The history of the E.R.A. "Romulus"


MANY histories of racing-cars have been written, but mostly they were about makes and types of cars, not individual vehicles, and even "Blue Bird" was a succession of different machines which sometimes even took to the water. There is one individual racing-car, however, which deserves a biography—the E.R.A. "Romulus." My cousin "B. Bira" had started racing in March, 1935, with a Riley "Imp" after which he graduated to an M.G. Magnette. It was for his twenty-first birthday—July 15th, 1935—that I gave "Bira" the E.R.A. as a present. The car was delivered, within three weeks of the order being placed. It arrived resplendent in its new coat of blue paint at a dance and was put alongside a table on which other presents were displayed. The E.R.A., then nameless, was of 1,500 c.c. capacity, but had a small blower designed for an 1,100 c.c. engine, geared up.

It was taken to Dieppe and ran its first race on July 20th. The light car race was run over a period of two hours, and had twenty starters, and was the first real road race in which "Bira" took part. The blue E.R.A. had a great duel with the Delage of Lord Howe, and secured second place after nine laps. Then a plug oiled up on a corner and, being inexperienced, "Bira" could not clear it. The car lost 2 mins. at the pit while a plug was changed, sending it down to seventh place. After that it ran perfectly, and climbed back to third place. Then it had a struggle with Veyron's works Bugatti, and wrested back second place with 6 mins to go, finishing 52 secs. behind Fairfield's white 1,100 c.c. E.R.A., the winner.

On its retain to England it was put in the care of Messrs. Thomson & Taylor, its own mechanic being Wilson. "Bira" drove in a Mountain Race and the newly formed Siam Trophy Race at Brooklands on August 5th, and finished third in both, in the latter event being close to Raymond Mays all through the race, thereby inaugurating a series of duels which were to become famous.

Then the car went to Berne in the black T. & T. van, and distinguished itself in practice by equalling Mays's record time at 85 m.p.h. It ran faultlessly in the race and finished second to Seaman's black E.R.A., being beaten by 54 secs.

On September 10th, without any special preparation, "Bira'' used the car to break successfully the 1,500 c.c. Mountain Lap Record which had stood for thirteen months. The record was shattered again subsequently by other cars, but the blue E.R.A. did not seem to have any further interest.

On October 5th it went in for the first Donington Grand Prix, being the only 1½-litre car to do so. It ran faultlessly for 306 miles, and, but for "Bira" skidding and stopping for 6 mins., might have finished higher than fifth, and it was the only British car to complete the course. This race and the Mountain Championship which followed on October 19th, were won by R. O. Shuttleworth, and in the latter case the blue E.R.A. was third. Thus it closed the first season by having run seven races with but one pit stop, at Dieppe, which was not its fault.

In 1936 I bought another E.R.A., so the first car was given the name "Romulus" by "Bira," so as to be a twin of "Remus," the new car. I now had my own garage in the charge of G. W. Wuyts and a blue van to transport the cars. Although "Bira's" eyes were injured when driving "Remus" in the Empire Trophy, he nevertheless went down to Monte Carlo to drive "Romulus" in the first and last 1,500 c.c. race there. Running well without missing a beat, and being steered clear of an early melee by "Bira," it finally defeated both E.R.A. and Maserati works teams and gave "Bira" his first victory. Three weeks later, on May 2nd, without any further attention, "Romulus" ran beautifully through 260 miles of the International Trophy. ''Bira's" duel with Mays in the last lap is memorable and he gained another Victory.

"Romulus" now crossed the sea to the Isle of Man where it had a great struggle with the Delage, which was now black and belonged to Seaman. "Romulus" covered the 200 miles comfortably and finished second, 1 min. 17 secs. behind Seaman, and would have been much closer if it had not lost 1 min. refuelling, whereas the Delage went through non-stop.

On its return to England "Romulus" was invited to open the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb in honour of the Monaco win, but was too busy to accept, and "Bira" had to use a touring Bentley. On June 14th "Romulus" performed in Germany at the Eifelrennen, and, "Bira" driving it carefully, finished third, behind two Maseratis, being the highest placed British car. A week later the car was fitted with the blower of "Remus" and had a glorious revenge on the Delage and Maserati by beating them both, and winning the Grand Prix de Picardie after a tremendous duel with Fairfield's E.R.A. Thus, up till then, "Romulus" had run in twelve races, with three firsts, three seconds, five thirds, and never a retirement. This glorious record was marred at Pescara in its thirteenth race, in August, when an oil feed pipe broke, causing a piston to break and "Bira" to retire halfway through the race when he was in second place. "Romulus" ran at Berne with "Remus's" engine and was equally unsuccessful. During the winter of 1936-37 the White Mouse Garage was busy transforming the Delage which had been acquired, and little attention was paid to "Romulus," apart from the fitting of a new cylinder head and De Ram shock absorbers. "Romulus" began the 1987 season with second and third places in Mountain Circuit handicaps.

The Delage being unready, we took "Romulus" to Italy instead. It took the lead in the Turin Race after being persistently blocked by Bianco's Maserati, only to retire through a slight defect. At Naples, however, "Romulus" finished second to Trossi, beating a host of other Maseratis. Trossi was faster than "Bira," who also drove carefully. On June 3rd, at the Isle of Man, "Romulus" was given a great triumph by "Bira," who led the race from the beginning to end in a downpour of rain, beating the Zoller works E.R.A.s and many others, this being probably "Bira's" greatest race.

The second trip to Italy immediately after, in place of the Delage, which proved too heavy, was, however, too much for "Romulus." The car retired at Florence through worn-out brakes, and at Milan with a tired engine.

Wuyts resigned that June, and "Romulus" passed to the care of Raymond England. After being overhauled, it made its first appearance at the Crystal Palace in the London Grand Prix and won. The block was now linered and this caused piston troubles in practice at Berne, and the block cracked. With this patched up, partly with a plate and partly with chewing gum, "Bira" led the race in the rain and finally. finished third behind the two works E.R.A.s, the crippled "Romulus" showing a clean pair of heels to all the latest Maseratis and other E.R.A.s.

A new cylinder block was now fitted, but piston troubles persisted, so at Brno, on September 26th, "Romulus" could not finish higher than fourth. The car, however, fully rehabilitated itself by winning the Imperial Trophy at the Crystal Palace against the strongest opposition including Trossi from Italy. The close duel with Arthur Dobson's white E.R.A. was the first of many to come.

"Romulus" now took a long sea voyage to Thailand and was put on show in Bangkok where 80,000 people went to see it. When "Bira" gave a demonstration run 50,000 people turned out to watch.

From 1938 onwards "Romulus" passed into the charge of Stanley Holgate, and the season was well inaugurated with a victory in the Coronation Trophy at the Crystal Palace. After "Bira" had damaged his new E.R.A. "Hanuman" during practice, "Romulus" was called up to Donington and ran perfectly, finishing second to the little Austin driven by Dodson, in the Empire Trophy.

"Romulus" returned to the Crystal Palace for two events in May and June. It finished second in the Sydenham Trophy when "Bira" was worried by oil dropped on the road, but comfortably repeated its victory in the London Grand Prix.

Before the B.R.D.C. Road Race, "Romulus" was crashed and damaged during practice by "Bira," but was repaired in time by borrowing "Hanuman's" back axle. In the race it so outdistanced all the other 1,500 c.c. cars that the event became a match between "Romulus" and the works 2-litre E.R.A. driven by Mays, who only gained 2 secs. a lap. The struggle proved too much for the 2-litre car, which cracked in the last lap, "Romulus" passing to win, finishing two laps ahead of any other 1½-litre cars.

A match between "Romulus" and Dobson's white car at the Crystal Palace was ruined by "Romulus" retiring with a punctured tyre after leading for two out of five laps. In the Imperial Trophy which followed, "Romulus" finished second to Abecassis's Alta, that being the only time it was beaten by a 1,500 c.c. car in the British Isles.

It started the 1939 season with hardly any new parts, but was now painted blue and yellow, the new established colours of Thailand. It won the Sydenham Trophy at the Crystal Palace, beating Ruesch's 3.8-litre Alfa-Romeo. The following July it joined the exclusive band of cars which went round the Crystal Palace circuit at over 60 m.p.h., the others being Mays's 2-litre E.R.A. and Wakefield's 1939 Maserati. It gave the 2-litre E.R.A. and the Austin (which had 7 secs. a lap handicap) a mighty chase in the Crystal Palace Cup and finished third, only 3 secs. behind Mays, and a bonnet behind the Austin.

"Bira" having crashed "Hanuman" in practice at Rheims, "Romulus" was taken to Albi in France. Driven by "Bira," who was far from well, it finished third, behind Wakefield's and Tongue's 1939 Maseratis. Thus "Romulus," in a five years' career, ran in thirty-six races, and gained ten firsts, nine seconds, and eight thirds, with only five retirements. In other words, victory in one out of 3.6 races was enjoyed, and a place in 1 out of 1.3 races. "Romulus" is now enjoying a rest in a little garage somewhere in Cornwall. [After showing the world what this country can do when it comes to l½-litre racing-cars. —Ed.]