I say, why don't we build racing cars?
The story of English Racing Automobiles (ERA) reads like something out of a Boy's Own comic. Take three friends; the wealthy Humphrey Cook, an also wealthy and flamboyant racing driver named Raymond Mays, and self trained engineer Peter Berthon, all with a burning desire to challenge the mighty German and Italian car manufacturers on the international racing circuits. British to a 'T' they were determined to enhance the cause of British prestige worldwide.
Building and racing full Grand Prix cars was a very expensive operation, so the decision was made to compete in what was called the voiturette class for supercharged cars up to 1.5 litres.
Mays had already raced ACs, Bugattis and a supercharged Vauxhall and then in 1933 he had a very successful season driving a 1.5 litre Riley which had been prepared by Berthon. This became known as the White Riley and ERA's car was based on it.
Prolific motor engineer Reid Railton designed the chassis and this was built by engineers Thompson and Taylor, based at Brooklands racing circuit. The engine was based on the Riley six cylinder engine but with numerous modifications, and came in three sizes; a 1088 cc for racing in the 1100 cc class, 1488 cc for racing in the 1.5 litre class, and a 1980 cc for racing in the two litre class. A supercharger, designed by another friend, Murray Jamieson, was fitted, and the engine ran on methanol.
May's family were well-to-do grain merchants in Lincolnshire, and the factory was established there near the town of Bourne.
The power output was around 150 brake horsepower for the 1500 cc model. This was transferred to the rear wheels via a four speed pre-selector gearbox, which was fashionable for racing cars of the day.
The first car left the factory in 1934 and after a few modifications it began to secure successes against much more established and heavily financed competition. Notably, in 1935 ERAs scored first, third, fourth and fifth places at the Nurburgring.
Buyers included such notable racing car drivers as Richard Seaman, and Prince Bira of Siam (as it was then known) and ERAs dominated voiturette racing for the rest of the decade.
Although the designs were constantly developed up to World War II the company never sold large volumes of cars; they simply didn't have the financial resources to do so. Motor racing came to an end after the outbreak of World War II, and after the war the site in Bourne was sold to a bus operator, and British racing driver Leslie Johnson bought the company.
In 1947 to 1948 Mays won the British Hill Climb Championship on an ERA and even today most ERAs are still in existence, and some of them still appear in historic events, particularly hill climbs.