History of Motoring

The Royal Automobile Club is Britain’s longest standing and historically most influential motoring organisation. Founded in 1897 – when ‘horseless carriages’ were regarded with scepticism and suspicion – to promote automobilism, the Club is proud of its contribution to motoring and motor sport.

1896 – The restrictive ‘Red Flag’ Act, which had required a man to walk in front of every vehicle, was repealed: the birth of motoring in the UK.

1896 (14 November) – The Emancipation Run, the precursor to the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, was organised to celebrate the passing of the Locomotives on the Highways Act. Thirty pioneer motorists celebrated the first legal journey on English roads with the new motoring freedoms.

1897 (8 December) – Formal inauguration of the Automobile Club of Great Britain (and later Ireland) took place. In 1907 it became the Royal Automobile Club.

1900 – Club Secretary Claude Johnson organised the 1,000 Mile Trial, putting British motoring on the map. Cars travelled the length and breadth of the country in a reliability trial, which brought home to ordinary people what a ‘horseless carriage’ was and what it could do.

1903 – The Motor Car Act was passed into law. The Club had vigorously campaigned for this, long having had the interests of the private motorist at heart. This Act increased speed limits and removed other restrictive legislation.

1903 – The Club petitioned councils in Southern Ireland for a repeal of the Locomotives on Highways Act (Ireland). This was achieved in March 1903 which effectively began road racing in the UK and allowed the 1903 Gordon Bennett Race to take place outside Dublin.

1905 – The Club organised the first Tourist Trophy (TT) race, today the oldest motoring race to run regularly.

1905 – The Club became the governing body for motor sport in Britain and introduced driving certificates, the responsibility for which would not be taken over by the government for another 30 years. An associate membership of the Club was also established, and guides on bicycles, then motorcycles and vans, were gradually introduced.

1926 – The Club organised the first British Grand Prix at Brooklands.

1930 – The first London to Brighton Commemoration Run was organised by the Club, to celebrate the 1896 Emancipation Run.

1948 – The Club staged the first Grand Prix race at Silverstone.

1950s and 60s – These years saw the advent of mass motoring and, in 1959, witnessed the opening of Britain’s first major motorway, the M1 from London to Birmingham. Roads became busier and more dangerous places, with traffic jams ‒ previously unheard of ‒ now commonplace.

1978 – The Torrens Trophy was founded, awarded to an individual or organisation considered to have made an outstanding contribution to the cause of safe and skilful motorcycling in Britain.

1991 – The RAC Foundation was formed. Long before this, the Club, through its Public Policy Committee, had become a respected voice in the formulation of government policy for roads and motorised transport. This was recognised and strengthened by the formation, in 1991, of the RAC Foundation for Motoring, a registered charity. The Foundation continues to be a strong and independent source of academic research and influence.

1999 – RAC Motoring Services Ltd, which offered roadside assistance and many other benefits to over five million associate members, was sold by the Club to the Lex Group, and later passed to Aviva. This demerger had become necessary to allow the company access to capital markets for long-term growth.

2006 – The Woodcote Trophy was founded, the first new trophy to be created by the Club in 100 years; a series for racing sports cars of the post-war years, up to December 1955.