The Siamese Prince

 Prince Bira, Crystal Palace, ERA

Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh (to give his full name as a scion of the Siamese royal family) raced from the mid-1930s until the mid-1950s, but was usually entered simply as “B. Bira.” Bira was supported by his cousin Prince Chula who had been appointed Bira’s guardian after the deaths of Bira’s parents before he reached his majority. Chula liked motor racing and had the wherewithal to engage in that expensive sport, with the enthusiastic and talented Bira as his driver.

This image was taken at the Crystal Palace circuit on July 1, 1939 during the Crystal Palace Cup which was a handicap race for single-seater cars run in two heats and a final. Bria drove ERA R2B which he and Chula called “Romulus,” a sister car, “Remus,” being used for other events along with Chula’s third car, the ex-Whitney Straight Maserati 8CM. Bira won his heat from scratch ahead of Raymond Mays in another ERA, but could only achieve third place in the final. Before the start there was a minute of silence held in honor of Richard Seaman who had been killed while leading the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa the week before.

The Crystal Palace circuit lay on a hillside below where the original Crystal Palace, created for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, had been moved. The Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936. The prewar circuit was some 2 miles in length and was the scene of many important races. It was shortened after 1945 to about 1.4 miles and the final races there were held in 1974.

Prince Bira drove for Aston Martin postwar and also raced a Maserati 250F in a few Grand Prix events. He died from a heart attack in London in 1985 at the age of 71.

Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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  1. Jim Sitz · · Reply

    Prince Bira, as the story goes received the new ERA as a 21st Birthday Gift.
    The new effort for England was created by Raymond Mays and Humphrey
    Cook to achieve some success for England, and leading to postwar BRM.

    History on Crystal Palace is appreciated. I certainly remember in 1953
    the excitement in the UK with the re-opening of the course.. Denis Jenkinson
    had told me of his first chance to see the racing in his own neighborhood in
    South London, which fired his own career.

    For myself I always regarded Bira as ” Maserati Man’ being a long time
    customer, and even commissoned the Maserati brothers to produce the
    one off 4.5 litre car for 1950. That was an OSCA but disappointed him.
    Then in 1954, he was probably first ” Privateer”
    to receive the new 250 F type, others buyers still waiting.


    Jim Sitz


  2. In addition to valuable commentary added by Jim Sitz about this ERA’s intriguing history, I came across “Romulus” – in the metal – five years ago when writing about Dennison International Motorsports for the Sep/Oct 2011 issue of Vintage Motorsport magazine. I recall what a delightful sight the ERA was there on the floor of repeat-Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Best of Show winner Butch Dennison’s expansive restoration shop in Puyallup, Washington.

    Of hopeful interest in the mechanicals of “Romulus” is this passage excerpted from that VM article describing my visit to Dennison’s facility:

    >>We’ve stopped at a 1935 ERA owned and vintage raced by Greg Whitten, the same alcohol GP car called “Romulus” driven in period by Siam’s Prince Bira. Mechanic Mike Velsher, working on the single SU carburetor that feeds the car’s supercharger, explains how this SU’s distinctive twin bowls supply additional fuel flow under hard throttle in the ERA’s blown induction system that can spool up 23 pounds of boost. “Alfas,” says Dennison, comparing [in-period] blowers, “make 14 to 15 PSI.” Such is the extra punch with the ERA’s 76-year old inline-6 double “underhead” cam engine that keenly puts 185 horses to pavement. This, along with its sister ERA, “Remus,” is one of the most famous of all race cars.<<

    My camera that shop day lapped up images of the ex-Bira ERA in an irresistible amount.

    William Edgar


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