It is easy, in this marvelous age of cloud computing and space tourism and stuffed-crust pizza, to forget that we are not all that far removed from a time when people were sewn into their clothes for the winter and regarded any form of progress with the utmost suspicion.
Indeed, at the turn of the 20th century, most considered the motor car a silly fad – impractical, unreliable and dangerous. To prove them wrong, the Automobile Club organised a demonstration trial for the spring of 1900. London to Edinburgh and back again, 1000 miles in only 20 days, to show just what the motor car could do.
The Thousand Mile Trial was a resounding success. More than half of the participants finished and, despite the insistence of some drivers
on taking liqueurs with lunch, the only casualties were an unfortunate dog and an ‘unmanageable’ horse.
It was an historic moment in the popularisation of the car – ‘Quite simply, it put motoring on the map,’ says Ben Cussons, chairman of the Motoring Committee of the Royal Automobile Club – and it will be celebrated this summer by HERO, which plans to trace the Trial’s original route as faithfully as possible with a group of pre-war cars.
This time, the 1000 miles will be knocked off in six days, thanks to a speed limit in excess of 12mph and rather more helpful maps than were available in 1900. But the crews will set off from the Royal Automobile Club’s club house at Woodcote Park in Epsom with a similar mission to that of their intrepid forebears, bringing their incredible machines to towns and cities up and down the UK.
The intention is to make the 2014 Trial every bit as much of an event as the original. Entrants and marshals are encouraged to dress in period costume, a concours d’élégance at Woodcote Park is scheduled, and the runners will be joined for the final leg of the journey by a number of crowd-pleasing Veteran cars.
It will be no mere rolling motor show, however: a qualifying round of the 2014 HERO Cup, the Trial will be fiercely contested, and will thus offer enthusiasts a rare opportunity to see some grand old gents of the road in full flight.
Even if you can’t take part, then, this is one to circle in the diary.