Genevieve and The Spyker: The Perfect Curtain-Raisers
Genevieve: ‘The Brighton Belle’ returns to RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run along with her co-star The Spyker, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the classic British comedy film “Genevieve” - a BAFTA award-winning sensation which famously told the story of two couples’ misadventures on the Brighton run.
The iconic 1904 twin-cylinder 12HP Darracq called Genevieve, referred to as the ‘Mascot of the old car movement’ by the National Motor Museum and Spyker the 1905 12/16HP Double Phaeton are both lovingly curated and reside in the extensive Lawman Collection in the Netherlands. However, with such an important anniversary to honour, both film stars have been back in Britain and on display at Beaulieu over the summer.
“Centred on the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which had been held since 1927 to commemorate the raising of the speed limit from 4 mph to 12 mph in 1896, Genevieve played to packed houses around the world and proved the best ambassador the antique car movement ever had. In essence, Genevieve transformed the ownership of old cars from a minority interest into a major international hobby and made the Brighton Run the world’s biggest motoring event”. - David Burgess-Wise
Genevieve… was not her original name…
“Not long after the end of WWII, the 1904 Darracq was found languishing in a hedge amongst other old cars in piles of junk in East London by a bailiff, who passed his find on to two friends Bill Peacock and Jack Wadsworth. Two cars were sold off to Peter Venning who dismantled both, reassembling one rolling chassis also finding a body. Having neither the facilities nor the money necessary to complete the Darracq’s rebuilding programme, he then sold HXR332 to Norman Reeves, who finished the restoration and named the car Annie. However, when Annie was cast in the film, like so many movie stars, a change of name was in order, and the director of the film, Henry Cornelius, opted for 'Genevieve', after Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, where the Darracq had been built.
Interestingly, John Gregson, who played Genevieve's owner in the film, was actually unable to drive. His co-star and wife in the film, Diana Sheridan, later recalled 'I spent the whole film time trying not to be seen giving him instructive help out of the side of my mouth. At the end of the film he could have taken his test on Genevieve, but he still couldn't drive a modern car.'
The film was a tremendous success when it hit the cinemas in 1953, and later that year Genevieve generated huge interest when she took part in the 'real' London to Brighton Run. John Gregson wasn't behind the wheel, however - that honour went to the Dutch rally driver Maurice Gastonides, who had won the Monte Carlo Rally earlier that year in a Ford Zephyr. Vast crowds braved the terrible weather for the chance to see a real movie star taking part in the Run.
Norman Reeves tired of all the publicity and interest his car generated, and in 1958 he sold her to a friend in Australia, who displayed her in a museum there for more than 30 years. In 1992 Genevieve returned to England and successfully completed the Veteran Car Run once more. The Louwman Museum acquired Genevieve that year and brings her out regularly on the Veteran Car Run. The museum also owns Genevieve's 'rival' in the film - The Spyker, but the co-star hasn’t been seen for more than a decade. Moreover, it has not been seen in its film star yellow livery since the movie was made back in the fifties – until now" - Royal Automobile Club
"To honour the 70th anniversary in style, over the past few months the Louwman Museum has had the Spyker 12/16 HP Double Phaeton undergo a metamorphosis. To make it stand out more on celluloid the car was repainted yellow instead of its original green, and the windscreen was removed in order to avoid reflections during filming.
Once the cameras stopped rolling, the Dutch-built veteran was swiftly returned to its original colours and the windscreen replaced. Now back in its previous livery, the matinee idol led quite an anonymous life with just a few aficionados knowing about the its former life as an idolised pin-up. However, in recognition of the Spyker’s role on the silver screen and this year’s 70th anniversary, the Louwman Museum has decided to permanently return the icon to its Genevieve identity.
During the restoration required in readiness for November’s anniversary London to Brighton, traces of the original yellow film paint were discovered, both on the body and on the chassis. Images from the film were also used to restore several trim pieces – for example on the rear of the coachwork – and to reunite the correct badges with the Spyker.
The windscreen is now detachable so, when the Spyker is on display in the museum, it can be without its windscreen but, for use on the road at this year’s Brighton Run the screen will be fitted back on thus protecting the driver and passengers from the elements” - Veteran Car Run
As the perfect curtain-raiser to this year’s very special RM Sotheby’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, both Genevieve and The Spyker will be on show in London at the St James’s International Concours, staged on Marlborough Road, Westminster on Saturday the 4th of November. Like many other veteran cars on display that day, they will each have our Facts Disc on them for fellow enthusiasts to scan and learn more about their individual stories.