The Prince of Siam

Bira, Maserati Silverstone, klemcoll

There are almost no color photographs from the early postwar years. No magazine would publish them and the very slow film speeds made “freezing” a moving car very difficult unless the photographer was a true expert at his craft. But here is a good one of this rara avis, taken at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone during a sunny fall day on October 2, 1948. The driver is Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, known by his racing name of B. Bira, who was an enthusiastic and talented amateur driver both before and following the War. Here he is driving his privately-entered (by his wealthier cousin Prince Chula) Maserati 4CLT/48. He usually presented his cars in some variation of the colors of Siam, blue and yellow.

Silverstone in 1948 was somewhat different from the course as it is known today. Back then it was laid out using two main runways which formed an “X” where the cars came down from opposite ends of one runway to the center of the X and then, having rounded hairpin turns, departed in opposite directions on the other runway. All this was connected via the perimeter roadways which ultimately would be used in their entirety to create the course more or less as it now exists.

Bira’s Maserati was one of eleven entered for the Grand Prix, most of which were prewar cars while the four modern 4CLT/48s were driven by Bira, Reg Parnell, Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi. The latter two were semi-works entries from Scuderia Ambrosiana, named for the patron saint of Milan and founded by the famous driver/journalist Giovanni (“Johnny”) Lurani. The opposition consisted of some prewar ERAs and French Talbot 26Cs, but there were some very good drivers with them, such as Louis Chiron, Louis Rosier, Duncan Hamilton and Bob Gerard. The class of the field became obvious once the race started. Ascari and Villoresi had not arrived in time for practice so were relegated to the back behind the five rows of the 5-4 grid. However, it took but three laps for the Scuderia Ambrosiana cars to be running first and second with Villoresi leading Ascari.

And they would finish that way as well. Half the field retired during the three hour race. B. Bira would finish fifth a lap down, primarily because of a slow refueling stop. Although Villoresi allowed Ascari to close up at the end to finish but four seconds back, Bob Gerard’s ERA would be third, a full two minutes behind Ascari.

Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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One comment

  1. I guess it’s safe as that Klemantaski falls into the category of “a true expert at his craft”. What a wonderful image in color, and to think it is 70 years old. An exceptional example of panning with very slow speed file. Some of my color from a 1960’s Riverside race did not fare as well. But, thanks to Photoshop it can be brought back to life. I don’t think that’s cheating either.
    Historically yours, Allen R Kuhn


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