Marking the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the ERA (‘English Racing Automobiles Limited’) – the first-ever British specialist company to manufacture single-seat, open-wheeled racing cars for customer sale – Bonhams will auction the first prototype ERA at the Goodwood Festival of Speed on 11 July 2008.
The ERA marque played a pivotal role in British motor sporting history. From 1934- 1938, these British racing cars toppled the former supremacy of the Italian Maserati cars in their International ‘Voiturette’ competition class – effectively Formula Two or Grand Prix Two level. They performed incredible service, also graduating to contemporary Grand Prix racing pre-World War Two and then from 1948-51 to Formula One.
Chassis no. ‘R1A’ – to be sold by Bonhams – was first driven by Raymond Mays at ERA’s public debut in testing at Brooklands on 22 May 1934. Trouble in practice for its first race in the Mannin Moar event at Douglas, Isle of Man on 30 May saw Raymond Mays non-start but he and Humphrey Cook then co-drove the new car in its true race debut, the British Empire Trophy at Brooklands on 23 June. There again on 6 August, Raymond Mays finished 2nd in an Esher Mountain Handicap, and set the class lap record at 76.31mph.
He subsequently broke further records at Brooklands in September with a class victory in the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb, then – on 6 October 1934 – winning the major Nuffield Trophy race in the car at Donington Park.
During 1935 Humphrey Cook won at Brooklands, and this car was also successful in the hands of Richard Seaman – future Mercedes-Benz works team driver and winner of the 1938 German Grand Prix – Tim Rose-Richards and Raymond Mays himself. The car was also campaigned by the diminutive but dazzlingly glamorous Mrs Kay Petre in 1936, and was raced in the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island, New York, USA by the Hon. Brian Lewis (later Lord Essendon).
In 1937 ‘R1A’ was sold to Norwegian private owner/driver Eugen Bjornstad in whose hands it beat the Maseratis in Turin, Italy, and was 3rd at Naples and in the Finnish Grand Prix in Helsinki.
After World War Two ‘R1A’ remained in frontline competition, being owned and driven by such contemporary a household name as Reg Parnell. It was also campaigned by the brothers Joe and Fred Ashmore, David Hampshire, Phillip Fotheringham-Parker and Alistair Birrell before being entrusted in 1952 to a newcomer named Ron Flockhart. The fair-haired young Scot would become a leading British racing driver, winning the Le Mans 24-Hours in Jaguar D-Type cars in both 1956 and 1957.
‘R1A’ became one of the truly iconic cars of the Vintage Sports Car Club’s racing scene from 1956 to date, and occupies a unique place in any review of British and European motor racing history.
The prototype chassis was constructed by specialists Thomson & Taylor at the Brooklands Motor Course near Weybridge, Surrey, England, designed by Reid A. Railton and detailed by his assistants Ralph Beauchamp and John Perrett.
Final assembly and race preparation was undertaken at Bourne, Lincolnshire, in a purpose-built factory neighbouring company founder Raymond May’s home, Eastgate House. He had been Britain’s star sprint and hill-climb Champion during the 1920s/early ’30s, and his exploits in the ‘White Riley’ sports car heavily-modified by Peter Berthon and Tom Murray Jamieson had earned financial backing for the new ERA project from wealthy London drapery heir Humphrey Cook. Mechanical design of the new ERA was supervised by Peter Berthon, and the new car attracted enormous interest within the tight-knit British motor sporting community.
In recent years ‘R1A’ has been a regular – and successful – sight in historic motor car racing events and this summer, the car is expected to fetch £400,000-500,000. It will be sold without reserve.
Further information: bonhams.com