In case of a breakdown, I'll get out and push," declared Kingman Brewster, U.S. ambassador to England and former president of Yale. Then, with a lurch, he was off, a passenger in one of the 264 antiques entered in last week's Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton. The 53-mile event for autos built before 1905—affectionately known as the Old Crocks' Race—is held every year to commemorate the 1896 law that first freed Britain's horseless carriages from the accompaniment of warning runners bearing red flags. While celebrating that landmark, Brewster thought it prudent to have his embassy Cadillac limo, plated USA 1, trailing at a diplomatic distance.

Bundled into a 1904 Speedwell Dog Cart owned and driven by editor Ray Tindle, Brewster, 59, and wife Mary Louise (in the back seat) enjoyed the slow, jouncing drive through the English countryside. The nearest they came to the sort of calamities that enlivened the 1953 movie spoof of the run, Genevieve, occurred when the Speedwell stalled while slowing to avoid a car that had broken down. Ironically, that car was a 1902 Yale, one of seven foreign entries, and was driven by a Princeton man from Toledo.

Moving on, the Brewsters and their host paused only long enough for a roadside picnic (fried chicken and sandwiches from the embassy car to supplement the flasks of lager and tomato soup) before crossing the finish line. Elapsed time: five and a half hours. Not exactly Formula One speed, but then any car averaging over 20 mph was disqualified from the run. And if their 206th place in a field of 264 seemed to let down the U.S. side, well, it was just one car behind world driving champion Mario Andretti, who caught up in a 1902 Wolseley after missing the start (reportedly by oversleeping)—and only about 50 cars behind Britain's own legend, Stirling Moss, driving a 1900 Renault. Exulted Brewster upon his arrival in Brighton: "This day was beyond anything I could have dreamed."