Maharana Chhatrasinhji driving his Wolseley 6 hp 1903-04 car in Rajpipla. Seated by his side is Governor of Bombay Presidency Charles Cochrane Baillie, Lord Lamington. This photograph was published in The Automotor Journal of 28th October 1905.
His Highness Maharana Shri Sir Chhatrasinhji (1862-1915), was the 35th Gohil Rajput ruler of the kingdom of Rajpipla in western India. Born on 18th December 1862, and educated at Rajkumar College, Rajkot, he succeeded to the gadi of Rajpipla on 10th January 1897. Not only was he instrumental in saving thousands of lives during the epic famines of 1899-1902 by granting huge amounts of relief, he was a fine administrator and pioneer in more ways than one. He built the 60-kilometre Ankleshwar-Rajpipla railway line, which he initiated in the very first year of his reign, connecting his State with the Delhi-Bombay main line. One of the ruling Indian princes who attended the coronation of King George V in London in 1910, and he also attended the Durbar at Delhi in 1911.
The dawn of the era of motoring coincided with his reign, and being progressive in outlook, was among the first to import automobiles into India. He thus brought a Wolseley 6 hp of 1903-04, which he drove with great delight.
The Maharana also owned a Clement-Bayard 16 hp car. Automotor Journal of 10th February 1906 reported that this car took part in the Bombay-Mahabaleshwar Trials and did not lose a single point in Class B, that is, cars costing between £253 and £450.
Bill Smith wrote on Page 31 of his book ‘Armstrong-Siddeley Motors, The Wolseley-Siddeley Saga 1905-1909’, that Maharana Chhatrasinhji was the first to import an Armstrong-Siddeley car into India. A 15 hp Single Landaulette Armstrong Siddeley car number V1744 was delivered to him on 21st September 1906.
There is also a paper dated 10th April 1912 from the Dewan of Rajpipla, with a typed reference to Mr. K. Messia who was in the service of Maharana Chhatrasinhji as motor engineer and chauffeur for six months. Mr. Messia received a salary of Rs.300 per month, besides free board and lodging. He had five cars under his charge and thoroughly overhauled and repaired a Clement Bayard car in a satisfactory manner. There is still a house in the Chhatra Vilas Palace compound in Rajpipla known as the English driver’s cottage.
The passion for cars carried on from generation to generation, and the Rajpipla royal family owned some of the finest cars of their time. His son Maharaja Vijaysinhji owned twelve Rolls-Royce cars at various times from the Silver Ghost 1913 to the Phantom III 1937, among other exquisite makes like Bentley, Hispano Suiza, Ford, Packard, Graef & Stift and Auto Carrier (AC) among others, in Rajpipla, Bombay and his estate in Old Winsdor, England.
(Indra Vikram Singh, great-grandson of Maharana Chhatrasinhji of Rajpipla, can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).