The importance of Raymond Mays to British motor racing was far greater than his exploits behind the wheel. His greatest successes as a driver were in British hillclimbing during the 1930s but it was as founder of both ERA and BRM that he was unique. Mays "could charm the birds off the trees" according to Autosport’s John Bolster.
Upbringing, education and early life
His father was in the wool business and had been an early motorist who drove Napiers and Vauxhalls in local events. His son’s interest in cars was fostered while at Oundle public school where Amherst Villiers – the engineer who would later create the supercharged "Blower Bentley" – was a fellow pupil.
Mays joined the Grenadier Guards in 1918 and served in France and Germany before completing his education at Cambridge University. While an undergraduate, Mays started competing in sprints, beach races and at Brooklands. He appeared at Shelsley Walsh for the first time in 1921 and hillclimbs would prove to be his forte. He drove a variety of cars but it was the "White Riley" that was his most famous.
English Racing Automobiles
His performances impressed wealthy amateur Humphrey Cook and they formed English Racing Automobiles in 1933 with Peter Berthon a third partner. Mays raced the upright 1500cc voiturette ERAs with some success. He counted the 1935 Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring, Brooklands’ 1936 Mountain Championship and the GP de Picardie at Péronne in 1937 and 1938 among his victories.
However, the company was in increasing financial trouble and Cook introduced a public subscription in 1939 in a bid to keep it going. The introduction of the disappointing ERA E-type proved fatal to the marque.
British Racing Motors
Mays won the 1947 and 1948 British Hillclimb Championship with ERA R4D and he had a new project – British Racing Motors. The original BRM V16 design was overcomplicated and ill-fated from the start. It generated great publicity but only delivered disappointment.
BRM ran into financial difficulties and Mays was relieved to sell it to industrialist Alfred Owen in 1952. Mays remained involved in the project and the once embarrassing team finally became winners under the stewardship of the new Owen Racing Organisation. Jo Bonnier’s BRM P25 won the 1959 Dutch GP and Graham Hill was crowned world champion for the team three years later.