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Old 16-07-2011, 07:00 AM
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Grant Campbell
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Mt Eliza Victoria Australia
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Default ERA Man: Historic Racing with Bill Morris

ERA Man: Historic Racing with Bill Morris
Author: Tim May
Publisher: Morris Publications
Lower Ashmead House,
56 Lower End Leafield OX29 9QJ
Available from david.kergon@btinternet.com
Price: 30 plus p&p UK 5, Europe 7, rest
of the world 10.
Hardback (9 by 7in.) 168 pages with 218
period b&w and colour illustrations
ISBN: 0-9544340-0-5

This is a complex, fascinating book. The author is an ERA enthusiast from boyhood, a longtime member of the ERA Club and editor of the ERA Newsletter. His biography of Bill Morris is the theme which runs through a comprehensive history of 50 years of historic racing, ERA history, the problems and practicalities of restoration and simply having fun.

The very young Bill Morris and David Kergon repatriated ERA R12B, originally Prince Bira of Thailand’s Hanuman II, from what was then Rhodesia in 1962. The car and a load of spares cost 750, serious money for a pair of apprentices fifty years ago. An initial rebuild had the car running in VSCC and other events in 1963. A steep learning curve was assisted by numerous helpers at Lancaster Mews and advice and support from other ERA owners, almost all of whom tackled restoration, maintenance and race preparation themselves.

May does a good job of disentangling the various ERAs which provide the timeline for the story. The first Morris car was R12B, with a beam front axle and 1.5 litre engine. This had started life in 1936 as a beam axle works car but was shortly converted to Porsche IFS and a Zoller blower and renumbered as R12C. In this form it was acquired by the Chula/Bira equipe and named Hanuman, a skilful and daring Thai demi-god. Following a bad shunt at Rheims it was rebuilt on a spare beam axle chassis frame and logically reverted to the serial R12B. According to Prince Chula this was a new entity, Hanuman II.

Happily, the Rhodesian spares cache included the original IFS chassis in not too badly damaged form. An heroic search for ERA spares found enough to reproduce the original Porsche IFS-equipped R12C, which appeared at the 1982 VSCC Silverstone meeting. The overall result was two ERAs on their original chassis and correct engines; a minor philosophical issue is that both cars are entirely genuine, but had not previously existed simultaneously.

As though two ERAs weren’t enough, a third appeared. Prince Bira’s first ERA, R2B Romulus, was recovered from the National Motor Museum by Princess Narisa and arrived with Morris for restoration. The car was basically sound and completely original but suffered from internal corrosion. By 1976 it was racing again.

By way of a change Bill was later involved with the postwar E-type ERA, then owned by Gordon Chapman. Tim May points out that the E-Type has had a bad press: significantly, careful preparation got the car running well and Bill achieved a personal ambition by getting the Zoller blower to work properly.

Competition in just about everything from Austin Sevens to front engined GP cars unifies the story, but this is not a tedious series of race reports lifted from the weeklies. Outstanding events are described in detail, with people, places and parties as important as the racing. Perhaps the most memorable was the historic event in Thailand organised by Narisa Chakrabongse, daughter of Chula and owner of Romulus. More significant in the long term was a series of events in Australia and New Zealand where Bill and Victoria Morris made a host of friends, finally establishing a second home in Victoria.

Long involvement in historic racing inevitably led to controversies. Bill and Jenks agreed to differ over whether Romulus should have been left as raced by Bira: Bill’s argument was that the car was steadily corroding and needed not so much restoration as rescue. He admits that an ultra-competitive climate in the late 80s and early 90s led to ‘people getting up to all sorts of mischief’ with historic cars, and campaigned for authenticity as a member of the VSCC Committee.

Of course there was more to life than ERAs. Bill Morris became the accepted expert on preselector gearboxes, providing spares and racing rebuilds and both he and his wife Victoria rode the best sort of Italian OHC motor bikes. This book makes only passing mention of the great achievement of restoring the unique Formula 1 Kieft and its Coventry Climax V8 from collections of parts scattered round the country: the single seater now has a re-creation of the one-off de Soto engine sports-racing car for company.

This well structured personal story is also an important review of historic racing. Photographs, period and modern, are outstanding and there is a good index.

To whoever concerned. OZ price is about $61 inc p&p. There is an OZ bank account to pay into if preferred details available from David Kergon.
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