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Feast your eyes on supercharged action when the SA Historic grand prix festival lights up East London

2018-10-17 09:11
South African Historic Grand Prix Festival

South African Historic Grand Prix Festival

East London will once again reverberate to the sound of a supercharged South African Grand Prix winner when not one, but two ERAs return to the track on 25 November.

ERAs competed in four of the five pre-war South African Grands Prix and both cars that actually raced here in period will retrace their steps again in November at the South African Historic Grand Prix Festival.

Illustrious history

Identified by their chassis numbers, ERA R4A competed for three consecutive years between 1936 and 1938, winning the race in 1937, whilst R3A ran in 1939.

READ: Classic racer headed for Mzansi: This racing Alfa Romeo competed in the 1936 South African Grand Prix!

Today, both cars have regular outings in historic events, R3A having just finished second at the 2018 Goodwood Revival. This car was built in 1934 as a 2.0-litre works car driven by founding works driver, Raymond Mays and soon held the outright world record for a standing start kilometre. In various configurations, it won the prestigious Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb and the team’s first international victory at the Nurburgring.

South African Historic Grand Prix Festival

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It's South African story starts in 1938 when Roy Hesketh – after whom the Pietermaritzburg race track was named – bought the car. He would place fourth in both the 1939 South African Grand Prix and Grosvenor Grand Prix, but the car would stay in South Africa until after the Second World War.

Basil Beall acquired the car from Hesketh in 1944 and raced locally between 1948 and 1952. R3A returned to the UK in 1957, making it 61 years since it turned a wheel on South African soil.

A piece of history

ERA R4A was "only" a customer car, but had a more colourful South African history. Built-in 1935 as the first customer car, the team ran the car for Pat Fairfield initially, but the following year, Fairfield was already running the ERA independently, including a third place in the South African Grand Prix.

South African Historic Grand Prix Festival

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South Africa was Fairfield’s adopted home, having first come to the country as a 15-year old with his parents who owned citrus plantations in White River.

For 1937, Fairfield was again a works driver for ERA and R4A would win outright in the South African Grand Prix and at Donington in the UK. Fairfield tragically lost his life later that year driving a BMW 328 at Le Mans and the ERA passed onto Norman Wilson who continued racing it in South Africa, including the 1938 South African Grand Prix.

South African Historic Grand Prix Festival

                                                                     Image: Supplied

ERA R4A would return to the UK, where it was owned by well-known UK racer Bob Gerrard, whose team manager was Frank Woolley, the grandfather of SA Historic Grand Prix Festival organiser Mark Woolley, giving this car even more relevance to the event.

R4A came back to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa later in its life, ultimately fitted with a Chevrolet engine before being restored to original specification and currently residing in the UK, where it is raced regularly and both cars are celebrities wherever they go.

Supercharged sixes

Three different specifications of ERA existed depending on the formula: all were supercharged in-line sixes in either 1.1, 1.5 or 2.0-litre capacity developing between 111kW (150hp) and 178kW (240hp) at up to 7 500rpm.

South African Historic Grand Prix Festival

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When English Racing Automobiles (ERA) was founded in 1933, little could they have thought that their cars would be so successful 85 years later, the single seaters being some of the most successful and fastest historic racing cars today.

They will make a spectacular sight charging through Potter’s Pass at East London on 25 November during the South African Historic Grand Prix Festival, superchargers wailing with a whiff of methanol in the air.

South African Historic Grand Prix Festival

                                                                          Image: Supplied

Spectators will also get a chance to get up close to see the incredible technology in these pre-war machines at the Garden Party at Val de Vie on 1 and 2 December as part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience to see over 20 pre-war Grand Prix cars in action in South Africa.

With the event just six weeks away, limited general access and VIP Hospitality tickets for both the East London Race event and the Grand Prix Garden Party are now selling fast.

With no tickets available at the gate, organisers strongly urge spectators to purchase tickets on the  website and follow the event on Facebook.


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