A Marque is Bourne
Initially a private undertaking, ERA went on to become the most successful inter-war British maker of racing cars
On June 23, 1934 at Brooklands much interest was caused by a car entered as an ERA, the initials standing for English Racing Automobiles. It was in the BARC British Empire Trophy race that Humphrey Cook and Raymond Mays, the prime movers of the Bourne-based project, entered this car, though it was only on the afternoon of May 22 that Mays had carried out the first of many tests on one of these cars built in a shed at Brooklands.
The race was to consist of 100 laps of a special three-mile circuit, running the reverse way on the Outer Circuit with two hairpin bends, one onto the Finishing Straight and the other on the Railway Straight, so the course would be an arduous one as cars would presumably approach the slow hairpin at the Fork at considerable speed. The corners were marked by trusses in the Continental fashion. There was a handicap based on capacity classes and whether superchargers were used. Lord Nuffield donated £1000 to the prize fund, with the winner taking £400 and the British Empire Trophy.
The ERA finished its first race but was not placed as it had several delays due to a fractured oil pipe in the sump and a puncture in the compulsory Brooklands silencer.
On July 22 the Dieppe Grand Prix was its next appearance, and this was the first of many continental races. The car retired due to misfiring caused by a broken valve rocker but until then it had performed well. This was also the first time that it wore its new three-roundel badge, designed by Pingo Lester.
Back at Brooklands in the BARC Sixth August Meeting, Humphrey Cook had the first ERA victory. This was in the five-lap second Esher Handicap driving the second chassis, R2, which using a 1090cc engine lapped at 71.15mph with an average of 69.05mph. In the third Esher Mountain Handicap race Raymond Mays in his 11/2-litre ERA R1 came in second, lapping at 76.31mph and breaking the Class F (1500cc) circuit record which had previously been held by Mays in his White Riley. In the last Mountain Handicap race Cook in R2 started from scratch and on his second lap broke the Class G (1100cc) record at 72.37mph, but on the next lap had a brake problem. At the end of the meeting the Appearance Prize went to Raymond Mays.
On August 28 Humphrey Cook in his R2 took the British and International Class G standing-start kilometre and mile records, at 79.75 and 88.91mph respectively. Mays in R1 also broke the same records in Class F at 85.35 and 96.08mph respectively.
In the Midlands Automobile Club hillclimb at Shelsley Walsh on September 29 Mays made the Fastest Time of the Day in R3 with 44.0sec, the car being fitted with twin rear wheels, while R1 took the 1500cc class at 46.0sec.
At Donington on October 5 in the Nuffield Trophy Race over 40 laps (100 miles), Mays in R1 came first from scratch in 1hr 41min 8sec, equal to 61.51mph.
On October 13 at the last meeting of the year at Brooklands in the race for the Mountain Championship both R1 and R3 took part; Mays in R1 came second behind Whitney Straight in his Maserati but with a fastest lap of 78.88mph, taking the Class E record. Also in the same month Mays broke the world standing-start kilometre record with the 2-litre ERA R3 at 89.73mph, a Class F honour.
By the end of the year Cook was convinced the project was worth continuing with, so he increased his capital investment. The first private order for an ERA was made by Pat Fairfield, who ordered an 1100cc version. The second person was Richard Seaman, ordering a 1500cc costing him £2000. The Light Car announced on November 2 that a limited number of ERAs would be available to owners who knew how to handle such a car and would race it.
Four on the floor from Ford
Way back in 1987 when the four-wheel-drive 2.8-litre Ford Sierra XR4x4 was available for a Motor Sport long-term road test, I recall that when driving it home as fast as it would go I wondered what would happen if the transmission chain which drove the transfer box seized up, or if the fluid couplings slipped, but neither of these things happened in the 25,000 miles I drove in one of these cars. In slippery conditions our house drive became difficult to surmount, so that to get a car up it I had to get someone to stand in the road to stop oncoming traffic while I took the car to the top of a steep hill that led to our entrance and then rushed down the hill, aiming the car through the gate, but inevitably the car would come to rest just after the gate. When, however, I had the 4WD Ford I was able to negotiate the whole drive without stopping. Equally when going down our steep drive in similar conditions it was prudent to use the brakes cautiously, but with the 4×4 Ford one could use the brakes normally and cram them on just before the gate with the car stopping normally. Also on black ice the car would stop in a straight line.
In 1990 Motor Sport acquired another 4WD Ford, a 2-litre Sierra EFi which became my Editorial car. I kept it until 2008 when my daughter gave it to the local fire station to do what they liked with, as it had become very rusty. In all the time I was using it and with regular servicing it only developed very minor problems, one being a broken clutch cable, which was not a real calamity as I could manage a clutchless car providing a gear would engage. On another occasion it failed an ‘on the spot’ police check on its exhaust emissions. In those days one was given 28 days in which to rectify an engine which was over the limit, or face a £4000 fine and scrapping of the car if you could not comply.
Unsuitable as editorial transport?
I’m not sure if I should embark on this piece remembering that at the time I owned a Trojan, DenisJenkinson suggested I should sell it, as it was not a suitable car for the Editor of Motor Sport Although this did not necessarily influence the disposal of it, I was intrigued by the specification of the Trojan. In its early form it was an excellent all-round car with the engine under the front seat, driving via a three-speed gearbox and thence by chain to the rear axle. Anyone interested in the history of these once popular cars should try and obtain from their library, or from a bookshop specialising in the older titles, a copy of Can You Afford to Walk? by Eric Rance and Don Williams, published in 1999, which contains perhaps the fullest account of these unconventional cars.