Arguably the most-raced car in the world, Remus has been out in almost every season since 1936. Gordon Cruickshank investigates
Could this be ‘the most raced car in the world’? Owner Ludovic Lindsay shrugs. “I’ve used that phrase myself because other people have, but does it mean race miles, or race starts, or number of seasons?” Yet on any of those grounds, ERA R5B can argue for that title: barring the war, there are only four seasons since its birth in 1936 that ‘Remus’ has not raced — an astonishing record: 54 seasons, 379 starts as of April, 108 victories, 214 podium spots.
With a career like that, is it still the same Remus? Two major smashes, inevitable race breakages, a different engine and gearbox, rods, pistons, bearings, wheels — the list, like the maintenance, goes on. But what counts is the continuation of identity, and this car has been so visible for so long that its hardworking history is unimpeachable. Upholders of British pride in voiturette racing before WWII when we had no serious grand prix contenders, the small band of ERAs raced on post-war, sometimes with modifications to make them faster, or at least look more modem, and when they could no longer keep up in current racing, they stepped sideways into vintage events. Most have been racing ever since.
Even when new they were hardly innovative: chassis design echoed an existing Maserati, independent front suspension only arrived later with the third (C) specification, and despite the tubular shape of the ‘cam covers’, this was not an overhead-cam but a pushrod engine, albeit with the high-set cams of its Riley progenitor. But they were solid, strong and had fierce acceleration, especially with the vertical Roots supercharger of the A and B replaced by the huge rear-mounted Zoller blower of the C-type. And they were ideal for the wealthy privateer. More than any other racing car, an ERA is known by its chassis number; but there are three which carry famous names as well — the three raced in the ’30s by Prince Bira’s White Mouse team. Dapper, dashing and living a wealthy lifestyle, often funded by his doting cousin Prince Chula, the Siamese prince was a romantic presence in a sport which has always mixed the raffish and the respectable; with his racing cars, boats, aeroplanes, glider and Bentley road cars all painted in his personal blue, he brought style as well as skill to Europe’s racetracks.
Ordered in 1936, R5B was the second ERA which Chula bought for Bira to race, making a pair with R2B; it was because the two looked so similar in their Bira blue that they were christened after the twins who founded Rome. But Remus never brought the success of Romulus or of Hanuman (R12C) which succeeded it Bira raced it only in 1936, which of course was the year that Dick Seaman trounced everyone with the modified Delage, and achieved only one win — at the Albi Grand Prix when Seaman and the works Maseratis were absent. During 1937, instead of racing it, the White Mouse team began to pinch parts from it to keep the other car running smoothly, since both used the customer-standard 1500cc engine.
(Romulus still contains recognisable parts from Remus, including the gearbox.) ERA expert David Weguelin says it was to do with luck. “Thai people traditionally ascribe a lot of importance to luck, and R5B soon got a reputation for simply not being lucky.”
At the end of the ’37 season, Chula bought R12C (which is now R12B — pay attention, there will be questions later) and had Remus built up to sell to Tony Rolt, who raced it extensively and added probably its best contemporary victory by winning the ’39 British Empire Trophy. This at a time when the ageing B-spec ERAs with their beam-axle front suspension were generally being left behind by more modem voiturettes like the Maserati 4CL. Rolt had it modified in 1939 by Freddie Dixon, the Riley wizard who kick-started the whole ERA adventure. He replaced the Wilson ‘box (prone to wearing out the first gear brake band on the grid because there is no separate clutch) with a crash gearbox.
This was something Thomson & Taylor had clearly envisaged, as they had designed the bellhousing to accept a clutch if needed. He also cut down the radiator to give it a lower and more modem bonnet-line. He then shared R5B with lock’ St John Horsfall who, in a season spent mainly at Brooldands, gave Remus the unique tag of being the only ERA to race on the Outer Circuit.
Following WWII, Ian Connell bought Remus, but after a disappointing season sold it in 1947 to Peter Bell for John Bolster to drive. Bolster, that urbane journalist, commentator and special builder, further altered it by first reinstalling a pre-selector ‘box, then fitting a two-stage supercharger system, hydraulic shock absorbers and a ZF limited-slip diff. With racing car development stalled by the war, the 12-year-old car was still qualifying for grands prix, and Bolster grabbed a sixth in the ’48 British GP. But in trying to better this the following year, he overdid it; the crash injured him severely and sidelined Remus for a season.
Over the next several years R5B slowly slid down the grids of current racing, seeing more action in sprints than circuits; but during the Fifties, Britain’s wealth of vintage racing and sportscars offered a healthy outlet at a time of post-war shortages and a lack of international racing presence. Old car meetings blossomed, and Remus shifted its sights to VSCC and BOC events where it regained its pre-war position as a serious contender. Under several owners, results began to come; then in 1956 Bill Moss bought it and things took off. In three years he entered 49 events and won 17 of them, including two VSCC Seaman Trophies, which since then have become a bit of a habit.
So when the Hon Patrick Lindsay purchased it in 1959, for £700 (someone lost money on the ageing device — in 1952 it was advertised at £1150!), Remus was already a successful old stager. Of course, most of the other ERAs were still racing too, but Moss and then Lindsay pushed the Remus tally into a new league. Lindsay was in many ways the perfect character for the car — almost a modem Bira. Equally dashing and flamboyant, a director of Christies and an Old Masters expert, he too loved aeroplanes as much as racing, sometimes flying to meetings in his own Spitfire. Other ‘planes included a WWI SE5a, Hawker Fury, two Stampes and a spindly Fiesler Storch. His stable of cars was extensive and select, and he was not afraid of adventure.
When the Maharaja of Jaipur gave him a Rolls-Royce Phantom he drove it back from India, and for the 1968 London-Sydney Rally he and Keith Schellenberg took that obvious rally car, an 8-litre Bentley. Apart from a Dtype and Monza Alfa, he owned, and raced, the 27-litre Napier-Railton. “He regretted selling that,” says Ludo Lindsay now, “but it’s finally in the right place [the Brooklands Museum].” He also bought the Turtle Drilling Special, the two-speed Offenhauser-engined Indy roadster which raced a few times over here, as well as the ERA-Delage. But, says Ludovic, “Remus was always his favourite; it was the last car he would ever have sold.” Patrick Lindsay quickly showed he had the measure of the car, turning in first or second places in almost every race, but even he had to bow to greatness when practising for a support race to the French GP at Rouen in1964. Many of the Fl drivers kept wandering into the Historic paddock, and Patrick suggested to Jimmy Clark that he try the ERA. Maybe he was still hyped after setting pole, but in just two flying laps, the Scots champion took almost 4sec off Lindsay’s best time.
After another four busy seasons, Patrick treated Remus to a winter rebuild by Crosthwaite and Gardiner and resumed racing as hard as ever. Through the ’70s, historic racing became more intense than ever as classes for younger cars were added, and Lindsay decided to follow other ERA owners in the search for more performance. Thanks to longtime ERA owner Donald Day, new blocks had become available, and Patrick installed a 2-litre lump before the 1979 British GP support race, the engine it still has. With the extra power, around 280bhp, he was regularly in among far younger cars; for example, at the 1982 Monaco GP Historique, he and Remus were only narrowly beaten by Bruce Halford in a Lotus 16. But later that year a backmarker got in his way at Oulton Park and Lindsay had a huge accident He broke his pelvis and several ribs, while the car’s front end was virtually crushed. It took Jim Fitzgerald and Geoff Squirrel, the car’s minders, some months to straighten the chassis and rebuild the car, and both Remus and driver missed a season for recuperation.
However, Lindsay’s enthusiasm was undamaged and in 1984 the pair took to the tracks again to add even more to the car’s list of victories. Surprisingly, Patrick did not try to persuade his children to follow him into racing — perhaps because of the impressive range of racing injuries he had accrued (his internal scaffolding easily outstripped Barry Sheene’s). Ludovic remembers that, “although I always had a passion for racing [going to all the races from childhood and starting a motor club at school with his cousin Lord Hesketh], father would only say, ‘You can drive when you take a proper interest’. And I didn’t know what a proper interest was.” Instead Ludovic went modern racing, in Sports 2000 and Thundersports. It must have been the proper thing, for his father finally invited him to drive Remus at a test day in 1984.
“I was nervous, so asked Willie Green for advice. He said ‘Floor it! If you’re in trouble, get on the power.’ And he’s right. It understeers, and you have to boot it like a rally car.” Heeding a strict 5000rpm rev-limit, Ludovic put up a respectable time, 3sec down on his father, but didn’t drive Remus again until after his father’s sudden death in 1986. As the car’s next guardian, he found himself unprepared. “I knew very little about it all. We went off to the Niirburgring without any FIA documents; to get new ones we had to measure it. But we had no tape-measure, so we paced it out in feet” Appropriately, Ludovic’s first race was in the first Patrick Lindsay Memorial event, in 1986, when he came fifth. From then on, he gave up modem racing and concentrated on historic events — “the people are so much more agreeable!” — with Remus and his Cameron Millar 250F. A suitable pairing, as he thinks that “Remus is like a rather agricultural 250E”
Like his father, Ludovic races hard and wins often — three Seaman Trophies in the last six years — and, like his father, he has someone else prepare the car. “My father was useless with a spanner so we never learned either,” he says.
So it’s a neat touch that the man keeping the car on form is David Morris, because the two families have had a friendly ERA rivalry for years. Between David and his father Martin, the Morris’ ERA ‘Humphrey’ (R11B) has collected the Seaman Trophy 14 times, Remus 12. “David knows these cars insideout; and the other good thing is that by keeping him occupied with Remus, he has less time to race ‘Humphrey’ against us!”
In January 1988, Remus got a bit further afield than the usual British tracks. Bira had planned a race in Bangkok during 1939, which was cancelled due to other business. Forty-nine years later, Chula’s daughter Narisa Chakrabongse (who still owns Romulus) finally made it happen for the King’s birthday, and Remus, together with other Bira cars, travelled to Thailand where a vast crowd attended a sprint in Bangkok (Remus was second), followed by two races on the Bira circuit at Pattaya (Remus was third).
One of Ludo’s highlights was at the 1998 Coys Festival at Silverstone, when he had a fantastic duel with Willie Green in the Alfetta, beating him by a nose. To a small extent that redressed the pre-war years when the Alfas steadily ate away the ERAs’ previous voiturette dominance. The other was finally winning his father’s memorial race, in 2000.
It’s obvious that owner and car suit each other. “It’s just a magic bit of kit,” he says. “Much nicer to handle than R4D. It doesn’t like hairpins, but it loves fast tracks like Goodwood.” What about the pre-selector box? “It suits the car,” says its owner. “It’s heavy to handle, so being able to keep both hands on the wheel as you stamp on the pedal is a real advantage.” Not always so heavy, though: apparently “it gets a bit light up front over 140”. It’s hard to accept that something as streamlined as a scout hut can push the air aside at those speeds, but once while testing at Paul Ricard the Ferrari team timed Patrick at 151mph. It’s also supremely reliable — Ludo has had only three mechanical DNFs — though the phenomenal acceleration means it gulps a gallon of methanol per mile. Eventually Ludo would like to refit a 1500cc engine. Why? “I’d just like to have everything as Bira had it.” Well, as John Ure showed at this year’s VSCC opener, a welldriven 1500cc ERA (R9B on this occasion) can mix it with its bigger 2-litre brothers; but let’s hope that if Ludovic does revert to friction dampers and a free duff, he doesn’t get the same results Bira got in ‘unlucky’ Remus.