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Age Is No Barrier

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The DriveWrite Archives Topics:  James & Browne, London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

Age Is No Barrier

Geoff Maxted
October 3, 2013

London to Brighton
A veteran born in 1902 joins young students for an annual outing from capital to coast. He might be more than 110 years old, but that doesn’t stop Bo making an annual trip to the seaside with a group of students in their 20s. And he’s been doing it for more than 80 years.

But then Bo – short for Boanerges – is no ordinary centurion. In fact he’s a 1902 James & Browne 9hp, one of only two James & Browne cars thought to be left in the world.

Bo is owned by the Imperial College in London and each year a team of engineering students ensure he’s fit for the annual 60-mile Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton before they jump aboard and drive him down themselves.

It’s a ritual that’s being going since the late-1920s when the rare veteran was bought by the university as an engineering project for students. During Fresher’s week every September, Bo sits proudly outside the College’s Queen’s Tower enticing new recruits to enrol in that year’s Veteran Car Run team.

The new recruits then join a few old hands preparing Bo for the November outing. Driving from London to Brighton is usually entrusted to a second or third year student with some experience of Bo’s idiosyncrasies…

“Actually, it takes two people to drive Bo,” says Dr Shaun Crofton, Senior Tutor at Imperial’s Engineering Department and Bo’s guardian. “One looks after the steering, brakes and gears while the front seat passenger is responsible for the throttle and the ignition advance and retard. It might sound a little dangerous but actually it’s a fine example of how teamwork can get the job done.”

Although among the youngest taking part in the world’s oldest motoring event, the students get into the spirit of the Run by donning blazers, ties and top hats come rain or shine… and despite the car’s complete lack of weather protection.

“Some of them might wear waterproofs underneath, but that’s poor form if you ask me,” laughs Crofton, who owns two veterans of his own and will be taking part, as usual, this year in his 1900 single-cylinder De Dion-Bouton vis-à-vis.

The name Boanerges comes from the bible (Mark 3:17) and means ‘Son of Thunder’. It was the name given by Jesus to Disciples James and John, describing them as vociferous preachers. Bo himself is far from quiet.

Built in Hammersmith, the James & Browne arrived at Imperial College in November 1925 to replace ‘Old Bo’, a 1908 Rover that was too young to take part in the Veteran Car Run, which is open only to cars built before 31 December 1904.

‘New Bo’ was purchased from a seller in Shropshire for just £30 – it’s worth around £150,000 today – and has taken part in every Run since it arrived at the College, failing to complete the journey just once.

And Old Bo? An eventful life included being dumped outside 10 Downing Street as a protest against the actions of then Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald and a period as a track marshal’s car at the old Crystal Palace race circuit. Alas the Rover is no more, but it did make a vital contribution to the war effort. During World War II, the Ministry of Aircraft Production’s scrap collection programme saw Old Bo being recycled into aircraft parts.

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