Prince Bira at Chimay

Prince Bira, Maserati, Chimay

Chimay is a small town in Belgium, due south of Brussels and very close to the French border. Beginning in 1926 a race was held on public roads surrounding Chimay and included the above corner, known as La Bouchère, right in the middle of the village. Given the nearby border, the race was known as the Grand Prix des Frontières.  The course was some 10.9 kilometers in length and the prewar lap record stood at slightly over 136km/hr (about 85 mph). The circuit was not for the faint of heart, neither for the drivers nor the spectators, with houses, trees, a narrow bridge – and of course people, lots of people – right by the side of the road.

Generally there were two races, one for sports cars and one for open wheel racing cars. In later years racing continued on a modified circuit which avoided the village and was usually for sports racing cars although F3 and touring cars also saw action until racing ended at Chimay after 1973.

In 1947 the Grand Prix was held on May 25th with a total entry of 45 cars, with about two-thirds being racing cars. The War was only two years in the past so the cars were almost all prewar models. Prince Bira of Siam, shown above in this charming image at La Bouchère, won with a new 1500cc Maserati 4CL. The balance of the field saw a selection of eight cylinder supercharged Alfa Romeos, including the famous “Bimotore” driven by Tony Rolt, and various Bugattis, Talbots, Delahayes and an ERA. Other well-klnown competitors included Roy Salvadori, George Abecassis, John Bolster, Harry Schell, Louis Rosier, Raymond Sommer and Yves Giraud-Cabantous who had won the sports car race with his same Delahaye – now running as racing car, without fenders.

The grid was determined by the Clerk of the Course with those whom he considered would be fastest at the front. Abecassis, an excellent gentleman driver as was Bira, went right into the lead.  Bira then came by and led the 12-lap race, winning by two minutes from a Bugatti Type 51 driven by Peter Monkhouse who was followed by Rosier’s Talbot Lago SS.  Bira also set a new lap record at 141.3 km/hr.

However, as told by André Biaumet, Bira had used two cars during practice, the new Maserati 4CL and his venerable Maserati 8CM which he had raced at Chimay the prior year without success. There was some complaining that perhaps Bira had used this unfair advantage to gain pole position, but M. Buisseret, the Clerk of the Course, replied, “But he’s a Prince…”

Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection

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