This lovely little voiturette is a Cisitalia D46 which will be driven by Harry Schell, sitting at the wheel, in the Grand Prix des Frontières which was held on the Chimay public road circuit in Belgium on May 25, 1947. At the left, leaning over to speak with Schell is Prince Bira who will drive his Maserati 4CL while standing on the right is the British semi-professional driver George Abecassis who will be driving an ex-works Bugatti T.59.
Schell was an American who lived in Paris and was often seen in later years with a USAC emblem on his helmet. He had a long Formula 1 career after the World Championship was instituted in 1950. Note here the US flag on the hood of his Cisitalia. Bira and Abecassis were both well-known pre- and postwar drivers who, while basically amateurs, drove often at the professional level.
Cisitalia was owned by the Turinese industrialist Piero Dusio and its D46 was Fiat-based with a 1100 cc. motor and was very light, which made it quite competitive in the voiturette category in the immediate postwar years. Among its best-known drivers were Tazio Nuvolari, Raymond Sommer, Piero Taruffi and Felice Bonetto. After the success of the D46, Cisitalia expanded into Fiat-based sports cars which were also quite successful.
There was a rather eclectic entry at Chimay for the Grand Prix, a true Formula Libre race. In addition to Bira’s Maserati, there were four Bugattis, four Alfa Romeos, including the infamous Bimotore, two Cisitalias like Schell’s and some Talbots and Delahayes. These entries would contest a 12 lap race over the 6.8 mile bumpy and narrow Chimay circuit. In the race, Abecassis, who shared the front row with Bira, led from the start, swapping back and forth with Bira until the Bugatti’s fuel tank split on the fifth lap. This misfortune left the win to the Maserati of the Siamese Prince who was followed home by a Bugatti T.51 driven by Peter Monkhouse. In his early pursuit of Abecassis Bira set a new lap record of 4’37” (over 88 mph, a very quick pace on this dangerous course). Schell would finish seventh, one lap down.
The Autocar report of the race commented that, “The organization was rather light-hearted and control of spectators almost non-existent.” Other photographs of the event certainly give full support to the spectator comment. They were sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of Chimay village less than two feet from the cars.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com