Mr. RAYMOND MAYS THOUGH by no means a bearded ancient—at the time of writing he is 34—we always think of Raymond Mays as one of the few still-active representatives of an era in motor racing which is already half-forgotten. Those six years of intense activity from 1921 to 1926 were
almost unique in England—a natural reaction after the War period—when cars had once more become available to the civilian and the prosperous motor trade was fighting for the patronage of its eager customers. Hill-climbs and speed-trials alternated every week-end throughout the season, and for five months in the year wealthy amateurs and trade drivers formed a ” circus ” which asked nothing better than to tour the country and to engage in friendly rivalry at the various meetings. All the foremost drivers of the time, such as Campbell and Coe, Seagrave and Humphrey Cook, Captain Frazer Nash and E. R. Hall, met regularly each week-end, and England was for a short period a country for the racing drivers to live in. “Apart from the cheerful band of drivers,” said Mays, as we were discussing those days, “one of the things which struck one most was the enthusiasm of the spectators, who were very different from the apathetic crowd which watches nowadays, at Brooklands and Donington. Hill Climbs had a special appeal and people would drive miles to see them.”
Mays comes of a motoring family, for his father owned the first car in Lincolnshire and drove a Vauxhall before the war in competitions with some success. Schooldays at Oundle and a year in the Grenadier Guards did nothing to check Raymond’s enthusiasm for the family sport, and when he went to Cambridge in 1921 he encountered a fellow-enthusiast in Amherst Villiers. Hillman cars at that time were making a name for themselves in competition and Mays had already met Bedford, the firm’s star driver, at his father’s house at Bourne, so what better than to acquire a car of the same marque ? It was christened” Quicksilver ” in friendly retort to Bedford’s ” Mercury,” and together Mays and Villiers
set to work to tune it up, with some expert aid from W. M. Thomas and Kensington Moir, who was at that time with the Zenith Carburetter people.
When the car left the works, its speed on the gears were 40, 62, and 53 m.p.h., which suggested that it was shockingly overgeared, but by the time Mays had
finished with it the maximum speed was raised to 88. Its debut was made at the Inter-Varsity Hill Climb at Aston Clinton, where the driver showed his early appreciation of hill-climb strategy by having about 40 helpers to push him off the line. With foot hard down and bumping about in an alarming way, for little was known about shock absorbers in those days, he roared to the top to make fastest time of the day—foot hard down on bottom gear most of the way. At Angel Bank “Quicksilver “proved itself a good second to Bedford’s Mercury,” and scored another second at Holme Moss, while Mays celebrated his first encounter with Shelsley by getting a first and a second place in the classes•he was entered for.
The Hillman had been tuned to its limit at Shelsley, so Mays decided to try his hand in 1922 with a Brescia Bugatti, a type of car which was performing very successfully at that time in the hands of Cushnian and E. R. Hall. Acquiring it at the end of the season, he nevertheless made fastest time at South Harting, beating Frazer Nash’s time on Kim II by 10 seconds. The winter was spent in experiment in collaboration with Villiers, who had ideas of his own about pistons and cam-shafts, very sound ones as they turned out, for the engine speed was raised from a maximum of 3,900 r.p.m. to 7,000, while the speed in third went up from 54 to 84 m.p.h ! This Brescia, the famous “Cordon Rouge,” was driven in all the principal hill-climbs with conspicuous success, one of the finest performances being at Spread Eagle, where it won all the six sports classes in which it was entered, while a companion car, Cordon Bleu, which was specially built at Molsheim with the same modifications, but with a more substantial crankshaft—did the same thing in the
racing classes, beating Campbell’s Sunbeam by 4 or 5 seconds.
Mays driving has always been marked by a -cool daring which allowed him to save that essential 1/5 second without damage to himself or his car, but he had to do sonic rapid thinking when the throttle pedal of the Brescia jammed at the top of Holnie Moss after another record breaking run that same year, but he was able to bring the little car to rest without mishap by running it up the bank at the side Of the road. Another disturbing moment he experienced on the same car happened on one of his runs up Caerphilly Mountain when a road wheel came off on the hairpin and bounded along beside him. The next year on Holme Bank again provided him with some anxious moments, for on the first run his Vauxhall caught fire, and on the second a burst tyre came off on one of the corners. However in those days one entered in every possible class and thus had plenty of runs, so he was able to round off the day by climbing the hill in 75 seconds on his third attempt, beating his own record of the previous year, which he put up on the Bugatti, by over 2 seconds. ” First place and fastest time of the day to Mr. Raymond Mays ” became in fact almost a monotonous announcement, and he had no fewer than 250 importants awards during 1921-24 and in 1924 held the records of 11 of the principal lull-climbs including Shelsley. One of his most formidable rivals was J. A. Joyce on the two-litre A.C. and Mays borrowed this on one occasion and broke the Saffersford record by 8 seconds. In 1925 he bought the A,C., and Villiers fitted it with a supercharger, but its only appearance was at BrOoklands, where it covered 20 miles at 116 m.p.h. befOre blowing up. 1925 was, however, a land and
mark in his career, for that was the year of the accident at Kop, which caused hillClimbs on public roads to be banned in England ; the car which caused the trouble w,sas strangely enough one of his old isrescias,which had passed into.other hands. An accident of this sort was almost inevitable with the marshalling arrangements of those days, and Mays described to us vividly his recollections of those hill-climbs of 1924, which took place
either on narrow steeply-crowned roads, or on wider ones with a loose gravelly surface. ” Spectators used to line the hedges and leaned right out into the narrow roads, so that it was really alarming to take a fast car up between the rows of heads. They withdrew only as the car was almost upon them and shot out again as it went out of sight. liortun ately at Kop that day the climb had been opened by some large car like a Vauxhall, and the crowds had jumped back from the most dangerous spots, otherwise the Bugatti would have killed 40 or SO instead of inflicting injuries on the few who
remained on the edge of the road.”
Shelsley, of course, until 1931 was just as loose as any of the other hills, and clouds of (lust made it quite impossible to see the cars once they had gone past.
where one was standing. That was where the Bugatti scored. ” I wish I could manage that perfect get-away on the E.R.A.’s,” remarked Mays. ” I’m rather sorry that Shelsley has had to be given its present hard surface, but it’s inevitable with the present day cars with their high power-weight ratios.”
” Holine Moss was Tily fa.vonrite, wizard climb of 11 miles right up into the clouds, with a double corner and a hair-pin on the way up, and the finishing line slightly down-hill Over the summit. Caerphilly Mountain was probably the roughest of all, lots of corners and loose all the way. They Were all public roads, of course, and on more than one occasion we had to wait while a horse and cart crossed the road.” Shelsley, which is on private property. alone remained after the sad affair of 1925, and in 1926 Mays was second on a T.T. Vauxhall, being beaten by Davenport on the Frazer Nash. The next year he got hold of a supercharged two-litre Mercedes and had a series of Successes on it at the various Speed Trials, Blackpool, Colwyn Bay, Southport, and the rest. These wins so impressed the Mercedes people that they sent over one
0I their famous 8-cylinder cars, and a bunch of Gentian mechanics to look after it. It was tremendously fast for those days, and was timed to lap at 130, doing a steady 7,000 r.p.m. on top gear, but the suspension was quite devoid of ” give” and Peter Berthon, who shortly before this had joined Mays, used to come in from an outer circuit race at Brooklands a mass of bruises from head to foot. It was the last car one wanted to drive at Shelsley in the rain, and Mays, in the 1927 climb, was again compelled to yield first place to Davenport. In 1928 Villiers again joined forces
and the Spring was spent in supercharging a T.T. Vauxhall, the one which had formerly belonged to Humphrey Cook, in preparation for Shelsley, where it again ran second to Davenport, but scored a win in the Southport ” Hundred,” beating Campbell’s Delage. Speed trials were by then already in a decline. Next year Shelsley was the only event in which Mays took part. Aided by twin wheels, which he was the first to adopt, he at last achieved his ambition of making the fastest time of the day and bested Davenport with a time of 491 seconds. Another year of work, when the Vauxhall Special became less ” Vauxhall” and more ” Special,” and was fitted with the machine-gun like ” interceoler,” only to meet with the brand of bad luck which seems to haunt the real Shelsley enthusiast. On the way to Worcester the car was delayed by a tree which had fallen across the road and failed to turn up in time for the meeting !.
Undaunted by this misfortune, he carried out further alterations to the car and in the autumn Meeting held that year for the first time the rebuilt and renamed ” Villiers Special” made fastest time of the day. In July, 1931, Mays repeated this feat and climbing the hill to the accompaniment of that shattering bark which never fails to rouse the spectators, brought down the time for the 1,000 yards of 1 in 8.9 to 45 seconds.
1932 was notable for some fine climbs on a 4i-1itre Invicta., with which he raised the sports car record to 451 seconds. The next year the Villiers, which by this time Was developing 170 h.p. at 4,600 r.p.m., was again successful in July, but in October was eclipsed by Straight
on the Maserati. More important from the point of view of the British racing motorist was the appearance of the supercharged Riley, with which ” Ray ” succeeded in beating the three year old record of .Stuck on the A.ustro-Daimler. Readers will not need to be reminded of the performance last October of the E.R.A., which, of course, embodies an engine developed from the Riley and which restored to Mays the cup which he has pursued with such enthusiasm since 1923. ” What are the prospects of beating Whitney Straight’s record of 40 seconds,” we inquired, and Mays replied that he thought he stood a good chance, as the power-weight ratio of the Maserati and the E.R.A. were similar, and the power developed by the two-litre engine had been considerably boosted since its first appearance at Shelsley in September. ” I wish I had independent springing, all the same,” he admitted. ” I’m sure that Stuck’s phenomenal standing-start figures are largely due to the improved adhesion he gets with the separately-sprung back wheels.” “
It looks as if we shall be tremendously busy with the new cars next season. As far as we can gather, there are over 20 races in England and the Continent in which a limited class will be run, and the limit has in most cases been fixed at 1,500 c.c., which is the normal capacity of the E.R.A. Peter Berthon and I are going full steam all the time, for in addition to producing the new cars, for which we are extending the works, we have to carry on the wool business, which is in itself a full time job.”
The team, as announced in these columns last month will consist of Mays, Rose-Richards and Mathieson, and Seaman is also buying a 11-litre car, which will be served by the E.R.A. Company, but will not form part of the team. A 1,100 c.c. car is to be supplied to Fairfield, who drove one of Dixon’s Rileys on several occasions in 1934, and these drivers and Humphrey Cook will be the only ones to whom E.R.A.’s will be available.
It appears then that the E.R.A.’s, the offspring of the supercharged Riley which Peter Berthon designed and produced in the remarkable short time of three months, should pay a prominent part in European racing during the 1935 season, and one hopes that Mr. Mays will find the time to devote himself to the exacting and difficult sport of road-racing. His hill-climb successes have shown him not lacking in skill and dash, while his only race of any distance last season, the Nuffield Trophy at Donington Park, called for restraint and determination on a difficult course. We may therefore hope to see him figuring with success in, the events of the forthcoming season and everyone will hope to see him have a return of the fortune of 1924, when he was almost invincible on our hill-climb course. Immaculate and generally smiling when not borne down by the strain of the coming struggle, Mays’s driving methods should be dashing enough to win him the favour of the Continental crowds and, if he has that modicum of good fortune which even the best of drivers cannot afford to despise, he should extend his collection of cups and trophies considerably during the coming sea.son.