Raymond Mays

Raymond Mays

1/8/1899 - 6/1/1980

One of the most famous British drivers in the 30s, Mays is best perhaps best remembered for his involvement in promoting and developing the ERA and BRM projects.

Born in the imposing Eastgate House in Bourne, Lincolnshire, Mays had a privileged childhood thanks to the family sheepskin and hide business TW Mays and Sons Ltd, which had been established by his grandfather. His father was an early motorist and Mays grew up surrounded by automobiles. He had a personal tutor before going to Oundle School and then kept an apartment at the Dorchester Hotel while serving as a Guards Officer. He studied engineering at Christ's College, Cambridge, and was given a Speed Model Hillman while still an undergraduate.

This was modified with the help of an old school friend, Amherst Villiers, and after success on the Aston Clinton hillclimb in 1921 was raced by Mays at Brooklands. In 1922 he exchanged the Hillman for a Bugatti Brescia and, having modified the engine, Mays enjoyed mush success with the car on the British hillclimb scene. Ettore Bugatti was impressed by the results and gave Mays a second car and these were named Cordon Bleu and Cordon Rouge after the popular champagne brands produced by the Mumm company. These were, in effect, the first motor racing sponsorships, necessary because the Mays fortune was dwindling as demand for hides declined.

Mays's success with the Bugattis led to the offer of a semi-works drive with the AC company but this was not a success and for a period Mays had to drop out of racing to pay his debts but in 1927 Mercedes-Benz hired him to drive for them in British races and in the years that followed he also enjoyed success with a Vauxhall and an Invicta.

In 1932, with the aid of Victor Riley, Peter Berthon and Murray Jamieson, he built the "White Riley". It was so competitive that an amateur racer called Humphrey Cook agreed to fund the construction of a car by Mays and his team. The result was English Racing Automobiles which was based in the Mays family home at Eastgate House in Bourne, Lincolnshire. Reid Railton designed the first car and by the late 1930s ERAs were highly competitive, winning races in Britain and abroad, notably Mays's win in the 1935 Eifelrennen at the Nurburgring.

One of the least known facts about Raymond is that he was a special constable. On 1st March 1939, he was sworn in as No 269 with Lincolnshire police although little is known about his duties after that or whether he actually went out on patrol in the streets of Bourne or assisted at public functions.

Despite his commitment to upholding the law, Raymond did not always observe the rules of the road and was summonsed on at least two occasions. In October 1959, he was fined £10 for speeding at Preston in Lancashire but there was a far more serious charge almost 40 years before when he appeared before magistrates at Peterborough on Wednesday 10th October 1923 accused of dangerous driving. He was represented by local solicitor Mr Arthur Mellows and pleaded not guilty but the evidence offered in his defence may appear to be rather light-hearted. Police told the court that Mays had been seen driving his car near St Paul's Church [in Lincoln Road] where there were crossroads "at a speed of fully 30 miles an hour".

Mr Mellows, in his defence, reminded the magistrates that Raymond was a well-known racing motorist and had passed many stringent driving tests and was not in the habit of using the main roads for racing. During the past eight years, he had driven about 20,000 miles and had not scratched a mudguard or knocked anyone down. No complaints had been made against him. "His car", said Mr Mellows, "is so built that it looks to be travelling faster than it really is." He was found guilty and fined £3 (£110 in today's money) and ordered to pay costs.

In 1939 Mays and Cook split and Mays and Berthon started a new company called Automobile Developments Ltd with the aim to produce a Grand Prix car to take on the German manufacturers. Unfortunately the project was stopped when World War II broke out. During the war Bertrhon designed a V16 engine and when the war ended Mays began to look for backing from British industry. The result was a new company called British Racing Motors, which was established in 1947 at Bourne. The initial efforts were disastrous and Mays eventually terminated his own career to concentrate on running the team.

There was little success and in November 1952 Mays sold the whole operation to Sir Alfred Owen although he stayed on managing the team. Throughout the Fifties his involvement decreased but he was still nominally involved when BRM won the World Championship in 1962. He was awarded a CBE for services to motor racing in 1978, two years before his death.

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