The E.R.A. affair

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It would appear that I stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest when I agreed with the letter from David L. Gandhi in the July issue of Motor Sport, in which he lamented the awakening of the E.R.A. “Romulus” from its slumbers. At the VSCC meetings at Silverstone and Prescott I left a trail of people arguing for and against the suggestion that “Romulus” should have been left where it was, in the same condition in which it ran its last International race in 1946. Our feeling was that this particular E.R.A. was unique and it was a pity that the mystique was broken. A purely sentimental reason.

The E.R.A. club published a list of all the E.R.A. cars ever built, with one column giving the owners and another column giving the people who had raced the cars. Some cars have had as many as fifteen owners and have been driven by more than twenty different drivers; indeed, long and imposing lists of owners and drivers for individual cars is the general rule in this publication, but there is one exception. Under the heading “Romulus” R2B are but two owners, H.R.I I. Prince Chula and H.R.H. Princess Chula. Under the heading “Drivers” is but one name—H.R.11. Prince Bira. Of all the E.R.A. cars built “Romulus” was unique in that it was never raced by anyone else but “B. Bira”; it was never loaned to anyone, nor was it shared with anyone in long-distance events, only Bira ever raced it. It is also unique in having been owned by one family since new, and still is, as Prince Chula’s daughter is the owner today.

It was unique in another sense in that it only ever raced in contemporary first line racing, right up to its last race in 1946, after which it was laid to rest. All the other E.R.A. cars moved on into lesser forms of racing, national events, club events, hill-climbs or historic racing and after being outclassed in first-line racing they all continued with remarkably active racing lives, all except “Romulus”. Over the years, since they were no longer competitive in open competition most of them have been modified in some way or another, either by “force majeure” or in attempts to keep them competitive. “Romulus” was the only E.R.A. left in its original form, not original as built in 1935, because Chula up-dated it as he raced it, but original as last run in a Grand Prix event. Some people may not agree that it was the most successful of all the E.R.A. cars, but it was undoubtedly one of the most successful and well known, racing all over Europe between 1935 and 1939, and beating the works Maserati team.

To me and many others this was a very special E.R.A. Those of us who saw it race will have sentimental memories, those who are too young to have seen it race will undoubtedly have read about it’s exploits: If it had been sold in 1948 to someone who continued to race it, there would never have been any mystique about it, nor if it had been loaned to someone in the immediate post-war years for hill-climbs or club races, or VSCC races. The fact is that it was not and Lord Montagu explained in his letter last month how it was the wish of the late Princess Chula that “Romulus” should be allowed to rest in peace in memory of Prince Chula, who was the power behind the White Mouse Stable for whom Prince Bira drove. It was actually given to Bira as a 21st birthday present in 1935 and by mutual agreement with Chula in 1947 when Chula decided to give up racing it was exchanged for the White Mouse Stable complete with Maserati that Bira continued to race on his own. Prince Chula took “Romulus” down to his home in Cornwall and there it stayed until Princess Chula loaned it to the Beaulieu motor museum.

It was a very special E.R.A. and it was unique. It is still a very special E.R.A. but some of its character has gone. It is no longer the E.R.A. as Bira last drove it, it is now an immaculately rebuilt E.R.A., immaculately driven by Bill Morris and still very successful. (It finished 2nd in the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy). The sight of “Romulus” racing once more is giving a lot of people a lot of enjoyment, but I still feel that Prince and Princess Chula were right in letting it rest in peace, for sentimental reasons. ‘There are plenty of other E.R.A. cars to race, but there is only one “Romulus” and he was unique and he had been unique for thirty years, but no more.

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