Don’t be deceived by their spindly chassis, or tall, narrow bodies, their drivers perched in a sit-up-and-beg fashion behind a large, thin, off-set steering wheel. And don’t be fooled by the unsophisticated leaf-spring suspension or drum brakes attached to skinny, positively cambered wheels wrapped in treaded rubber.
The 10 English Racing Automobiles that are set to grace the Goodwood Trophy in the 18th Motor Circuit Revival very much belie their fragile appearance and are still driven in the spirit with which they were conceived in the 1930s.
Indeed, their blend of indecent speed and joy-to-watch handling regularly has Revival racegoers enraptured. And with that pungent aroma of 80-per-cent-methanol fuel filling the air, their presence creates a time-warp atmosphere.
These thoroughbred voiturettes – lightweight, low-capacity single-seaters – were the brainchild of Humphrey Cook, Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon and were constructed in Bourne, Lincolnshire with the sole intention of flying the flag for British motorsport endeavour in European competition.
Sure to star in one of the event’s most popular races, for Grand Prix and Voiturette racers up to 1951, are 10 cars with staggering history. Here’s a brief taster of their provenance.
The 1934 two-litre machine was used by Mays to set speed records and win at the legendary Shelsley Walsh hillclimb. American-based Brit Mark Gillies will be looking for his fifth Goodwood Trophy victory in the pale green car owned by Dick Skipworth.
Nick Topliss’ car started life with an 1100cc supercharged engine and was the first customer-spec ERA, raced by Pat Fairfield. It was later uprated to 1500cc.
Another Goodwood hard-charger, David Morris, who won the race in 2013 aboard R11B, will once again be out to stop Gillies in the car he took over from his late father Martin in 2006. The ex-Reggie Tongue car, christened ‘Humphrey’ in deference to marque co-founder and benefactor Humphrey Cook, also guided Ken Wharton to British Hillclimb glory in the early-1950s.
Perhaps the most ‘capped’ of all British competition cars, let alone ERAs, ‘Remus’ was raced by Siamese sensation Prince Bira in 1936 before being sold to future Le Mans winner Tony Rolt. Acquired in the late-1950s by Patrick Lindsay and raced extensively, the car went on to win at Goodwood six times in the hands of Lindsay’s son Ludovic. Since 2010, Charles McCabe has been this iconic machine’s custodian.
Heinz Bachmann has recently acquired R9B, built in 1936 for amateur racer Dennis Scribbans. That same year, Charlie Martin won the Nuffield Trophy in the 1500cc machine at Donington Park.
American-based Irishman Paddins Dowling has owned R10B, the car that won the 1938 Australian GP in Peter Whitehead’s hands, for 10 years after acquiring it from Nick Mason. Dowling is always a frontrunner at Goodwood in the immaculate black machine.
The first of the second-generation cars, R1B was taken to numerous race wins by pre-war hero Dick Seaman, before he became a factory Mercedes driver. American-Swiss Michael Gans has owned and raced the car for the past three years.
Terry Crabb races R12C ‘Hanuman’, a complicated recreation using many of the original bits of R12B that was destroyed by Prince Bira in a crash at Reims in 1939.
The most famous of the ERAs, R4D, owned by Mac Hulbert for the past 15 years, is synonymous with Raymond Mays and British Hillclimb success in the late-1940s. The car started life as a green R4B, was changed to black in 1936 and upgraded to C-spec a year later. It finally became R4D when a lighter chassis was introduced for 1938. Historic racer and hillclimb ace James Baxter will race the car, owned for a time by Force India F1 team owner Vijay Mallya, and is guaranteed to give Gillies a hard time.
Looking more like the long, slippery, powerful Mercedes and Auto Union GP cars that blew the Voiturettes away in the late-1930s, Duncan Ricketts’ E-type was campaigned briefly by Mays in 1938, before he took on R4D as an independent. Ricketts has owned GP1, which was also raced by British stars Peter Whitehead and Reg Parnell, for 20 years.
As an ERA devotee since first witnessing them in action during Vintage Sports-Car Club meetings in the 1980s, I never tire of coming face to face with these hugely important British machines. If you’ll be new to the sounds, sights and smells of the ERA experience in September, I suspect you too will become hooked.
Photography by LAT