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History on four wheels

The Oberoi Concours d’Elegance held last week at Udaipur was an elite gathering to bring together classic vintage cars from India and abroad along with car connoisseurs, who value the need to preserve India’s and the world’s rich automotive legacy.
Last Updated 03 March 2024, 00:08 IST

‘Doing a Mysore’ is not a cliché — it can never be. The novel idea of ordering seven Rolls Royce at one go would forever remain the signature style of the Maharajas of Mysuru. For who else could stock their cars with everything silver — from sandwich boxes to soapboxes — 17 kg of solid silver in all and not bat an eyelid? Topping it off with a secret locker to store the Maharani’s priceless jewellery...  

The Oberoi Concours d’Elegance held last week at Udaipur was an elite gathering to bring together classic vintage cars from India and abroad along with car connoisseurs, who value the need to preserve India’s and the world’s rich automotive legacy.

The last king of the princely state of Mysuru, Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar’s motoring indulgences are widely known. One of his prized possessions, the 1949 carnation-red Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Drophead Foursome Coupe is still gorgeous. This thing of beauty is now a part of Yohan Poonawalla’s collection; Poonawalla was adjudged as ‘Collector of the Year’ in 2023 at the Geneva International Motor Show in Qatar. The Silver Wraith won the ‘Best in Class’ in the category of ‘Cars of the Maharajas-Mysore’ at the event which feted the remarkable craftsmanship of the world’s most vintage vehicles. Upholstered in red and grey leather, the Silver Wraith, the first post-war Rolls Royce model, was later owned by the Maharaja of Bharatpur, and used by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II when they visited India in 1961.

Poonawalla’s 1949 Bentley Mark VI, coach-built by Hooper, also comes from the Mysuru Maharaja’s stables. Upholstered in cream leather and green piping, the Maharaja’s trade commissioner in London, Captain S T Binstead, personalised the car and studded it with fineries like a hollow-arm set fitted with cut-glass toiletries set with silver tops, a Mysuru coats of arms on the door and the unique Mysuru 1 number plate. This Bentley was a mandatory fixture at the Mysuru Dasara celebrations.

When Poonawalla acquired the Bentley, some of its grandeur had worn off but he got it restored to its original specifications as per the build sheet. The Bentley earned the moniker Rhubarb and Custard for its red and yellow finish. Poonawalla, the first ever Indian in the global list of ‘Top 100 Classic Car Collectors of the World’ compiled by the Classic Car Trust, says: “I built my collection from scratch in the 90s. I still get excited about them and take pride in the story behind each of my vintage cars.”

Another car connoisseur and president of Karnataka Vintage and Classic Car Club, Jamal Suliman, sometimes drives his 1946 Daimler DE-27 to cover a distance of six km from his house to his factory in Bengaluru’s Whitefield area.

Another gem from the Mysuru Maharaja’s stable, the 4-litre in-line six-cylinder Daimler was custom-built by the Windovers in the UK. Built on a massive chassis frame, the Daimler’s most innovative feature is the Girling’s hydro-mechanical braking system with servo assistance. “It is a seven-seater limousine with a Wilson pre-selector gear, which makes driving fantastically smooth. It could achieve a speed up to 80 miles per hour back then,” says Suliman, an engineer, whose passion for vintage cars developed while still in school in Coimbatore when he used to see his classmates arrive in attractive cars.

The fourth Maharaja car at the Concours was Bengalurean Subbaiah Kuppanda’s 1947 model DB-18 Daimler, 2.5 litre inline 6-motor, with a pre-selector lever and depressed gear change pedal, produced at Coventry, UK. The car, in black and ivory, is tinged with a gold line, which accentuates its looks. With special features such as the automatic lubrication of oiling points, its interiors are quintessentially British. The coach buildup by Mulliners Birmingham is devoid of frills but feels as if it has been done just right. 

The fifth car from the Maharaja’s stable was the 1925 Spanish-Swiss manufactured Hispano Suiza H6B Transformable Limousine, owned by Coimbatore’s Gedee Car Museum. Curated by automotive historian Manvendra Singh Barwani, the Oberois Concours provided a rare dekko at these beauties, which were once the pride of the Maharajas of Mysuru.

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(Published 03 March 2024, 00:08 IST)

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