I am currently reading Split Seconds, the autobiography of Raymond Mays. Raymond Mays was the driving force behind E.R.A., and later B.R.M. English Racing Automobiles was a pre-war venture from 1934 to 1939. British Racing Automobiles was a separate firm which operated after the second world war.
While reading Split Seconds, I came across an account of an interesting race: The 1935 Grosser Bergpreis von Deutschland. Also known as the 1935 Grossglockner, the race exemplifies the epic hillclimbs of the era.
A Travelogue from Raymond Mays’ Perspective
Mays left Berne, Switzerland after racing in a voiturette undercard race for the 1935 Swiss Grand Prix. Before he left, there was some hard work to be done on his E.R.A. Nevertheless, he was on his way before too long. Ken Richardson, a recent addition to E.R.A. carried out the mechanics work.
The drive to the race, itself, was imposing. According to Mays:
“At crack of dawn one morning we set off from Berne and climbed thousands of feet in the shadow of that grand mountain, the Finsteraarhorn, 14,000 feet high. Here we watched the sub rise over the Alps . . .”
Raymond Mays, Peter Berthon, and Ken Richardson were soon traversing the hillclimb course in style, with a Bentley. They drove the Bentley up and down the course over and over. It was difficult to learn the course. According to Raymond, it was about 7.5 miles long (12 km.), with a vertical rise of 2,440 feet, and around 14o corners.
“The start is in a narrow country road between high hedges, and then . . . a left-hand bend commences the climb proper. Thereafter, corners of every description continue in rapid succession to the top of the hill. . . . Turns follow each other in such profusion that one only just has time to warp the wheel over from one full lock to the other. . . . The last half of the climb is flanked by densely packed trees and deep ravines. There have been many accidents, I was told, on these upper reaches, sometimes resulting in drivers being hurled down the mountainside.”
Mays account is fascinating. The racing resulted in only a third place for Raymond Mays. His book indicates his engine was down on power. However, Mays also felt unsettled for the race.
An Unsettling Phone Call
A clanging phone had awaken him in the middle of the night.
“You are Raymond Mays?” A voice said.
“Yes, and what the hell do you mean by waking me up at this time of night?” A sleepy Raymond retorted.
The voice continued, undeterred. “You are now in Germany, not England, and certain of your conversations during the last few days have been overheard. You are advised to leave German straight away.”
Mays responded. “I don’t know who you are or what you are talking about.”
The answer hit Raymond like a pile of bricks. “I am speaking from Gestapo H.Q. at Coblenz and you had better take notice of what I saw.”
Mays slammed down the receiver. He found it difficult to sleep for the rest of the night. He was quite happy once the race was over and he was able to get back to England.
-Travis Turner of GPevolved.com, written as part of a forthcoming project on English Racing Automobiles (E.R.A.).