The Odd Obsession Of Indian Princes With Rolls-Royce

by IndianAuto Team | 25/04/2019
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To the outside world, India is often portrayed as a country with exotic cultures and poor people. However, little do they know that our Maharajas used to own as many as 44 Rolls-Royce per person, and that is just one very small facet of the long-time attraction that the princes had towards the British luxury cars.

In the 20th century, India was under British colonial rule, and the country was split into hundreds of city-states ruled by Maharajas. These princes were incredibly affluent and influential. Though they lived in the previous century, their uncanny fascination with Rolls-Royce is something that we can relate to (seriously, who does not like Rolls-Royce cars?).

It has been reported that up to one-fifth the number of all Rolls-Royce cars that were manufactured before the First World War had Indian owners. From 1908 to 1939, approximately 788 Rolls-Royce cars made their way to India, while there were 230 Maharajas at that time, so each Maharaja owned more than 3 Rolls-Royces on average, on top of various other luxury vehicles that they possessed.

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To amplify the extravaganza and magnify the opulence of their vehicles, the Maharajas had numerous modification and customisation demands, many of which were straight up weird, from gun racks on to ivory controls, aluminum hoods, tiger skin, stool for dwarf foot masseur, and so on. Some princes modified their cars to show the affinity for the royal ladies, such as how the Maharaja of Jamnagar sent to the manufacturer a pink slipper of his wife so that his Phantom could be painted in the same colour, or how the Maharaja of Jodhpur got a purdah system elaborately installed on his Rolls-Royce to prevent the ladies of the royal family from being stared by male commoners. To bring the cars to India, the Maharajas even ordered Rolls-Royce to contract with London’s most prestigious companies to build coaches and deliver the vehicles to the country with British-trained chauffeurs. The extent that the Maharajas went through to get their Phantoms exactly how they wanted, albeit controversial, was simply admirable.

These grand Rolls-Royce vehicles, to this day and age, are not only seen as the symbol of power and fortune that the Maharajas imposed on the citizens in their city-states, but also acted as an implicit message to British colonial dignitaries that India was no less prosperous and impressive.

The stories about the Maharajas and their Rolls-Royces, due to their bizarre nature, are here to be told for ages.

1. The Maharaja Of Gwalior

Let’s start our walk down memory lane with the story about reportedly the first Rolls-Royce in India.

In 1907, a shrewd British businessman called Frank Norbury was determined to bring vehicles from the luxury British car maker to India, so he did a real demonstration using a Rolls-Royce 40/50 hp to show its powerful engine. He drove 620 miles (approximately 998 kilometres) from Bombay to Kolhapur through the Western Ghat. The Maharaja Of Gwalior was extremely pleased with the demonstration. Actually, he was so pleased that he decided to purchase that vehicle for himself, which led to him being the first ever person in India to own a Rolls-Royce. Therefore, he ordered a new Rolls-Royce and had it painted in skillfully grounded pearls. Because of the exquisite paint, the car then was called the "Pearl of the East".

Though the “Pearl of the East” has unfortunately gone missing, this was the start of the tryst between Maharajas and Rolls-Royce.

the pearl of the east

The “Pearl of the East” started Maharajas’ obsession with Rolls-Royce cars

2. Maharaja Bhupinder Singh Of Patiala

There are a couple of tales related to the Maharaja Of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, and his collection of Rolls-Royce.

Rumour has it that Maharaja Bhupinder Singh was a man that adored gemstones to such an extent that various of his cars were adorned with diamonds and other shiny stones of such kind. And when the Maharaja wanted the cars embellished, he was not kidding; details such as the dashboard, oil gauge, and speedometer were also covered in gemstones. Because of the incredible number of precious stones on each car, whenever they went on servicing, they only went individually and each vehicle would be accompanied a fleet of guards. On special occasions that the Maharaja took his cars out for a drive, he would cause major congestions as his 20 gemstones-studded Rolls-Royce had to be surrounded by an entourage of 5 other trucks.

Another time, when Maharaja Bhupinder Singh toured London incognito and went into a Rolls-Royce showroom, the salesman sneered at him and said that the Maharaja should take his leave because he would not be able to afford anything in there. The salesman’s manner infuriated the Maharaja, so Maharaja Bhupinder Singh ordered 50 Rolls-Royces to be shipped to India and the Rolls-Royce cars were then used to collect municipal trash. Until Rolls-Royce representative came to personally apologise to him, the garbage collecting job continued for the expensive cars. The same garbage-collecting tactics were used by other Maharajas such as Maharaja Jai Singh Prabhakar of Alwar or the Maharaja of Hyderabad. However, no one got close to the number 50 of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s order and actually that incident made him the prince with the most Rolls-Royce cars in the country.

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh in one of his Rolls-Royce

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had the largest Rolls-Royce fleet in the country

3. The Maharaja Of Bharatpur

The Maharaja of Bharatpur might not have the most crowded fleet of Rolls-Royce in the country but he was said to have the most exotic luxury car there had ever been. Just as a friendly reminder: other Maharajas had unique and expensive things such as diamonds, ivory, or tiger skin embellishing their cars, so you know that the competition was steep back then, and the award of “the most exotic Rolls-Royce” was somewhat important. The car was known to have a silver-plated body that reflected light in an unimaginably beautiful manner. Besides that fact, the details of the car was not well-documented. However, there was a story that gave us the idea of how special that car was. The Rolls-Royce of the Maharaja of Bharatpur was indeed so peculiarly romantic that his most graceful gesture in his life was to lend it to another Maharaja for his wedding ceremony.

The Maharaja of Bharatpur

The Maharaja of Bharatpur was said to have the most exotic Rolls-Royce ever

4. The Maharaja Of Mysore

The obsession of the Maharaja Of Mysore towards Rolls-Royce cars was not passed on as a tale of bizarre decorations and embellishments, but rather as a tale of pure opulence. The Maharaja Of Mysore was the prince that only purchased Rolls-Royce in bulk of seven. Yes, you did not read it wrong. The prince only bought Rolls-Royce, the vehicle that is still crore expensive today, in bulk of seven. After that, the term “doing a Mysore” was born and became the expression that people would use to describe the act of buying more than half a dozen of cars at the same time. Thanks to his unique way of buying vehicles, the Maharaja Of Mysore may not be recognised as the man of eccentric Rolls-Royce, but he will be forever remembered through the daily use of this idiom.

The Maharaja Of Mysore's Rolls-Royce fleet

The Maharaja Of Mysore only bought Rolls-Royce in batches of seven, hence the idiom “doing a Mysore”

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