Lofty England - England The Race Engineer

England The Race Engineer

On completing his apprenticeship Lofty England found that his technical skills, allied to his motorsport enthusiasm, meant that he was in great demand among the gentlemen racers of the early 1930s. His first employer was 1931 Le Mans winner "Tim" Birkin. Under Charles Newcombe, England developed Birkin's Blower Bentley cars at his Welwyn Garden City workshop. Although Birkin took the lap record at Brooklands, at over 137 mph, the car was not a success, and following Birkin's death in 1933 the Blower Bentley project folded.

Both England and Newcombe transferred to American Whitney Straight's new motor racing team in 1934, where results began to flow immediately. The team was extremely well financed – Straight was head of Straight Corporation Ltd., an early service provider in the booming aeronautical sector – and could afford for his Maserati 8C to be serviced at the Maserati factory in Italy, accompanied by England. Straight and his team not only raised the Brooklands lap record for 5 litre cars to over 138 mph, but Straight also won the inaugural South African Grand Prix in 1934. However, following Straight's marriage in 1935 the team was wound up and Lofty England found himself out of work once again.

A brief spell at ERA was punctuated with spells working for Alvis, before Raymond Mays fired him in 1936. His time at ERA was not happy, mainly due to the works' lax attitude toward their customers' cars, but he was employed by Dick Seaman almost immediately following his ignominious exit. Unfortunately for England, what may have proved to be a productive relationship with the up and coming Grand Prix star was curtailed in late 1936 when Seaman signed for the dominant Mercedes-Benz racing team. When Seaman's Delage was sold to Siamese princes Chula and Bira, England moved with it.

Prince Chula ran the cousins' White Mouse Stable racing team with efficiency and organisation, a pattern that England would come to model his own teams on. During nearly two years with the aristocratic pair, England's ERA experience meant that R2B Romulus and R5B Remus were always immaculately prepared and, along with the team's more modern Maserati, provided B. Bira (Prince Bira's nom de course) with many race wins both in the UK and throughout Europe. Although the initial intention had been to rebuild Seaman's Delage, England was fully occupied with the operational race cars and the project was abandoned.

Throughout his time as a race engineer Lofty England maintained his own active motorsport career. An early gift of a Douglas motorcycle from his father had started him on a successful motorcycle racing path. His best result was second place in the 1936 Manx Grand Prix.

In 1938 England moved out of racing for the first time, taking a job back with Alvis, but this time at the Coventry company's headquarters. He rapidly rose from service engineer to become superintendent of the service department by the outbreak of World War II. This was Lofty England's first experience of management responsibility, and as a reserved occupation he remained with Alvis, now a military contractor, for the first two years of conflict. However, in 1941 England volunteered for pilot training and qualified as a bomber pilot, probably excluded from fighter pilot postings due to his height. He served as a training instructor to the USAAF in Texas until 1943, when he returned to the RAF for active service flying Avro Lancasters.

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