Classic recollections: The Brighton Run
The love motorists have for the freedom found in open-road cruising can be traced to a time much further back than one may think.
While the era of muscle-bound machines, chrome-dripping cruisers and corner-carving coupes of the 1950s, '60s and '70s immediately come to mind, that might just be the high-water mark. The first drops in this eventual flood flowed from Brighton, England, way back in to 1896.
Brighton is where early motorists took a stand defending the privilege to pilot their vehicles without interference from encumbering, outside forces.
To set the stage, one must go further back into history, to 1861, when the first law placing restrictions on the use of "motorcars" was passed in England. Called the Locomotive Act of 1861, it put into a place a posted speed limit of 10 miles per hour and required that two occupants man each moving machine.
This growing effort to contain the infant automobile was largely brought on by fearful railroad moguls who foresaw a loss of market share in the cargo and passenger-hauling business. The laws toughened in 1865 when the "Red Flag Act" was passed, requiring now three persons to operate one of the street-going "locomotives" -- two inside and one on foot preceding "such locomotive … by not less than 60 yards and shall carry a red flag constantly on display."
In addition, that 10 mph limit was dropped to a lumbering four.
Mounting pressure from frustrated auto enthusiasts culminated in the passing of an 1896 law ending the need for three occupants and raising the posted speed limit from four to 12 mph. It may not seem like much, but it served to prove that drivers were passionate about a genuine driving experience, free of silly limitations. To celebrate, car owners staged a cruise to Brighton, England, on Nov. 14, the first day the new law took effect.
They called this the Emancipation Run and it included thirty cars making the trek from London to Brighton, a seaside resort town, cheered on by masses lining the cold and wet streets.
That same spirit is alive and well today right here in the Midwest in the form of the annual "Brighton Run" organized by the North Shore chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America.
The group's inaugural run kicked off in 1960 with the destination being the sleepy, rural town of Brighton, Wis., and that tradition has continued ever since. On the first Sunday in November, dozens of classic, antique, muscle and modern car lovers gather at a predetermined location in the Chicago suburbs and make the 50-mile cruise, enjoying the back roads with their fellow motorists. There are no prizes, no trophies, just a love for the freedom to drive without anyone hampering their four-wheeled fun.