In Siam’s Colors

C47C7A-12

Racing on public roads has been outlawed in England for many years. Given the lack of purpose-built racing circuits in the immediate postwar years, racers found opportunities outside of the English ban at places such as Dundrod in Northern Ireland and the Manx circuit at Douglas on the Isle of Man. Another location for racing was a street circuit on the Channel Island of Jersey using a series of roads through the capital town of St. Helier. The Jersey course as laid out by the Junior Car Club, which had organized races at Brooklands before the War, was some 3.2 miles in length and offered two long straights connected by a hairpin plus a section through the town itself.

The driver here is the famous Siamese Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandhwho drove as “B. Bira.” Bria was not only a very colorful character but also a superb driver. For much of his career Bira was financed by his cousin Prince Chula Chakrabongse who was a great motor racing enthusiast and author of the first biography of Richard Seaman. Both Bira and Chula were closely related to Siamese royalty. In fact Bira’s grandfather, a former Siamese king, was the inspiration for the film The King and I.

Bira drove two ERAs and the ex-Whitney Straight Maserati 8CM prewar and then in 1947 acquired a Maserati 4CL, a 1.5 liter supercharged grand prix car, first introduced in 1939. He painted the 4CL in the racing colors of Siam, as seen here, with the Siamese flag on the tail. At this first Jersey Road Race, the field was mostly Maserati 4CLs and various ERAs with the drivers including luminaries such as Louis Chiron, Raymond Mays, Reg Parnell and Raymond Sommer. Bira immediately showed that he was the class of the field by claiming pole position by 2.6 seconds over Parnell’s sister Maserati with the other 23 starters stung out behind. Bira led a number of the early laps before a puncture and eventual engine failure led to retirement, leaving the win to Parnell.

In later years, and in somewhat reduced financial circumstances, Bira drove an OSCA-engined Maserati 4CLT and also a Maserati 250F with some reasonable Grand Prix successes. He retired from racing in 1955 and took up Olympic sailing. He died of a heart attack in a London Underground station in 1985.

Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

 

 

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