English Racing Automobiles-E.R.A.
While thinking about the E.R.A. “Romulus” and looking through the Motor Sport archives I came across some rare photographs and some rare occasions. I was trying to find evidence of someone other than B. Bira racing “Romulus” but I could not, though the accompanying photographs are interesting to E.R.A. enthusiasts.
The very first car was built in 1934 in the workshops behind Eastgate House in Bourne, the home of Raymond Mays, and later these same premises became the home of BRM. Mays and Peter Berthorn had developed a supercharged 6-cylinder Riley 2-seater sports car into a very potent racing machine and it formed the basis of their new single-seater as far as the power unit was concerned. The first prototype, which was taken to Brooklands for testing was modified in many small ways and became R1A. In the photograph of the engine of the prototype the car is fitted with the original steering box with the drop-arm outside the chassis, this being redesigned with the drop-arm inside the chassis to alter the run of the drag-link and give more steering lock.
The flat rocker-box covers later gave way to rounded ones, but subsequently the flat ones re-appeared. The radiator badge was a winged affair which was later replaced b) the well-known three circles containing the letters E.R.A. Altogether four A-series cars were built, the first three for the works team and the fourth was sold to the first private owner, the South African Pat Fairfield. When the B-series cars were introduced the three works cars were Sold and replaced by R3B. and R4B. The first two B-series cars were sold to customers, R1B to Dick Seaman (it is now owned by Patrick Marsh) and R2B to Prince Chula as his birthday present to his cousin Prince Bira. The Siamese Royal family also bought R5B, which was named “Remus” and this was later sold to Tony Rob when Chula bought a C-series car. Of the other B-series cars, D. L. Briault bought R6B, Arthur Dobson R7B, Earl Howe R8B, Dennis Scribbans R9B, Peter Whitehead R10B, and Reggie Tongue R11B.
The E.R.A. works team had retained R4B and developed it extensively with independent front suspension, hydraulic brakes, different super-charger layout, improved chassis frame and body and so on, and it became R4D, and was the works development car. R12B was a works car as well, having i.f.s., Zoller supercharging, hydraulic brakes and so on, and was subsequently sold to Prince Chula, who named the car “Hanuman”, and it became, in effect, RI 2C. There was one more B-series car and that was R1413, bought by Johnny Wakefield differing from the other production B-series cars in having a Zoller supercharger layout instead of the more usual Jamieson supercharger. In 1939 an E-type E.R.A. was built, GP1, which was a complete breakaway from the A, B, C, D, series and after the war a second E-type GP2 was completed.
Of the regular series E.R.A. cars there were four A-series, and thirteen B-series (there was no RI3B) and of these seventeen cars sixteen are still in existence. Only one E.R.A. car was ever scrapped and that was R3B after it crashed at Deauville in 1936 and killed its driver, Marcel Lehoux, who was driving for the factory team. The second photograph is a very rare one of R3B taken at the Nurburgring in June 1936 before the start of the Eifelrennen event, in which Lehoux finished 4th (“Romulus”was 3rd). This was shortly before the fatal French race.
The other two photographs of B-series cars accompanying this article show two wellknown E.R.A. drivers, not in the cars they bought! Charles Martin bought R3A and drove it in numerous European events, winning on the banked Avus track in 1937. In the side view of car number 25 we see Charles Martin winning the 1936 Nuffield Trophy at Donington Park driving R9B, then owned by Dennis Scribbans. Today this car is owned by Christopher Mann and raced in VSCC events by his brother Peter. In the black car number 34 we see Johnny Wakefield driving R6B at a Crystal Palace meeting in August 1938, when the car was owned by Ian Connell, who bought it off Douglas Briault. At this time Wakefield had bought the last of the Bseries cars, R14B, which was the E.R.A. that we normally saw him in.
The last photograph is a rare one of R4D, the works development car not being driven by Raymond Mays. On this occasion it is being driven by Arthur Dobson, when he was a member of the factory team in 1939. This car is distinctive in having the steering box on the left side of the engine instead of the more usual right side, this being done specially for Raymond Mays whose left arm is slightly shorter than his right, as a result of a childhood accident. In the normal E.R.A. with the steering box on the right of the engine the steering wheel is at an angle to the centre-line of the car with a right bias, in R4D the wheel has a left bias and is the only E.R.A. so constructed. Arthur Dobson was usually seen at the wheel of R7B, which he bought new in 1936 and raced up to the end of the pre-war racing period in August 1939. This car, famous for its nickel-plated radiator and high tail, when it was built, was greatly modified after the war and today is raced in VSCC events by Dudley Gahagan.
Almost every E.R.A. built has led an interesting and active racing life and each one has accumulated numerous anecdotes and formed a distinct character, being identified irrevocably by its chassis number. R2B “Romulus” was, and still is in many was, unique amongst them all.—D.S.J.