Heard of Clement Bayard, Gräf & Stift (Graef & Stift) and Auto Carrier (AC)? Chances are that only the most diehard automobile enthusiasts would have.
Maharana Chhatrasinhji of Rajpipla, who ruled the 4,000 square kilometres princely State between 1897 and 1915, was one of the pioneers of motoring in India. He owned a Wolseley 6 hp car of 1903-04 vintage. There is a famous photograph of him driving this quaint twin-seater. Perched alongside him is Governor of Bombay Presidency Charles Cochrane Baillie, Lord Lamington. This fascinating picture was published in The Automotor Journal of October 28, 1905.
The Maharana was the first to import an Armstrong Siddeley 1906 15 hp car into India. Bill Smith wrote in his book ‘Armstrong Siddeley Motors: The Wolseley-Siddeley Saga 1905-1909’ that a 15 hp Single Landaulette Armstrong Siddeley car number V1744 was delivered to him on 21.09.1906.
But the most unusual car that Maharana Chhatrasinhji owned was a Clement-Bayard 16 hp. The Automotor Journal of February 10, 1906 wrote that Maharana Chhatrasinhji’s Clement-Bayard 16 hp car took part in the Bombay-Mahabaleshwar Trials and lost zero points in Class B – Cars costing between £253 and £450. There is a typed paper dated 10th April 1912 from the Dewan (Prime Minister) of Rajpipla that Mr. K. Messia was in the service of Maharana Chhatrasinhji as motor engineer and chauffeur for six months. Mr. Messia was in receipt of a salary of Rs.300 per mensem, besides free board and lodging. A report goes on to say that he had five cars under his charge and thoroughly overhauled and repaired a Clement Bayard car in a satisfactory manner. There still exists a cottage known as ‘English Driver’s Cottage’ in the Chhatravilas Palace compound, where Mr. Messia lived.
Clement-Bayard was a French car built from 1903 onward. In 1914 the factory was taken over by the advancing German army, and sold to Citroen after the War in 1922.
If Maharana Chhatrasinhji was a pioneer, his son Maharaja Vijaysinhji was a connoisseur and a man of great taste, be it for exquisite properties, thoroughbred horses or classic cars. The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 1913 had come to the fore with its sterling performance in the arduous Alpine test. He had to have one of these, and he did find one in Calcutta. He bought another magnificent Silver Ghost 1921, acquired the first production Rolls-Royce 20 hp (Baby Rolls), another Silver Ghost 1924, two Rolls-Royce Phantom I, three Phantom II, two 20/25 hp, and a stunning Phantom III 1937. His sports cars included a Bentley 3 litre 1927 coupe, and indeed owned most of the marque and known brands Hispano Suiza, Ford, Renault, Packard, Vauxhall, Jaguar, Buick, Austin, Fiat, Humber and Hillman, among others.
With a sporting bent of mind, Maharaja Vijaysinhji bought a car completely unheard of now, a Gräf & Stift (Graef & Stift) 6 cylinder in the early 1920s. Gräf & Stift was an Austrian company, founded in 1902 by the brothers Franz, Heinrich and Karl Gräf, and the investor Wilhelm Stift. Before the Second World War, the company was a well-known manufacturer of luxury automobiles, including the Double Phaeton that carried Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, when they were assassinated in Sarajevo in June 1914. By the 1930s Gräf & Stift had begun making trucks and buses, and ceased car manufacturing in 1938.
There is an interesting story of Joseph Sigl who used his Gräf & Stift SR4 No. 2907 for work during the week, and raced it on nature roads in the Alps on weekends and was invariably successful. He owned a beer brewery at Obertrum, near Salzburg.
Another known Gräf & Stift is SR4 No. 2909, first delivered to D.I. Joseph, now owned by Austrian car designer Karl Marschhofer.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji owned an Auto Carrier (AC) Royal Model 12 sports car in the 1920s, which he used to speed in and out of his estate ‘The Manor’, Old Windsor in England. AC Royal Model 12s were built from 1918 to 1928. With a wonderfully roomy dickey seat, this tourer qualified as a 2+2.
Auto Carriers or AC is one of the oldest independent car brands in Britain. The origin of Auto Carriers dates back to 1901 when John Weller set up a small workshop in West Norwood, London to give vent to his passion for building cars. He was financed by a wealthy businessman John Portwine, and in 1903 the first car was produced. It was unveiled at Britain’s first SMMT motor show held at the Crystal Palace from 30 January to 7 February 1903, and was offered with 8, 10, 15 and 20 horsepower-rated engines.
It was in 1915, during the First World War, that a new company was formed called Auto Carriers Limited, and the name first abbreviated to AC. It was dubbed ‘the Rolls-Royce of light cars’,
Franschhoek Motor Museum in South Africa has an AC Model 12, which was taken out for a run. It resembles Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s AC Royal Model 12 quite remarkably.
AC cars had a long stint on the racing tracks, and in modern times went on to manufacture the AC Cobra, one of the iconic cars in motoring history
The Second World War and subsequent merger of princely states with the Union of India changed the motoring scene in India. Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s son Maharajkumar Indrajitsinhji though continued the family’s passion for cars with his Pontiac, Chevrolet and several Willys MB. But it is automobiles with exotic names like Clement Bayard and Gräf & Stift, that have long ceased to exist, and Auto Carrier, which continue to fascinate motoring fans.