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29 Oct 2021

Famous Facia Friday: Genevieve

You don't have to be a fan of veteran cars to know of Genevieve. This 1904 Darracq became a star when she played the lead in the BAFTA award-winning 1953 film 'Genevieve', which famously told the story of two couples' misadventures on the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. With its Oscar-nominated music score by harmonica genius Larry Adler, and the terrific performances by John Gregson, Diana Sheridan, Kenneth More and Kay Kendall, and the wonderful background of the Run - made possible by the cooperation of the officials and members of the Veteran Car Club - the film was a great hit, and remains so nearly seven decades later. It also spurred a global interest in veteran motoring.

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 the bright yellow 1905 Spyker which was Genevieve's 'rival' in the film.

Naturally, Genevieve will be taking part in this year's Run - her start number is 270. She will be one of no less than 20 Darracqs on the event.






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