- A 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I, once owned by a maharaja, failed to sell at an auction last weekend.
- Although Barrett-Jackson placed sales estimates at $500,000 to $1 million, bidding failed to reach the car's reserve price of $450,000.
- Among other custom features and weaponry, the Rolls comes with a hand-cranked machine-gun.
LAS VEGAS — A rare machine-gun-equipped 1925 Rolls-Royce, once owned by an Indian Maharaja, failed to sell at Barrett-Jackson's auction last weekend. Although the auction house originally placed sales estimates at $500,000 to $1 million, bidding failed to reach the car's reserve price of $450,000.
The car grabbed global headlines in advance of the auction.
Known as the "Tiger Car," the custom Phantom I was built for Umed Singh II, the Maharaja of Kotah from 1889 until his death in 1940. To meet the Maharaja's requirements for big-game hunting, it sports massive searchlights, tall tires for increased ground clearance and the lowest gearing available, to facilitate creeping through the jungle. Factory-installed gun racks and a hidden safe round out the build-sheet.
Aftermarket additions include some serious firepower. It carries a Howdah gun (double-barreled shotgun-pistol) in the cockpit and an elephant gun mounted to the rear bumper. But most impressive is a hand-cranked .450-caliber machine gun towed on a carriage behind the Rolls.
Ordered from Rolls-Royce early in 1925, the chassis was equipped with the standard Phantom OHV 8.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission. It was then delivered to Barker and Co. Ltd. of London in August for the addition of coachwork built to the Maharaja's specifications.
Originally painted a sedate grey, the car has been resprayed bright red. Although striking, the non-original color would almost certainly have an effect on its value to collectors.
But despite that one strike against it, the Rolls has done well in competition. Among other awards, it took a 1st-place at the Rolls-Royce of Canada national meet in 1991 and 2nd-place at Pebble Beach in 1992. Not surprisingly, it has also proven popular with spectators at numerous other concours and special events.
Maharajas and other Indian potentates were a specialized, lucrative, market for high-end auto manufacturers and custom coach-builders in the first half of the 20th century, with Rolls-Royce alone exporting more than 800 cars to the country during that period. Luxury cars from Rolls and other marques, like Hispano-Suiza, Duesenberg, Stutz, Lancia, Talbot-Lago and Delahaye, not only provided opulent transportation but served as symbols of power and prestige.
Such is the reputation of the maharaja cars that a special display featuring a number of them was included at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2012. And many more were featured in the book The Maharajas & Their Magnificent Motor Cars by Gautam Sen (Haynes Publishing, 2011).
But even among these rare examples of automotive elite, the "Tiger Car" is unique. Its provenance and condition lend considerable weight to its value. And the inclusion of the car's original build-sheet, full ownership records and original factory tools add significantly to its collector value.
But, most distinctively, it's a good bet that most of the other maharaja cars aren't packing heat.
Edmunds says: Hunting tigers with a machine gun hardly seems sporting, anyway.