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ERA – English Racing Automobiles, the road cars

The Automobile magazine has published an article in its August 2020 issue by Doug Nye on the aspirations of the ERA organisation to market road-going sports cars as a means of financing its voiturette racing car programme. The artist Stefan Marjoram has illustrated what those may have looked like and our image above shows what the ERA-Standard, one of three projects, might have looked like in two door coupe form.

Back in 2011, the MSMT financially supported the publication by Veloce of The Book of the Standard Motor Company by Graham Robson, which filled an identified gap in recorded motoring history. In the book, Doug Nye is quoted on the matter of the relationship between Captain John Black of Standard and Raymond Mays of ERA and the various proposed collaborations for introduction of a road-going sports car. The article in The Automobile is an expanded version of the narrative in the Standard book of the 4-litre ERA sports car, The Raymond Mays Special and the ERA-Standard sports car. Only the Raymond Mays Special actually made it on to the road and then only four cars can be verified as constructed. The ERA projects were both curtailed by letters from Captain Black to Raymond Mays citing the exclusive agreement for supply of parts between Standard and William Lyons of SS Cars. As the Standard book points out, a number of supply agreements existed between The Standard Motor Company and AC, Railton and Morgan around the same time without incurring any allegations of conflict of interest. One possible reason for Black declining might have been the poor credit record of ERA where Riley had several times threatened legal action to recover debts for engines supplied, and the book raises the possibility that the given reason was not the whole truth.

For more details of the relationship between Standard and SS Jaguar, a previous book supported by the MSMT and published by Veloce in 2004, The Rise of Jaguar - A Detailed study of the "Standard Era" 1928-1950 by Barrie Price has the full story. The Railtons built on Standard rolling chassis were the Little Chobham and Little Fairmile with coachwork by Coachcraft. The book that won the inaugural Michael Sedgwick Award in 2012, John Dyson's Coachcraft: 1930s Coachbuilding Style, published by the Railton Owners Club, includes photographs of the "little" Railtons. The book also contains a drawing of a proposed four door close-coupled Railton based on the Flying 12 HP chassis with a 14 HP engine which could have put the cat amongst the pigeons. It might be thought that William Lyons did not object to the arrangement with Railton as the "little" Railtons, introduced in 1937, were not in the same market as SS Cars as the smaller-engined SSII had ceased production in 1936. The proposed car would have competed directly in engine size with the 1½ litre SS Jaguar which used the Standard engine with the Harry Weslake-designed overhead valve revision so an objection from Lyons would have been more likely if this car had gone into production.

One aspect that emerges from Doug Nye's article is the role played by Lancelot Prudeaux Brune in the saga of the ERA sports car. Letters are quoted where Prideaux Brune is seeking to be distributor for the ERA sports car through his Winter Garden Garage business. The first-hand account from Ken Richardson quoted here and in the Standard book states that Prideaux Brune acquired the four complete Flying Standard V Eight cars which were stripped, modified and rebodied to form the Raymond Mays Specials, which meant that Standard were unaware of their production. A less expensive method would have been to acquire rolling chassis from Standard but in that event Captain Black could not not say to William Lyons that he was unaware of the intention, so this may have prompted this subterfuge. The completed Raymond Mays Specials, three tourers and one drophead coupe, were entered in the RAC Rally to gain attention, with Prideaux Brune driving the coupe and his workshop manager, C.M. "Dick" Anthony driving one of the other cars.

Another book supported by the MSMT has links to this story, Morgan International Adventure, written and published by John Clarke has the story of Morgan's foray to Le Mans with the Coventry Climax-engined 4-4 model. A young woman by the name of Prudence Fawcett, despite little competitive motoring experience, set her sights on competing at Le Mans. She was acquainted with Rivers Fletcher, the racing driver, and he pointed her in the direction of Prideaux Brune and the Winter Garden Garage. In the early 1930s, Prideaux Brune had been a majority shareholder in Aston Martin and had financed the 1932 team entry to Le Mans. After selling of control of Aston Martin when profitability did not return, Prideaux Brune remained a distributor, and accompanied a team of private owners to compete at the 1933 Le Mans for the marque. The following year, the Winter Garden Garage were pit crew and support for Reggie Tongue, a well-known private entrant. Back in 2002, the MSMT supported the autobiography of Reggie Tongue, High Speed Diary – The Life and Times of Reggie Ellis Tongue. Eventually relations between Prideaux Brune and the new Aston Martin management soured so the Winter Garden Garage ceased to have a relationship with that company and gained a concession for Morgan cars in early 1938. As recounted in Morgan International Adventure, Prudence's co-driver was the sales manager at the Winter Garden Garage, Geoffrey White, and "Dick" Anthony managed the team which resulted in a 13th overall, 5th in 1100cc class. For 1939, Prudence Fawcett had given up competitive motoring but in an effort to win the biennial cup,  she again entered the Morgan with "Dick" Anthony joining Geoff White to share the driving duties making an all Winter Garden Garages driving line up. This year the Coventry Climax engine of the Morgan was overbored to put it in the 1100-1500cc class where competition was thought to be less intense. The result was a 15th overall and 2nd in class, and once again the single Morgan had lasted the distance at pace. Morgan International Adventure includes short biographies of Lancelot Prideaux Brune, "Dick" Anthony and Geoffrey White.

As mentioned earlier in this article, the Morgan name comes up in The Book of the Standard Motor Company with a supply of engines despite the SS Cars arrangement. H.F.S. Morgan found that Coventry Climax had no other volume clients for their engine and the lack of economies of scale and the desire of Coventry Climax to concentrate on fire pump engines, made the engine supplied to Morgan too expensive and supply difficult. Ted Grinham, the Chief Engineer of Standard designed an overhead valve version of the 10 HP engine, along the lines of the Harry Weslake version of the 16 HP and 20 HP supplied to SS Cars. Morgans with this engine went on sale from June 1939 and, like the "little" Railtons, it might be that as a 10 HP they were not in competition with SS models which were all 14 HP or larger, William Lyons so did not object.

 

 

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