ERA R1A,
Lot 560
The Ex-works/Raymond Mays/Humphrey Cook/Richard Seaman/Tim Rose-Richards/Oliver Bertram/Prinz zu Leiningen/Mrs Kay Petre/The Hon. Brian Lewis, Eugen Bjornstad – John Heath – Reg Parnell – Ashmore Brothers – David Hampshire – Philip Fotheringham-Parker – Alastair Birrell – Ron Flockhart – Bill Moss – Sandy Murray,1934 ERA A-Type Prototype Single-Seater Racing Voiturette R1A
Sold for £359,000 (US$ 574,527) inc. premium

Lot Details
ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A, ERA R1A,
The Ex-works/Raymond Mays/Humphrey Cook/Richard Seaman/Tim Rose-Richards/Oliver Bertram/Prinz zu Leiningen/Mrs Kay Petre/The Hon. Brian Lewis, Eugen Bjornstad – John Heath – Reg Parnell – Ashmore Brothers – David Hampshire – Philip Fotheringham-Parker – Alastair Birrell – Ron Flockhart – Bill Moss – Sandy Murray
1934 ERA A-Type Prototype Single-Seater Racing Voiturette
Chassis no. R1A

Footnotes

  • Just study the above list of works racing team drivers, and the subsequent ledger of owners and drivers, and we hope that you as a potential owner of this wonderfully evocative and historically most important racing car will instantly appreciate how much its career has been woven into the very fabric of British and European road racing lore. During its 74 year life this prototype ERA ‘R1A’ has been celebrated as the first of the iconic English Racing Automobiles – the classical ‘Old English Upright’ ERA.

    English Racing Automobiles Limited came into being on November 6, 1933, when the business was first registered at Companies House in London. It had been created to manufacture and campaign a team of single-seater racing cars capable of upholding British prestige in Continental European road racing. By modern standards the reason might seem a little overblown, but in the early 1930s the combination of extreme patriotism and intense frustration had fired the imagination of a wealthy British racing enthusiast who had been unable to buy a competitive British car in which to go motor racing Internationally.

    His name was Humphrey Cook. He had been competing at amateur level since before the First World War when he had first driven a 10.6-litre Isotta-Fraschini at Brooklands. He had inherited a fortune at the age of just 12 when his father had died, leaving him the thriving wholesale drapery firm of Cook Son & Co, of St Paul’s Churchyard, London.

    Burly, shy and an intensely private man, Humphrey Cook became a confirmed motor racing enthusiast. He became a prominent competitor in sprint and hillclimb events, notably with his TT Vauxhall ‘Rouge et Noir 2’, and in that category during the 1920s into the early ‘30s his main rival in British events was Raymond Mays, the extrovert Bugatti-driving son of an upper middle-class businessman from Bourne, in rural Lincolnshire.

    While the cost of aspiring to contemporary Grand Prix class racing was prohibitive, the subsidiary or ‘schoolroom’ class of 1500cc supercharged ‘Voiturette’ racing – the Formula 2 or GP2 category of the period - seemed within reach. Humphrey Cook had toyed with the idea of creating his own racing car factory and team for several years, until in 1933 he was immensely impressed by the sheer power and speed of Raymond Mays’s latest hillclimb mount – ‘The White Riley’ – tuned and developed by his engineer friend Peter Berthon, working with Austin racing designer Tom Murray Jamieson and design draughtsman Aubrey Barratt.

    ‘The White Riley’ shone in its class through 1933, and it was at the end of that year that Humphrey Cook offered to back its creators and driver in founding the first British company ever to manufacture pure-bred centreline single-seat racing cars in series for customer sale. In this aim, ERA was the first to follow the established lead of Harry Miller in the USA, and of the Maserati brothers in Italy. What a level to aspire to!

    To finalise the prototype English Racing Automobile – or ERA – in time for the 1934 racing season required immense effort in a very brief period. The great Reid A. Railton of Brooklands-based racing specialists Thomson & Taylor Ltd agreed to design a thoroughbred open-wheeled single-seat racing chassis around the 6-cylinder essentially ‘White Riley’-based engine. Railton’s assistant Ralph Beauchamp actually penned the first design drawing on October 23, 1933, before the new ERA company had been formalized. The drawing is identified as the ‘R.M. Project’ – for ‘Raymond Mays’.

    Meanwhile Mays oversaw conversion of an old Maltings building adjoining his home at Eastgate House, Bourne, while a new purpose-built factory was erected in his former orchard there. Staff members were engaged, and on December 23, 1933, five sets of chassis side members were ordered by Thomson & Taylor from specialist manufacturer John Thompson. Elegant H-section front axles were forged by Hadfield’s together with steering components while final machining was undertaken by T&T’s at Brooklands. Both Reid Railton and Raymond Mays set extremely demanding standards of workmanship and finish. The brand-new chassis members were delivered to T&T on February 16, 1934, and in April the first rolling chassis – then numbered just ‘R1’ but effectively that now offered here as ‘R1A’ – was ready with Armstrong-Siddeley 4-speed pre-selector gearbox installed but less engine. It was immediately transported for completion to the new factory in Bourne.

    The panel-beating brothers George and Jack Gray hand-fashioned the new car’s slipper bodywork there, to a design credited to a Mr Piercy who had previously designed the bodywork for Malcolm Campbell’s ‘Bluebird’ record breaker. Freddie Gordon-Crosby – artist to ‘The Autocar’ – was also involved, designing perhaps the radiator cowl and certainly ‘R1’s first badge, which combined the initials ‘ERA’ with a rising sun motif – perhaps signifying the dawn of a new ERA?

    The further-developed 6-cylinder Riley engine with its custom-made Murray Jamieson 100mm Roots-type supercharger was tested at Riley’s Coventry factory before being mated with this prototype chassis. Mays and Cook had planned to enter both the 1500cc ‘R1’ and an 1100cc sister car for themselves to drive in the Isle of Man races in May that year, but it rapidly became evident that only ‘R1’ would be available in time. On Tuesday, May 22, this ERA was unveiled to the public at Brooklands Motor Course near Weybridge in Surrey. Unsuspected by its audience, ‘R1’s new engine ran a bearing as Mays demonstrated it…

    Within a week the car was repaired and running at Douglas, Isle of Man. The engine performed well, but the new car handled appallingly badly. Reid Railton was summoned from T&T with a range of replacement road springs. But none suited, and the car was retrieved amidst considerable embarrassment to Brooklands. On June 23 ‘R1’ was finally ready for its first race, the 300-mile British Empire Trophy there. An oil pipe broke while the engine was being warmed-up immediately before the start. Time was lost replacing it, followed by another 20 minutes delay due to a puncture and a hole in the mandatory Brooklands silencer. But Mays and Cook still co-drove their new car to the finish.

    This car ‘R1’ was then loaded into the team’s ERA-lettered Leyland van and shipped to the Dieppe Grand Prix in France on July 22, 1934. Its vivid acceleration matched that of the full Grand Prix cars, but its handling still demanded improvement. Mays’ race ended in rocker failure. At Dieppe ‘R1’ wore a new badge, copied from that designed by Mays’ friend Squadron-Leader ‘Pingo’ Lester for the Leyland van – now famous as the interlinked circles with E R A lettering. Not long after Dieppe the second ERA – then numbered ‘R2’ – was completed as an 1100cc class contender. In August at Brooklands Humphrey Cook actually scored his new marque’s maiden race win in ‘R2’ – winning the 6-mile Second Esher Handicap event. Mays then finished second to Aubrey Esson-Scott’s Bugatti driving ‘R1’ in the Second Esher Mountain Handicap. He also broke the Brooklands Mountain circuit lap record for Class F (1500cc) cars leaving it at 76.31mph. Thus encouraged, Mays and Cook then attacked the International standing-start kilometre and mile records at Brooklands on August 28 – and both were successful, Mays in ‘R1’ now offered here raising the Class F records to 85.35 and 96.08mph.

    A third ERA – chassis ‘R3’ – became May’s sprint and hill-climb contender, powered by an enlarged 2-litre version of the 6-cylinder Riley-based engine. And then at Donington Park on October 6, 1934, Raymond Mays scored ‘R1’s first race victory, winning the 100-mile Nuffield Trophy event in arduously wet conditions. Not only was this to become the famous marque’s first-ever victory in a long-distance event, it also proved that the basic ERA design had all the stamina, reliability and pace its creators had expected of it.

    The magazine ‘The Light Car’ then carried an announcement in its November 2 issue that “a limited number of E.R.A. cars is to be made available to owners who know how to handle a car of this kind and will race it”. Provisional prices were quoted as £1,500 for an 1100cc version, £1,700 for a 1500 and £1,850 for a 2-litre. The first customer to step up to the plate was South African newcomer Pat Fairfield, closely followed by Richard John Beattie-Seaman – the legendary Dick Seaman – who would become the greatest British driver of the era, shine in his new ERA, eventually join the Mercedes-Benz factory team and win the 1938 German Grand Prix for them.

    For 1936 the original ERA chassis design was modified by Thomson & Taylor. The forward pair of rear spring mountings were lowered and reinforced and the chassis frame was stiffened by addition of diagonal cross-bracing beneath the driver’s seat, and a revised cross-member design, permitting the seat to be mounted lower. Ten-leaf rear springs, bound with twine, replaced the nine-leaf type fitted after ‘R1’s abortive Isle of Man debut. The steering box mounting was stiffened and the gearbox, radiator and fuel tankage improved.

    Humphrey Cook in ‘R1’ commenced ERA’s 1935 season with victory in the 5-lap New Haw Mountain Handicap race at Brooklands’ opening meeting of the season on March 16, and then won the 1500cc class in the Inter-Varsity Speed Trials at Syston Park, Grantham, on March 23. On April 13 at Donington Park Pat Fairfield made his debut in his new ERA ‘R4’ while Dick Seaman – impatient that the car he had ordered was not yet ready – was provided with ‘R1’ to drive, finishing 2nd in a 10-lap, 23-mile, handicap race.

    Back at Brooklands on April 22, Humphrey Cook took another 2nd place for ‘R1’ in a 5-lap Mountain circuit race. He drove this car again in the major 261-mile JCC International Trophy at Brooklands on May 6, finishing 12th after being troubled by grabbing brakes. Then at the important Shelsley Walsh hill-climb on May 18, Raymond Mays not only set a fantastic FTD of 39.6secs in 2-litre ERA ‘R3’ he also set 2nd fastest time of 39.8secs in the 1.5-litre ‘R1’.

    New customer Pat Fairfield then won the 202-mile Mannin Beg race at Douglas, Isle of Man, in his works-run 1100cc customer car ‘R4’, although Cook was forced to retire ‘R1’ after 30 laps of the 1500cc Mannin Moar race there after scavenge pump failure. Dick Seaman’s new customer car was finally completed upon the team’s return from the Isle of Man. It was then decided to classify that car ‘R1B’ as the first of the T&T re-designed ‘B-Type’ models, whereupon the four earlier machines were retrospectively entitled ‘A-Type’. It was at this stage that the additional suffix letter ‘A’ was added to their chassis number stampings on the front and rear dumb-irons. Thus this car offered here became ‘R1A’ and its three sisters ‘R2A’, ‘R3A’ and ‘R4A’. The Dick Seaman car emerged as ‘R1B’ – and it is NOT to be confused with ‘R1A’. The A-Type cars were – as time passed – much improved in line with B-Type modifications and experience, and would prove equally competitive, while one – Mays’s ‘R4A’ was developed through subsequent C-Type spec to become the unique ERA D-Type ‘R4D’..

    When the works team took the battle to the strongest International opposition in the 1500cc EifelRennen at the Nurburgring, Germany, on June 16, 1935, Tim Rose-Richards drove ‘R1A’ home into a fine 3rd place, while Mays actually won outright in ‘R3A’, Seaman placed 4th in ‘R1B’ and Cook finished 5th in ‘R2A’.

    Back home, ‘The Autocar’ enthused “What a thrill to see the green of England leading the red of Italy, the blue of France, and the white of Germany….!”. This was what Cook and Mays had created English Racing Automobiles to achieve. Mays would later recall “When I realised that all four ERAs had finished in the first five places my joy was unbounded!”.

    The German Prinz zu Leiningen then co-drove ‘R1A’ in the 300-mile British Empire Trophy race at Brooklands on July 6, 1935, sharing it with Oliver Bertram to finish 12th. The Siamese Prince ‘Bira’ received the latest new ERA – chassis ‘R2B’ – as a 21st birthday present from his cousin, guardian and mentor Prince Chula. He would achieve enormous success with it and two sister ERAs which were later added to their ‘White Mouse Stable’ team.

    Raymond Mays drove ‘R1A’ again at Brooklands on August 5, finishing 2nd in the Siam Trophy race, before Prinz zu Leiningen took over for the Prix de Berne on the demanding Bremgarten circuit in Switzerland, misfiring his way home again in 12th place. Mays then drove the car in the Freiburg mountain climb, setting 3rd FTD while customer Seaman beat him into second place.

    ‘Motor Sport’ magazine reported of ERA: “The most remarkable feature…has been the sudden rise to supremacy of a British racing car in the 1½-litre class. Continental organisers are ordering new gramophone records of the British National Anthem to play at the end of their races, for the ERA is regarded as unbeatable. Maserati and Bugatti – names to conjure with – have been subdued”.

    Shelsley Walsh on September 28 proved another Raymond Mays benefit, FTD overall in his 2-litre ‘R4B’ and 2nd FTD in 1500cc ‘R1A’. Seven firm orders were received for 1500cc Voiturette-class ERAs for the 1936 season. ‘R1A’ was retained by the works team but competed only twice; once at Brooklands on May 2 when it was entrusted to the dazzlingly pretty and extremely capable Mrs Kay Petre in the JCC International Trophy race – from which it retired – after which it was shipped to Long Island, New York, for the Vanderbilt Cup race on October 6 – in which it was driven by the Honourable Brian Lewis, another outstanding British racing driver of the period, and the future Lord Essendon. But ‘R1A’ was not on good form and he finished 15th.

    ERA was by this time a much-admired – and feared – force in International motor racing at Voiturette level, just one step below full Grand Prix competition. Norwegian Alfa Romeo driver Eugen Bjornstad first saw an ERA when he raced against Ian Connell’s ‘R6B’ in the 1937 Swedish Winter GP on Lake Flaten, Stockholm, that February. He asked Connell to buy him such a car, and the Englishman negotiated purchase of ‘R1A’ on Bjornstad’s behalf. Fellow owner/driver Reggie Tongue recalled Bjornstad as “a most dangerous but very pleasant driver. He did three laps with his shock absorbers slacked right off and went faster than anyone. Two classic statements of his are ‘I always have 7,000 revs, no more, no less’ and ‘Every race I run off the road, once, no more’…”. These ERA owners – whatever their true individual driving capability – was a sporting gentleman, and the ERAs had become very much “the motor racing gentleman’s weapon of choice”.

    Eugen Bjornstad made his debut in ‘R1A’ in the major Turin Vetturetta race in Italy on April 18, 1937, and he won. He humbled Rene Dreyfus’s works Maserati on Italian home soil. Tongue recalled watching Bjornstad open-mouthed as he drove “shooting from side to side of the road, cannoning off everything”. But ‘R1A’ became the winner of this major International-Formula road race.

    Bjornstad and his now red-painted ‘R1A’ then went on to finish 3rd in both the Naples Vetturetta race and in the unpronounceable Elaintarharnajo-Djurgaardsloppet event in Helsinki’s Djurgaard Park, Finland. He also finished 7th in the AVUSRennen Voiturette event in Berlin, Germany.

    He then sold ‘R1A’ to British enthusiast W.E. Humphries in 1938 and the car was not raced again until after World War 2. It had in fact been acquired by John Heath and George Abecassis in 1942, and emerged as one of their joint stable of racing cars to be campaigned upon the return of peace in 1946, under the banner of their joint business – HW Motors Limited of Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. Their company’s initials would become famous as HWM.

    John Heath set 3rd fastest time in this car in the VSCC Speed Trial at Elstree on April 22, 1946, and Ken Hawkes then took 3rd in class with it at Finchampstead on September 15 that year. The car was then re-sold by Heath and Abecassis to the man who would prove himself Britain’s leading racing driver of the immediate postwar period, Derbyshire haulier-cum-farmer Reg Parnell. He drove ‘R1A’ in competition three times, winning the 1947 Swedish Winter GP at Rommehed and the follow-up Lake Vallentuna event – both in snow and ice – and setting FTD in the much more parochial Cofton Hackett Speed Trial back home; three outings, three wins.

    The car was then taken over by Parnell’s business associates, the brothers Fred and Joe Ashmore, who ran ‘R1A’ eight times through 1947 and accumulated 3rd in the Nice Grand Prix, France, 4th in the Jersey Road Race, 5th at Marseilles and 7th at Nimes. For this season’s racing the car had been modified by the legendary mechanic ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson who reduced radiator and cockpit bulkhead height by some 2 inches, lowering the bonnet and cutting-down the original body panels to suit. He had also rebuilt the engine.

    Fred Ashmore crashed the car at St Gaudens in France during the Comminges GP, and after repair ‘R1A’ was then acquired by another British owner/driver, David Hampshire, for 1948. He won his class at Bo’ness hill-climb in Scotland, finished a fine 2nd in the British Empire Trophy classic at Douglas, Isle of Man, 3rd in the Goodwood Trophy race and 7th in the Zandvoort GP in Holland.

    He reappeared in this prototype ERA twice in 1949, placing 10th in the Dutch GP back at Zandvoort, before another of this happy touring band of British motor racing and business brothers, Joe Ashmore returned to ‘R1A’ driving duties through 1950 – competing in the car in Jersey and at Goodwood. David Hampshire returned to ‘R1A’s driving seat in 1951, competing at Gamston, Goodwood and Winfield – all British aerodrome circuits – and at the Berwick, Lothian & Hawick Motor Club’s Winfield meeting negotiations began which saw the car sold to Edinburgh racing enthusiasts Alastair Birrell and Ron Flockhart.

    They would campaign ‘R1A’ between them through 1952, after which Flockhart would go on to make his name in the ex-Raymond Mays 2-litre works ERA ‘R4D’ and ultimately graduate into Mays’s postwar Formula 1 BRM team handling the V16-cylinder supercharged and 4-cylinder Grand Prix cars. He would also become a Le Mans-winning star driver for the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar team.

    Ron Flockhart’s best performances in ‘R1A’ included a class win at Bo’ness hill-climb and a 2nd at Rest-and-be-Thankful, while Birrell won a circuit race at Snetterton in 1952, another in 1954, and a long string of second and third place finishes in the progressive series of British Formule Libre races which characterised the early 1950s.

    By 1955 these much-loved ‘Old English Upright’ ERAs were recognised as obsolescent, and enthusiast amateur members of the Vintage Sports Car Club (VSCC) came to regard them as affordable, competitive at their level, and the most enormous fun. In the December 16, 1955, issue of ‘Autosport’ magazine, Alastair Birrell advertised ‘R1A’ for sale. The asking price was £400. For 1956 it was bought by Bill Moss of Luton, who almost immediately won a VSCC event in it at Silverstone. Having fitted a ZF limited-slip differential, he then advertised the car (for £600!) that June, and sold it to a Mr Smith of Wellingborough. By 1958 old ‘R1A’ was being advertised again for sale, the price now £495. It was described as being ‘Fitted with Gerard B/C engine” – a reference to the great postwar ERA exponent Bob Gerard – “…run in one club race since, spare engine, wheels and trailer”.

    After five months the price had been reduced to £395 and it was acquired by one E. Hammersley. He did not appear publicly in the car, but entered it for long-term owner A.G. ‘Sandy’ Murray’s first race in it, at VSCC Silverstone, July 25, 1959. Mr Murray won immediately, and he would retain ownership of this important Voiturette racing car from then well into the 1980s. As a leading light of the ERA Club, ‘Sandy’ Murray began entering ‘R1A’ for leading historic car restorer/preparer Tony Merrick from 1966 forward. In Mr Merrick’s hands ‘R1A’ became a regular winner at VSCC and historic racing car level, his record including multiple victories at Curborough, Silverstone, Prescott, Doune and elsewhere.

    Messrs Murray and Merrick eventually restored the car to its original successful works team specification, reversing many of the modifications which had quite disfigured the car during its long racing career. New bodywork was necessary as the original had been cut down during ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson’s lowering work in 1947-48, and a new dash board was cast since the original had also been cut down and drilled for extra instruments during the same conversion. Original-style shock absorbers were fitted and radius rods which had been added to the rear axle were dispensed with in the cause of originality.
    During this overall period, ‘R1A’ became a regular player on the phenomenally active ERA scene in British historic racing. In 1983 the car was acquired by Swiss enthusiast Jost Wildbolz who maintained it as a regular runner within the historic racing scene for the next ten years until 1998 when it was acquired by American-in-England Mr Dean Butler. Driven by the owner, Martin Walford, Julian Bronson and others, ‘R1A’ continued to see action, including a series of welcome appearances in the much-admired Goodwood Revival Meeting, from 1998 forward.
    This is by some margin one of the most historically significant – yet still widely useable and potentially very competitive – single-seater racing cars that we at Bonhams have ever been asked to offer. It is the progenitor of one of the motor racing world’s most charismatic pre-war marques, and thence – by association – of the postwar Formula 1 World Championship-winning BRM (British Racing Motors) saga. Its racing history includes not only ERA’s very first long-distance race win (in the 1934 Nuffield Trophy at Donington Park driven by Raymond Mays), but also maiden victory in an International Voiturette race by first owner ex-works Eugen Bjornstad (at Turin, Italy, in 1937). Its frontline International racing career has then been followed by more than 50 years of subsequent racing endeavour – almost always in harness, consistently ‘on the scene’, an historic motor racing fixture. In an era in which the terms ‘historic’ and ‘classic’ are perhaps over-used and too often exaggerated, ERA ‘R1A’ offered here is self-evidently a very, very special racing car indeed. And now it can be yours.
    Offered without reserve.
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