Le Grand Prix des Frontières

Bugatti, klemcoll, Chimay, Abecassis

The Grand Prix des Frontières was run on an 11 kilometer public road circuit near the town if Chimay in Belgium, not far from the French frontier and hence the name of the race. Racing had begun on this course in 1926 and would continue into the early 1970s. Here is the talented British semi-professional driver George Abecassis in his Bugatti T59 before the start of the race with his mechanics standing next to the car. The tall fellow standing directly behind Abecassis is his business and racing partner John Heath who would be killed during the 1956 Mille Miglia in the HWM sports car his firm had built.

The Bugatti T59 had been introduced in 1934 but was still a useful grand prix car in the immediate postwar years. Many consider it the most beautiful of all Bugatti racing cars although it was by no means the most successful in that it was no match for the new German Silver Arrows and was already an older design with its solid axles and cable-operated brakes. But Abecassis thought that it could do well in the Formula Libre race at Chimay.

Bugatti, Abecassis, Chimay, klemcoll

The organization at Chimay was rather informal to say the least with the appointed starter dropping the flag without warning at the start and the crowd control being almost non-existent, as can be seen here. Protection was no more than a thin rope which was primarily intended to keep the spectators from wandering onto the racing surface.

The main competition for Abecassis was Prince Bira, also a very good driver, with a Maserati 4CL and placed next to the Abecassis Bugatti on the front row of the grid. Unfortunately for Abecassis, the rather rough and bumpy road resulted in a split fuel tank and a rare retirement as Bira went on to win the race. In his biography A Passion for Speed, which was written by his son David Abecassis, George Abecassis had been asked after his excellent speed in practice if he was ever worried by the tree-lined Chimay course. “Well, having flown in the War,” he replied, “if no one is shooting at me I reckon I have nothing to be frightened of.”

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

To see more photos from our archive go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx

One comment

  1. And I thought our crowd control use loose in the ’50s. Two more wonderful images from Mr. Klemantaski. I finally Googled him to find what a fascinating life he lead. Especially interesting was his participation in the British Bouncing Bomb project in WWII. Always so enjoyable to see his work and the in-depth text that accompanies the image. Allen R Kuhn


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