’s wonderful! I haven’t had such a good time – ever!” Hardly eloquent, but heartfelt; my voice cracked in a most remarkable fashion in the midst of the word “wonderful.”
“Nice to see you. Welcome to Brighton.”
Déjà vu all over again. It was the scene in “Genevieve” where Alan McKim is interviewed, gets tongue-tied, and is left shaken and embarrassed by the experience. 
We drove down to park with the others who had beaten advanced vehicular age, the odds, and the weather to complete the 2000 Run... and to await those who had not yet arrived.
Bill and Mary's Darracq has a long wicker basket on the passenger's side meant to hold an umbrella in case of inclement weather. Bill and Mary have found a far better use for the container, though. Bill opened it up and, with some pulling and prodding, removed a couple of bottles of champagne. 

After pouring celebratory glasses, Bill put the bottle, its labels scarred from a slightly too-tight umbrella-basket fit, down on the nearest flat surface - the hood of the Darracq. Speaking as someone raised in a family that does not take its cars out into the rain post-polishing, this small gesture astounded and delighted me, symbolizing the unique bond Bill Ellam has with his car... and the marvelous lack of pretense and joy of the Run. No glass of champagne ever tasted as good. 

Champagne.JPG (316249 bytes)

Above: New rings for the Darracq? Click on this picture for a larger image. 

As Bill sipped, one of his friends approached, wordlessly holding aloft a small, jagged piece of metal. In an instant - with one quick look - Bill realized what had broken, why it had broken, and what the break meant -- that his friend had not finished the Run. Bill's first words were condolences. An old weld -- one that had remained hidden for decades -- had given way on his friend's car. Some years your car finishes the Run; some years the Run finishes your car.
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