English Racing Automobiles (ERA) was founded by Humphrey Cook, Raymond Mays, and Peter Berthon in November 1933 and established in Bourne, Lincolnshire, next to Eastgate House, the family home of Raymond Mays between Eastgate road and Spalding road. Their ambition was to manufacture and campaign a team of single seater racing cars capable of upholding British prestige in Continental European racing.
With the cost of aspiring to full Grand Prix racing prohibitive, they instead aimed ERA’s efforts at the smaller voiturette—1500cc supercharged—class of motor racing, the Formula 2 equivalent of the day. Humphrey Cook financed the operation—using the wealth from the family drapery business, Cook, Son & Co., of St Paul’s Churchyard, London. Berthon was responsible for the overall design of the cars, while Mays became its principal driver—having already successfully raced several other makes including Vauxhall, Bugatti and Riley.
A six-cylinder supercharged ERA engine in Prince Bira’s racing car
A new chassis was conceived by British designer Reid Railton (who had also successfully designed the Bluebird land speed record cars for Malcolm Campbell) and was constructed by Thomson & Taylor at Brooklands. The engine was based on the well-proven Riley six-cylinder unit, albeit this was modified in a number of significant ways. A stronger forged crankshaft with a large centre Hyatt roller bearing was made and an entirely new aluminium cylinder head designed. The engine was supercharged using a bespoke supercharger designed by Murray Jamieson who had worked with Mays and Berthon on the White Riley. The ERA engine was designed around three capacities—a base 1500cc, an 1100cc and also was capable of being expanded up to 2000 cc. It ran on methanol and in its 1500cc form was capable of producing around 180–200 bhp and in excess of 250–275 bhp in 2000cc form.
The panel-beating brothers George and Jack Gray hand-fashioned the new car’s single-seater bodywork, to a design credited to a Mr Piercy who had previously designed the bodywork for Campbell’s ‘‘Bluebird’’ record breaker.
The unveiling of the first ERA—chassis R1A—to the press and public took place at Brooklands on 22 May 1934 following testing at Syston Park. After initial chassis handling problems, which required a number of modifications, soon ERA had a winning formula. By the end of the year ERAs had scored notable victories against many more established marques. In 1935, in a major race at the Nürburgring, ERAs took first, third, fourth and fifth places.
1938 E-Type chassis no. GP1, raced by H.L. Brooke, Leslie Johnson, Reg Parnell, Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead.
Through the remainder of the decade, with drivers of the calibre of Dick Seaman in the team, ERA dominated voiturette racing, with the original A-Type design being developed into the B-Type, C-Type and D-Type designs over time.
Two Siamese princes, Chula Chakrabongse and Bira Birabongse, whose trio of ERAs became famous as “Hanuman”, “Romulus” and “Remus”, ran their own team, operating from The White Mouse Garage. Prince Chula owned the team, having bought Romulus as a present for his cousin, Prince Bira, who was the team’s driver.