Brighton – An elderly driver taking part in a veteran car rally was killed on Sunday after he accidentally strayed on to a motorway and was hit by a heavy goods truck.
The motorist, aged 80, had been at the wheel of an 1903 Knox Runabout ‘Old Porcupine’ vehicle during the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run when he is believed to have taken a wrong turn off the official route on to the M23.
He was declared dead at the scene and his elderly woman passenger, understood to have been his wife, was flown to hospital in London by air ambulance, suffering from serious head injuries.
Photographs showed the vehicle, which had no indicators and a top speed of 35m/h (56km/h), all but destroyed in the accident.
Hundreds of car enthusiasts take part in the 60-mile (96-kilometre) rally every year. The tragedy follows the death of another 68-year-old driver in the event two years ago.
A spokesman for the Veteran Car Run said: "The car involved in the tragic incident on the M23 had been entered in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run."
"The car had left the route, which does not include the M23 where the collision took place. We are doing all we can to support the family concerned and are working with the police."
The crash happened at the junction of the A23 and the M23, at Hooley, Surrey, at around 10am.
It is thought the pensioner may have taken the wrong lane and ended up on the M23, instead on staying on the official route, which avoids the motorway network.
A spokesman for Surrey Police said: "We can confirm that a man has sadly died following a collision on the southbound carriageway of the M23 near J7 Hooley.
"The collision, involving a car and an HGV, took place around 10am. The driver of the car, an 80-year-old man, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the collision and a female passenger has been taken to hospital by ambulance with serious injuries. Police have notified the man’s next of kin."
The motorway was closed after the crash causing long tailbacks. Police appealed for anyone with information or dash-cam footage to come forward.
The four-seater rear-wheel drive Knox Runabout was designed by Harry A Knox – one of the pioneers of the horseless carriage industry in the US – and initially sold for $2 000 (R30 000). They were known as the Knox Waterless because of the air cooling system, or more familiarly the ‘Old Porcupine’.
One model fetched around £53 000 when sold at auction in 2012. The accident comes two years after 68-year-old David Corry was killed when his 1902 Benz was involved in a four-car crash.
Local resident Jocelyn Gregory, who saw the crash, criticised the organisers for poor signage and a lack of stewards on the route.
"There were not clear enough signs at the junction," she said. "If you are not familiar with the area, then it is an easy mistake to make. It was not organised properly. It is a huge junction. There should have been stewards."
"When the lorry hit, they flew up into the air like rag dolls. It was awful. I am not sure how the other passenger was still alive."
More than 400 vehicles dating from before 1905 were registered in this year’s run. Television gardener Alan Titchmarsh was among those taking part. The rally dates back to 1927 and commemorates the Emancipation Run of 1896 which marked the new-found freedom of motorists after the speed limit was raised to 14mph and the need for a man carrying a red flag to walk ahead of cars when they were being drive was abolished.
The 60-mile run began in London’s Hyde Park at dawn, with the route taking drivers down the A23 through Gatwick, Crawley and Burgess Hill before the first car arrived at Madeira Drive, Brighton, shortly after 10am.