This is the well-known prewar driver “B. Bira” now racing postwar in his latest car, a new Maserati 250F in its first race, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on June 20, 1954. Of course the real name of “B. Bira,” or Prince Bira as he was sometimes known , was actually Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanbandh. He was a grandson of King Monkut of Siam who had been celebrated in Hollywood movies. Bira’s racing had first been supported by his cousin Prince Chula who had access to the family fortune while Bira was still too young.
Bira was taking it easy with a brand new car which had a different rear suspension and transmission from what he had been used to in his prior Maserati A6GCM. Here he would finish 6th and a lap down, but better than he might have done as some of the top line works drivers suffered mechanical failures. He also did not use the engine revs that the works cars attained for he did not have a spare motor available.
The next race for Bira and the Maserati was the French Grand Prix on the high speed Reims circuit as shown here at Thillois corner. This event saw the postwar Grand Prix reappearance of Mercedes-Benz. The domination by the new German cars astonished everyone. Even so, Bira managed to qualify an excellent 6th fastest and just in front of the third Mercedes of Hans Herrmann, both of whom were almost six seconds behind the pole time set by Juan Fangio, the Mercedes team leader.
Here is Bira rounding the hairpin turn at Thillois in his blue and yellow 250F. He would finish 4th a lap down, but an excellent result on such a fast circuit and against strong competition.
Bira continued to race his Maserati 250F in a series of Formula 1 races at both the championship and non-championship level. Bira’s 250F then had an incident which changed its career. On loan to the Owen Organization in 1954, owners of the BRM team, the 250F was involved in an accident and its major components were transferred to the chassis of a 250F owned by Owen which was then returned to Bira. Bira continued to use his now re-chassised car into mid-1955 but then retired rom racing. The two swapped-chassis cars continued to be used for a few years but there remains an intellectual challenge for the experts as to which 250F retained its identity as The Prince’s Maserati.
Photos by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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