|First race||British Grand Prix||Silverstone||May 13, 1950||Race results|
|Last race||Spanish Grand Prix||Pedralbes||October 24, 1954||Race results|
The son of Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse and the grandson of HM King Mongkut of Siam, Prince Birabongse (generally known as Prince Bira or, when racing as B Bira) came to Europe in 1927 for an education at Eton and Cambridge University.
He started racing in 1935 in a team run by his cousin, Prince Chula, and he soon became known for his car which he painted pale blue and yellow, the national colours of Siam. The reasons behind his decision to race were simple. "At the age of 19, I went to watch racing at Brooklands," he said. "I saw a beautiful girl, Kay Petre, and she was a great racing driver. And so I said, 'Well, my God, how could I make this girl?' And the only way was to get near her. That's how I was introduced into the racing game." Later in the season his cousin gave him an ERA R2B, named Romulus, for his 21st birthday which he raced with success.
In 1936 the princes bought a second ERA (Remus) which they raced in Britain, retaining Romulus for overseas competition. Chula also bought a Masarati. Bira won the Coupe de Prince Rainier at Monte Carlo, and was victorious in another four races.
But despite this promising start, the remaining pre-war years were more of a struggle despite lavish expenditure on equipment and expertise. During the war he lived in Cornwall and took up gliding, setting several records.
After the war, Bira returned to racing but was not seriously competitive as he generally drove outdated vehicles. In 1954, in a Masarati 250F which was up with the pace, 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.
In January 1955, he won the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore, but promptly retired. "I woke up the next morning," he recalled, "and said to myself, well, what are we doing here? Cups, girls, cars … maybe you're dead the next day. And I quit."
He returned to live in Thailand although he maintained a European base in the form of a schooner berthed at Cannes and a home at Mandelieu. He also continued to pursue his other interest of sailing, representing his country at the 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1972 Olympics. He was also a skilled sculptor whose work was exhibited at the Royal Academy.
In later years his business failed as did his marriages and he returned to Europe and eventually to England. His end was undignified for such a flamboyant character. He died at London's Baron's Court station but nobody knew who he was, and only after Scotland Yard became involved was his identity discovered.