by Bob Saynor
5.30am on a Saturday is a time no one wants to see – but as I slip out of my house in Brighton, heading for the meeting point at the Metropole Hotel, at least I have a complimentary fry-up to look forward to, provided by the organisers of the first RAC Brighton to London Future Car Challenge.
The event, which takes place the day before the famous London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, follows the same route but in reverse. And where they really do look like they’re driving horseless carriages – fine solid old things, open to the elements and covered in shining brass – we appear to be driving a mixture of supercars and spaceships.
I think I count five Teslas – the Lotus-based two-seater from California (0 – 60 in 3.7 seconds) that’s driven much of the renewed interest in electric vehicles over the last few years, as well as the Nemesis – which apparently makes the Tesla look staid.
A converted Range Rover from Liberty, leaves me emotionally confused: the Range Rover Sport has long been my most disliked car, but here is an all-electric version with a 200 mile range, so surely that’s a good thing?
Fortunately its £160k price tag saves me from a dilemma about whether to snap one up.
I’m driving a Mitsubishi iMiEV, an impressive 4-seater EV with a stated 90-mile range and 81mph top speed that’s available in the UK from January for £29k less the £5k Government grant.
There are other electric cars from Mini, VW, Ford, Tata and Nissan, fuel cell vehicles from Honda, Mercedes and Toyota, various hybrids and GM’s Vauxhall Ampera; an electric car with a small ‘range extending’ petrol engine.
But the car that’s getting the most attention is a strange looking 3-seater that’s smaller than a Smart car. It’s designed by Gordon Murray who has the ultimate credibility in the automotive world having designed the road legal McLaren F1. You’ve got to hand it to him, even the formation of the 3 seats is damn clever. It’s like a (small, earthbound) flock of geese with the driver at the head of a triangle and the two passengers behind him, one to the left and one to the right. The advantage is that the passengers’ legs stretch out either side of the driver, making the whole set-up ultra compact.
I confess to a slight feeling of ‘emperor’s new clothes’ about this event. I received email after email from the organisers, but really, just how much fuss can you make over 60 cars driving from Brighton to London, which surely thousands of luckless commuters do day-in-day-out?
But the organisers have done a great job. As the cars gather on the seafront there’s a real feeling of excitement and plenty of media coverage – although the RAC must surely be cursing the timing, as the NUJ’s strike on the Friday led to the cancelling of the BBC’s planned TV coverage.
A few hours later and we’ve all made it to Regent Street, which has been closed to normal traffic for a wonderful display of both the pre-1905 horseless carriages and our futuristic spaceships.
We’re ‘in front of an estimated 250,000 audience’, as the press release says; although personally I think some of them may have been there anyway to do a spot of shopping…
Plenty of room for shopping bags… but not a low-emission vehicle!
And the results?
Among many award categories we noted three overall winners. The ‘Best Overall Entry’ was the Volkswagen Golf blue-e-motion Electric. The Lotus Elise S1 Electric won ‘Best Overall Private Entry’. And the ‘Public Choice’ went to the Vauxhall Ampera Extended Range EV.