Call it fate, serendipity or just chance, but when Henry Lawson was bitten by the veteran car bug little did he know where it would lead.
In 2000, after building up a collection of classic cars, Henry was persuaded by a friend to take part in the annual Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton. He borrowed the friend’s car, a rare 1900 MMC, and was so taken with the challenge and camaraderie of the event that he decided to buy himself a veteran to add to his collection.
As his only veteran experience was of the MMC – standing for the Motor Manufacturing Company and based in Coventry – he decided to look for another, without at first realising how rare they are.
But even though there are thought to be only 13 left in the world, Henry eventually bought two, a 1902 twin-cylinder 10hp model and a 1903 example powered by a 20hp four-cylinder engine.
And it was then that the coincidences started to appear. Researching the history of the cars Henry, a digital media entrepreneur, found out that MMC was founded by company promoter Harry Lawson, who had also floated the English Daimler company in 1886. As they shared the same surname, Henry delved a little deeper and discovered they were in fact related.
“Harry, it turns out, was a brother of my great-great-great grandfather making him a second cousin thrice removed, or something like that,” said Henry.
Harry was something of the family’s black sheep. He started by making and selling bicycles and then decided to manufacture cars under the banner of the Great Horseless Carriage Co., before founding MMC. It was at this time he bought the rights to manufacture German Daimlers under licence…and which is why MMC cars, built alongside early Daimlers in Coventry, were remarkably similar under the skin.
“He was a shrewd businessman but a ‘patent troll’. He would buy up patents at this time of great engineering discoveries with a view to selling them on. He would also set up companies and sell shares, using the money raised to start other new companies while allowing the original firms to go bust. It was what we would now call a Ponzi scheme and he eventually went to prison,” said Henry.
Intrigued, Henry then looked further into the history of the two cars he owned… and discovered another coincidence. Although he bought them from different ends of the country at different times they had, at one point, both been under the same ownership at the same time. Henry was reuniting the pair.
Henry’s first Veteran Car Run in his own MMC was in 2001 and since then Henry, his wife Lindsay, and all three of their sons have driven the MMCs from London to Brighton. One of their sons even did the event shortly after his 17th birthday, the twin cylinder MMC proudly wearing ‘L’ plates.
“One interesting thing about the four-cylinder car is that ‘those in the know’ said it undriveable, but Lindsay has never had a problem with it. Perhaps all it needed was a lady’s touch…” said Henry, adding: “The thought often occurs to me that had I borrowed a Panhard, a De Dion Bouton or something else for the 2000 Run none of these remarkable connections would have been made. That really is fate.”
The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run 2013 will be held Sunday, 3rd November in London. With its unique atmosphere and camaraderie, the annual Veteran Car Run commemorates the Emancipation Run of 14 November 1896, which celebrated the Locomotives on the Highway Act. The Act raised the speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4 to 14 mph, and abolished the need for these vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag. The Emancipation Run was first re-enacted in 1927 and has taken place every November since, with the exception of the war years and 1947 when petrol was rationed. The Royal Automobile Club has managed the run with the support of the Veteran Car Club since 1930.
For more information, visit VeteranCarRun.com.