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English Racing Automobiles (ERA) was a British racing car manufacturer active from 1933 to 1954.
ERA was founded towards the end of 1933 in Bourne, Lincolnshire by Humphrey Cook, a young man who was irritated that no British car had won a major continental race since Henry Segrave a decade earlier, and who hoped to produce a British car with the ability to win Grands Prix. However, by 1933 Grand Prix racing was becoming much more expensive thanks to the very large sums being spent by wealthy and government-backed works teams such as Auto Union and Alfa Romeo.
Because of this, ERA instead aimed its first efforts at the smaller voiturette class of car. Raymond Mays was both a company director and driver, and the company's works were established in a yard behind his house. Their first race was at Brooklands on 22 May 1934. By the end of the year ERAs had scored several victories in fields containing many more established marques, and through the mid- and late 1930s ERA came to dominate voiturette racing, with drivers of the calibre of Dick Seaman driving for the team. As soon as 1935, in a major race at Nürburgring, ERAs took first, third, fourth and fifth places. The two Siamese princes, Chula and Bira, whose pair of ERAs became famous as "Romulus and Remus" drove for their own team, operating from The White Mouse Garage. They were not works drivers.
The Second World War brought a halt to motor racing in Europe, and the team's Bourne site was used to produce aircraft components; when things got under way again in the late 1940s the team restarted operations in Dunstable under new ownership - Leslie Johnson bought the company, along with one of its three pre-war E-Type single-seaters, in late 1947- and a 1.5-litre Grand Prix car was built, which raced in the first two years of the Formula One World Championship without ever living up to its potential. For 1952, when Formula 2 teams contested the Championship, the team used a Bristol unit. Stirling Moss became the driver, but results were disappointing; Moss himself was later to say:
- It was, above all, a project which made an awful lot of fuss about doing very little. By this time I was very disillusioned by the Clever Professor approach to racing car design. I would eventually learn that even the most brilliant concept could fail if the team concerned lacks the manpower and organization and money to develop the inevitable bugs out of it.
The cars were sold to Bristol, who used them as the basis for an assault on Le Mans that would bring them several class wins in the mid-1950s. Meanwhile, the company itself was sold to Zenith Carburettor Ltd, which itself was then purchased by Solex, another carburettor firm, and was renamed Engineering Research and Application Ltd. ERA became primarily a research and development operation, although it still did a small amount of race preparation, and in the 1980s put its name to the ERA Mini Turbo, a turbocharged version of the Mini Cooper S capable of 115mph.
Formula One record
|Formula One record|
|Year||Team||Driver||# of GPs|
|1951||ERA||Brian Shawe Taylor||1|
The pre-WW2 ERAs are still often driven competitively, and they are particularly associated with the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb thanks in large part to Mays, who won the first two British Hill Climb Championships in 1947 and 1948; indeed an ERA has for many years held the hill record for a pre-war car.
There is a permanent exhibition about Raymond Mays' contribution to motor racing, including his ERA days at Bourne Civic Society's heritage centre in Bourne. It is open on weekend and bank holiday afternoons.
The Mini Connection
In the early 1980s, Mini wanted to jump onto the ever-increasing 'Hot Hatch' bandwagon, by creating a modern interpretation of the Cooper S. The idea was to install a turbocharged engine into the Mini City bodyshell. However, the car had to be useable and practical, and hence it was engineered to allow normal Austin Rover dealers to service it. Also, ERA wanted the new car to be the fastest Mini produced so far - but avoided a high-revving powerplant in favour of a torquey unit which would be useful in traffic.
Dennis Adams, designer of Marcos sports cars, was enrolled to design the model-specific bodykit for the ERA Turbo. The modifications consisted of deeper bumpers, wheel arch extensions and large side skirts, widening the car. The bodykit was tooled to become part of the production line, and hence was a very good quality example. Deeper dish alloys and a wider track complimented the changes. The interior received the ERA treatment too, gaining leather and bucket seats.
The engine was a turbocharged Austin Rover A-Series 1300 cc unit, and the turbocharger necessitated the modification of the bodyshell to ensure the cooling systems would still fit. Total power output of the car was 94 BHP.
The production totalled 436 cars, with 99 coming to the UK and the rest being exported to Japan. Only British Racing Green, Red, Black, White and Silver were available as colour options.