If Maharana Chhatrasinhji of Rajpipla was one of the pioneers of motoring in India, his son Maharaja Vijaysinhji, the last ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres principality in western India, was a connoisseur of many things, cars being one of them. Maharana Chhatrasinhji brought to India before the First World War, automobiles like Wolseley and Clement Bayard, and the first Armstrong-Siddeley manufactured. Maharaja Vijaysinhji owned all the top makes, among them twelve Rolls-Royce cars from the Silver Ghost 1913 to the Phantom III 1937, half of which he kept in Rajpipla and the others at his estate at Old Windsor, England.
The fourth Rolls-Royce that Maharaja Vijaysinhji had shipped to India after two Silver Ghost Phaetons 1913 and 1921, and the first-ever production model 20 hp 1922, was the Phantom I January 1929 bearing chassis number 27WR. Its Brougham limousine coachwork was crafted by Windovers to design number 5583. The Maharaja added two more Rolls-Royce cars to his Indian collection, Phantom I 1934 and 20/25 hp 1934. These three exquisite automobiles were to remain with him and the family till the late 1950s.
Merger of princely states brought its own challenges. Rajpipla joined the Indian Union in 1948. About a decade later the Phantom I 1929 #27WR found its way back to the United Kingdom. The top of the Windovers Brougham body was cut and converted into a tourer, the Phantom I 40/50 hp engine replaced by a 4 litre Rolls-Royce engine. In 2012, I learnt that it was sold on EBay. Then I lost track of the car once again.
Suddenly, in December 2017, I received an email from Dr. Hamish MacLeod saying that he is the person who bought the car on EBay. He restored it painstakingly, fitting a totally rebuilt 4.25 litre engine that was used to power the Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith and Dawn cars. “The restoration, completed last year, was a total strip down including the wheels which were all rebuilt. The car rallied on three occasions and performed beautifully”, he wrote. In a lighter vein he added, “The car had lain on a Derbyshire farm for 42 years and had been inhabited by a procession of non house-trained farm stock!”
Dr. MacLeod concluded, “I had advertised 27WR since July and nothing much happened until last week when it was seen and bought by a Chinese gentleman who is over here from Hong Kong, and hoping to buy prestige Phantoms I, II, III and IV. The first three have been acquired, your grandfather’s being the Phantom I. It was picked up on Monday and transferred to Southampton by Tuesday. It was ‘containered’ yesterday and is leaving today for Hong Kong. I know it will be going to a set up that will ensure that the car is maintained at a high level and your grandfather’s past ownership will be widely known and acknowledged.”
The Rolls-Royce Phantom I 27WR now has a fresh lease of life, and a new home. One is certain that it will be treasured and cherished. It is exciting to see heritage cars rehabilitated and restored expertly. In many ways the wheel will come a full circle when I take a ride in this old family car, hopefully in the near future.
(Indra Vikram Singh, grandson of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org)