Udaipur, undated

India's erstwhile princely states' obsession with the Rolls Royce
A painting depicting a Rolls Royce in Udaipur in the beginning of 20th century
A painting depicting a Rolls Royce in Udaipur in the beginning of 20th century

India&rsquos erstwhile princely states were creatures of fashion. Ensconced in their feudal strongholds, they followed European fashions to a T, all the while glorying in the greatness of their Indian &lsquoheritage&rsquo. A case in point is the obsession with the Rolls Royce.

When the company brought its first car to India in 1907, it was for what was called a Reliability Test. For this, the car was driven through different terrains, including a number of motorable mountain passes of the time. The &lsquoPearl of the East&rsquo as it was called, passed with flying colours and was sold to the Maharaja of Gwalior. Then, in 1911, eight Silver Ghosts were ordered for the use of King George V&rsquos Delhi Durbar.  Needless to say, the Rolls Royce became the rage. Everybody had to have one. One inveterate collector was the Maharaja of Patiala, who owned 44 RRs by 1938. Maharana Fateh Singh of Mewar acquired a Silver Ghost Colonial Tourer 40-50HP in 1914. He used it to go on hunting trips. His successor, Bhupal Singh&rsquos favourite was the 1922 Tourer 20 HP, which he acquired in 1925 for the princely sum of Rs 15,551.

This royal family continued to acquire Rolls Royces, even gifting some to the Nathdwara temple. Evidently, the fascination with the Rolls Royce was comparable with, say, the best breeds of horses. This undated painting shows how large RRs loomed in the legend of the royal house of Mewar. A gaggle of Mewar noblemen stand around the 1922 RR Tourer 20 HP GO 42. The RR could easily be the palace elephant.

Reproduced from the book Classic Drive from Derby to Udaipur to Pebble Beach and&hellipContinues The Royal Udaipur RR GLK 21, published by Mapin (Rs 3,999).

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