Raymond Mays here sits in his ERA at Prescott Hill-climb on May 19, 1946. Mays was an accomplished driver both pre- and postwar and a very unique individual.
Mays came from a prosperous wool business family from Bourne, Lincolnshire, a home which would have much to do with his subsequent motorsports career. As a youngster he went to the famous Oundle School in Northamptonshire which had been founded in 1556. After a short period of service in World War I with the famous Grenadier Guards, Mays went on to Cambridge where he led a rather dissipate existence, well marked by time off for hill-climbs and races at Brooklands. His background gave him access to the “The Great and The Good” of both British society and the automotive industry who, generally speaking, were not bothered by his homosexuality. These connections allowed Mays to create the beginnings of racing sponsorship which became so important to him in the immediate postwar years.
In the mid-1930s, already an accomplished and respected driver, Mays founded English Racing Automobiles at his Bourne base, both to build race-winning cars for himself and also to sell these successful single-seaters to other front line British drivers. “Ray,” as he was known, put up many fastest times and hill records with his black ERA, as well as winning many races and setting lap records at Brooklands. But ERA was but the stepping stone to Mays’ most ambitious undertaking – BRM.
Mays and his designer Peter Berthon had studied detailed reports of the engine design of the all-conquering prewar Mercedes Benz W154. From this evolved the design for the supercharged 1.5 liter V16 BRM grand prix car which was conceptualized to be the ne plus ultra of that formula. It too found its home at Bourne. This was not a project which any individual could afford to underwrite and Mays used his business acumen and charm to obtain backing from the British automotive industry.
The BRM story is one of inspired creativity competing with an inability to execute, combined with herculean efforts by those who labored day and night at the attempt. It is a story that has filled books, of which by far the most detailed is BRM – The Saga of British Racing Motors by Doug Nye. The many BRM disappointments, in combination with Mays’ questionable character, required that he be eventually removed from control of BRM in 1960 in order for the company to achieve a measure of success in grand prix racing. Nevertheless, Mays remained associated with BRM until his death in 1980. This talented and succesful yet highly controversial man was so much a leading light in British racing for many years.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com