Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Model of Yesteryear Y-14 1935 E.R.A.

The only diecast in the world that screened Thai National Flag on the body of the car is ERA a racing car driven by Prince Birabongse Bhanutej.

Birabongse Bhanutej best known as Prince Bira of Siam (now Thailand) was a Formula One and Grand Prix motor racing driver who raced for the Maserati, Gordini and Connaught teams, among others.

Prince Birabongse came to Europe in 1927 to complete his education in England at Eton and Cambridge University. Bira first raced with his cousin Prince Chula Chakrabongse's team, White Mouse Racing, driving a Riley Imp at Brooklands in 1935. It was in this car that Bira established the national motor racing colours of Siam: pale blue with yellow. He also established residence near Geneva (Switzerland) and later in the southern part of France. This explains his activity in smaller, more local type events.

Later in the same year, Prince Chula gave him one of the new ERA voiturette racing cars - R2B, which was nicknamed Romulus. Bira finished second in his first ever race in Romulus, despite needing to stop for repairs. The remaining races of the season saw Bira consistently placing amongst the more powerful Grands Prix vehicles, with another second place, and fifth at the Donington Grand Prix.

For 1936 the princes decided that the previous season's results merited a second ERA. They purchased Remus to use in British events and retained Romulus for international races. Chula also purchased a Maserati 8CM to complete the White Mouse roster. Bira's expertise behind the wheel earned him the Coupe de Prince Rainier at Monte Carlo. Bira won a further four races in the ERAs that season, and took the Grand Prix Maserati to 5th at Donington and 3rd at Brooklands.

Unfortunately, this proved to be the career high-point for both Bira and the White Mouse team. Following Dick Seaman's move to Mercedes for 1937, the Thais purchased his Grand Prix Delage and all of its spare parts, along with a second Delage. Despite several upgrades, and hiring experienced race engineer and future Jaguar team manager Lofty England, the cars underperformed, and on many occasions Bira was forced to race in the older and by now substantially inferior ERAs. In addition, the money spent on the Delage upgrades had sapped the resources of the team and corners were being cut in the ERA's race preparations. While Bira maintained a respectable results tally in British events, the more costly international races were largely a disaster.

After the war, Bira returned to racing with several teams. In 1951 he raced in an old 4CLT fitted with a newer V12 Osca engine. No result were obtained this year as a result of the poor performance of the car combined with a severe accident. By 1954, with some newer gear, a Maserati 250F, he won the Grand Prix des Frontières on the Chimay road circuit and then finished fourth in the 1954 French Grand Prix with his own Maserati. He retired at the end of the following season.

Prince Bira died unexpectedly at a London tube station in 1985 at the age of 71.

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