A collection of fifteen of the motoring world’s most idiosyncratic machines will be appearing at the Retromobile Salon 2014 in Paris – making a European first this February.
Built in the Twenties and Thirties at the behest of Indian Maharajas, who were all trying to outdo one another in the individuality stakes, these cars come in all sort of flamboyant shapes, sizes, colours and specifications.
Amongst the fascinating line-up which includes Rolls-Royce, Isotta Fraschini, Delage, Delahaye cars, will be the incredible Swan Car of the Maharaja of Nabha, several polished aluminium Rolls-Royces, car for hunting tigers and ceremonial cars.
Most eye-catching of the cars on show will be the 1910 Brooke Swan and 1930 Cygnet which currently belong to the Louwman Collection from The Hague.
The Brooke Swan’s roadside debut was so startling that it was reported in a local Calcutta newspaper. ‘Women screamed. Carriages went careering off the road. Water buffalo, oxen, goats, donkeys, elephants, camels and natives, after one glance, took off at top speed in every direction,’ ran the report in April 1910.
It was a strange piece of rolling fantasy that had not just the hoi polloi, but also the rich, the aristocracy and the gentry of the city astounded. The brainchild of a wealthy and eccentric resident of Calcutta, Robert Nicholl ‘Scotty’ Matthewson, the Swan Car was one crazy machine.
The who’s who of Calcutta wasn’t amused and the Swan Car was banned from the city’s roads. Mathewson, who had spent the considerable sum of £10-15,000 (as much as six new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts) decided to sell his pride, to the maharajah of Nabha. Soon after, the maharaja developed the Cygnet, a smaller single seater electric version for driving around in his estate.
Other ‘more conventional’ cars on show will be a 1930 Mercedes-Benz SS Super Sports. Bought at the Paris salon of 1930, by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Sir Hari Singh, the car was converted to right-hand drive by the factory and was displayed at the 1931 edition of the Berlin motor show before it was shipped out to India.
The car stayed with the family till 1972, when it was acquired by a dealer and the car left India. The Mercedes-Benz museum acquired the car when the car came up for sale in Germany, after the last buyer had bought car from Australia.
Also on show will be a breathtaking 1938 Delahaye 135 Figoni & Falaschi. Ordered by well known explorer and businessman Paul Jourde, a personal friend of Joseph Figoni, this car is one of 11 built, and today is one of three surviving cars built on the standard wheelbase.
In 1939, the car was shipped to Bombay. Jourde’s Delahaye was soon purchased by an Indian prince, in all likelihood, the Maharaja of Nawanager. He sold it some years later to the Maharaja of Jaipur. Subsequently, the car was sold again and it fell from sight and into neglect. When it was finally rediscovered in 1982, it was sitting on wooden blocks in a garden shed in Indore. An English dealer bought it in the mid Eighties and had it shipped to England, where it underwent a complete restoration.In 1989, the car was taken to France and shown at the Bagatelle Concours d’Élégance, where it won First in Class, and Retromobile, where it won Best of Show. It competed in the 1992 Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance in the Delahaye exhibition, after which it was purchased by Peter Mullin, and since then has been named the Most Elegant at Los Angeles, and Best of Show at Schloss Schwetzingen.Retromobile is held between 5th-9th February with more information being available at the show’s website which can be found here.