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 – http://www.klemcoll.com
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