The Maharajas And Their Magnificent Motor Cars

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From a swan-necked car that ’caused elephants and people to flee in every direction’, to a Rolls Royce converted to transport a maharaja’s personal cricket team, this new book provides a fascinating insight into a changing society, through the history of the maharajas’ cars.

Indian royalty’s love affair with the automobile began when the first three ‘horseless carriages’ were imported into British India in 1898. In the next half century, the choicest cars with the most unusual coachwork made their way to India to satisfy the varied tastes and demands of the rajas and the maharajas.

All manner of ceremonial throne cars, hunting cars, wedding cars and cars for state processions were owned by 500-odd Indian princes who tried to outdo each other in terms of pomp, glamour and splendour.

This is an engaging account of 70 of the few hundred surviving cars and the stories of the extraordinary people associated with them. The book examines the particular role the cars played in the culture of the royalty, where some were passed down through generations or offered as dowry for marriages as it was deemed ‘shameful’ to sell them.

After India gained Independence, the fortunes of the maharajas began to fade and only a handful were able to keep their wealth by converting their palaces into luxury hotels and retaining the cars bought by their ancestors. Other princely cars were bought up by Indian collectors or found their way abroad.

The extraordinary Brooke ‘Swan’ Car – so named because of a huge swan’s neck curling up from its bonnet – hissed steam from its ‘nostrils’ and provoked uproar when it arrived in Calcutta, causing women to scream and carriages to career off the road. The fabulous Talbot Lago, arguably the most beautiful car in the world at the time, was given by a smitten maharaja to his beautiful British mistress, the Folies Bergere dancer Stella Mudge, as a wedding present. And a magnificent maharaja’s Delahaye 175 was owned at one time by Elton John.

Gautam Sen, the ‘father’ of Indian automotive journalism has done extensive research and been afforded unique access into some of the most splendid car collections in India to create this authoritative and visually impressive study. This is not just a book about cars but an insight into the privileged lives of the top tier of Indian society.

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