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Winner - the International Historic Motoring Awards 2016

Everything about the 1902 De Dion Bouton is confusing

Mar 14 2021

This article was featured earlier in the PreWarCar.com magazine (December 7, 2018)

"The car I drove on the London to Brighton Run recently is a 1902 De Dion Bouton, although everyone has always simply referred to the car as ‘Fifi’ since she arrived in the family at the beginning of 1934. Everything about the car is confusing: the clutch is not on the floor, but on the steering column; to slow the car down you have to press down the pedal on the floor that looks like it should be the accelerator, but it isn’t. The handbrake is pretty good but when you are turning right there is the choice between letting the driver behind know what you are doing or ploughing into the car in front; it is tempting to believe that early motorists had more arms than we have nowadays, or maybe no-one bothered indicating.

Everything about the start of the London to Brighton Run is exciting: the funny noises the different cars make (Fifi makes a “pop-pop” sound), the smells and the blasts of steam from some of the cars. Everyone seems to have made a special effort to polish their brass lamps, and dress themselves up. I never expected to see so many people waiting in Hyde Park to see us off - waving at the crowds was another challenge when I was concentrating on changing from first to second gear, making sure the engine didn’t stall and avoiding the car in front that suddenly stopped.

After all, that driving on the roads through London was relatively straightforward, as long as I planned ahead for the dozens of traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, mini roundabouts, and the uphills, that Fifi has a particular dislike for. By far the best part is driving through Sussex where it seems like there are thousands of people lined up by the side of the road, with their friends, old classic cars, BBQ’s and drinks, all cheering us on. And then there is the finish on Madeira Drive, with even more people helping us to celebrate. There is so much relief to have arrived, without any one of the dozens of problems that have afflicted the car over the years, when bits have fallen off, clogged up or broken.

I live in Brighton, and so many people I know look forward to the event, even hoping that one day they might get the chance to travel down on a car. As for driving a car, that is a special experience, which I loved."

Words by Grace Edwards. Photograph by Sussex Sport Photography.

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