Book Reviews, February 1981, February 1981

“The History of English Racing Automobiles Limited” by David Weguelin. 288 pp. 10 1/2″ x 12 1/2″. (White Mouse Editions Ltd., 50 Porchester Terrace, London W2 3TP. £35.00).

This quite splendid book to commemorate the history of the ERA voiturettes that upheld British prestige in pre-war International motor racing must rank as the best of all one-make racing-car productions. It is dedicated to the memory of the late Raymond Mays, CBE, who died last year and whose inspiration and hard work created the ERA Company.

The book was written by David Weguelin, who although he was too young to have seen these cars racing before the war, was inspired to research very thoroughly the entire history of ERA, turning up obscure as well as already documented information on the subject and interviewing people associated with the project in its hey-day. He deals with the stillborn Grand Prix car, the production Raymond Mays V8, the intended ERA sports car and the ERA Club. To round-off his race-by-race story of the cars he had the help of an Editorial team composed of Narisa Chakrabongse who owns “Romulus”, Peter Hull, who contributed one of his accurate and entertaining Introductions, Denis Jenkinson, and Patrick Marsh who contributed a very erudite technical breakdown of the ERA specifications. What is more, Raymond Mays wrote a Foreword to this remarkable book before his death.

The combined work represents sheer bliss for any ERA enthusiast or motor-racing follower who can afford it, and as it covers the whole history of ERA from the creation of the first of these racing cars in 1933, through their whole racing and competition involvement to the middle of the 1980 Pre-War Racing Car season, this is by no means just stuff for nostalgia-mongers, although it brims over with that as well!

Although it is of coffee-table format—for how otherwise could the pictures, more than 500 of them, 75 in full colour, be so beautifully displayed? — this is no pictorial brush-off with the superficial text that all-too-often binds together the illustrations in books of this size. The names of the author and of the editors, and the very long list of acknowledgements to those who helped compile it, are a guarantee of the serious nature of the contents. Indeed, almost everything known about all the ERAs seems to have been set down clearly in the book’s very large and numerous pages, which are of the highest-quality art-paper. As a publishing triumph “The History of English Racing Automobiles Limited” stand’s alone. And from the motoring standpoint it is an invaluable complete record of what ERA was, and is, all about. There have been earlier attempts at this but now we have, in this magnificently printed and illustrated book, the full story, with new ERA inside information to digest and enjoy.

Because the ERA, in 1,090 c.c., 1,488 c.c. and 1,980 c.c. forms, raced consistently from 1934 up to the war, in this country and abroad, and was very much, as it still is, a bright aspect of post-war VSCC and other Historic Racing-Car promotions, this ERA book is also a strong and graphic reminder of happenings and results at many circuits, in many countries, and of many racing drivers of pre-war professional and post-war amateur status. Interesting but possibly forgotten facets of the fascinating game are thus recalled — how it all came into being, with the strong support of Humphrey Cook (whose earlier motor-racing exploits are recalled and illustrated) with Peter Berthon to aid Mays well documented, and lesser personalities who were part of the ERA organisation properly included.

Much that is either new or that was obscure at the time emerges, supported by reproduction of old works drawings, sketches and schedules, and photographs of early ERAs under construction at T & T’s of Brooklands and at ERA Ltd. at Bourne. Inevitably some of the photographs used will have been seen before, but not perhaps so well reproduced and enlarged. Conversely, there are many new illustrations. Because Narisa Chakrabongse is the daughter of the late Prince Chula who ran the White Mouse/Prince Bira ERAs “Remus”, “Romulus” and “Hanuman” she has been able to contribute fresh material from that source and I see that David Weguelin took my advice and went to see Mr. Beauchamp and Mr. Perrett who were with T & T’s at the beginning of the ERA project and who have been able to dig out new snapshots and facts.

On the technical front, apart from the author’s own detailed descriptions of ERA construction and evolution, Patrick Marsh has spilled all the beans, even to disclosing to we non-ERA owners the valve-timing, cam-profiles, gear-ratios and other most intimate details and dimensions of the different ERA engines and chassis. Here again, some very fine photographs of original and modified ERAs are there for your edification and delight, the latter including twin Arnott superchargers on R6B, etc.

The detail really is amazing — a plan of the ERA factory at Dunstable, cutaway drawings of ERA engines and chassis, Scribbans’ advertisement when selling his ERA around 1936, shots taken inside the Bourne works, the Leyland and Bedford ERA transporter-lorries, and the White Mouse Ford V8 van, close-ups of most of the great ERA drivers and personnel, while crash pictures have not been excluded. A very pleasing idea was to intersperse little colour-reproductions of race-programme front covers among the black-and-white pictures, and the colour in these has been very faithfully retained. The book will be of the greatest appeal to lovers of fine art, apart altogether from its motor racing importance. . . .

The treatment of the post-war years is likewise novel and exceedingly effective. It has been assisted by the survival of 18 of the 19 ERAs produced. Each of these, from R1A to R14B and GP1 and GP2, is the subject of a separate feature per car and that, note, includes a magnificent full-colour, full-page 10 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ picture of each of these ERAs in its present owner’s habitat. Thus we have Sandy Murray and Tony Merrick with R1A at Silverstone, Brian Classic with R2A outside his home-garage near Manchester, R3A and Hamish Moffatt at the latter’s Herefordshire farmhouse, Sir John Venables-Llewelyn with an engine-less R4A at his Breconshire hill-farm, Patrick Marsh and R4B at his former Reading home (with his 30/98 and Austin 7 inside the garage), Narisa with R2B, the famous “Romulus”, at her Mill House in Gloucestershire, the crashed and missing R3B that killed Lehoux (the only picture in the series that is not in colour), R4D, the great ex-Mays’ ERA, the Hon. Patrick Lindsay’s R5B “Remus” in the Hertfordshire works where Jim FitzGerald and Geoffrey Squirrel maintain it, R6B outside its lock-up, Dudley Gahagan at his Aldershot garage with R7B, Bruce Spollon and his son with the chassis of R8B/C which they are rebuilding, Chris and Peter Mann with R9B, Nick Mason in R10B at Cadwell Park, Martin Morris with R11B and his mechanics in his home workshop, Bill Morris posing informally at his Oxfordshire home with R12B “Hanuman II”, Tony Stephens and Bill Morris with R12C in process of being rebuilt, Donald Day in R14B, and the two GP cars in process of reconstruction by Gordon Chapman. Not only does this section of the ERA book tend to recapture the atmosphere of the pre-war “rich-owner’s” scene but it has full competition results for each car, often with interesting historical asides and more pictures, many in colour, of the owners, the cars in action both pre-war and in more recent times, their mechanical items, etc. This alone brings the book right up to date (to the mid-1980 VSCC season anyway) and so very worthwhile for present-day ERA drivers and supporters.

There is much in these 288 pages that one might otherwise have forgotten, like the pioneering by ERA of extra-low-pressure 16″ Dunlop tyres at a time when 18″ and 19″ racing tyres were a legacy of the early-1930s (the first ERA chassis was rolled out on 18″ tyres), speed-trials in which the make took part, with Humphrey Cook making f.t.d. at Syston Park in 1935 and Scribbans doing the same at Lullingstone Park etc., and the Continental drivers of ERAs, such as Prince zu von Leiningen, von Delius who crashed at the Nurburgring, and the unfortunate Lehoux. What a feast of memories and excitement this book is!

Nothing in this world, not even a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit or a Jaguar XJ-S, is 100% perfect and I have a few criticisms to make about even this great book. Weguelin says Mays drove Joyce’s 2-litre sprint AC in 1924 and tried to develop it for racing; but these were different cars and both were of 1 1/2-litre capacity. The first three places in the races described in the main text are tabulated and while we know that all the ERAs that figure therein were supercharged, it would have been nice if “s/c” could have been quoted where applicable for the rival cars. (In one instance these results seem to have got out of sequence, as those of the 1936 Lullingstone Park Speed Trials — or hillclimb? — appear in the 1935 Story.) However, the ERA type numbers are nearly always incluced, which is excellent, even if in a few cases only there is some speculation about them. As the full competition histories of each existing ERA have been so fully listed in that section of the book it is a pity that, for quite recent events, what placing was achieved or if the car failed to finish, and why, is sometimes omitted, although here the pre-war results are complete. But that is very mild comment about such a comprehensive and painstaking work. Incidentally, where appropriate there are quotes from contemporary motor journals, including Motor Sport, and from the ERA Club’s magazine and other books.

I have not for a very long time enjoyed a. . .

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Another Patrick Stephens publication is a landscape-shape soft-cover book containing a fine selection of the motor racing photographs of Pete Coltrin. Called “The Automotive Photography of Peter Coltrin”, with a Commentary by Phil Hill, this was first released in 1978 and is now available here for £7.95. It should entertain those who like intimate pictures from the pre-Armco Moss/Hawthorn period of racing and we note there is one of Denis Jenkinson talking to Jackie Stewart. The pictures are reproduced one to a page, so are thus suitable for framing, and are very clear. — W.B.

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John Day has given The Hamlyn Group of Astronaut House, Hounslow Road, Feltham, Middlesex, a very big book about “Engines”, of all kinds. He sub-titles it “The Search for Power” and it explains, with many fine colour illustrations, the evolution and working methods of wind-power, water-power, steam-power, and devotes easily-understood descriptions to gas-engines, oil-engines, petrol-engines, gas-turbines, hot-air engines, rocket-engines and less well known means of power. Just the thing for the young student of engineering. The price is £14.95. — W.B.

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Dunlop has issued a “Guide To British Relais Routiers“, for those seeking value for money eating on their British travels. This second edition sells for a modest £1.35.