Saturday, May 30, 2015

A snapshot of Rajpipla State

A first-class princely state, the largest in the Rewa Kantha Agency of the Bombay Presidency, at the time of merger with the Union of India in 1948, Rajpipla was ruled by the Gohil Rajput dynasty for 600 years. Around 1340, Kumar Shri Samarsinhji Mokhdaji, second son of Thakur Mokhdaji Ranoji Gohil (reign 1309-1347) of Ghogha, in present-day Gohilwar in south Saurashtra, was adopted by his maternal grandfather Rao Chokrana, a Parmar Rajput prince of Ujjain (Malwa), who was ruling in Rajpipla at the time. Chokrana Parmar’s daughter was the younger queen of Mokhdaji Gohil. When Chokrana died without a male heir, Samarsinhji succeded to the gadi of Rajpipla at Junaraj (Old Rajpipla) Fort deep in the forests of the Satpura hills, and assumed the name Arjunsinhji. The rule of the principality of Rajpipla thereby passed on to the Gohil Rajput clan. Mokhdaji’s first son Dungarsinhji by his elder queen succeeded him to the gadi of Ghogha (later Bhavnagar) with its capital at Pirambet island in the Gulf of Cambay.

The 13-gun salute Rajpipla State was situated largely between the rivers Narmada and Tapti. Spanning an area of about 4,000 square kilometres, of which 1550 square kilometres were forests, the rest being fertile agricultural plains and river valleys, Rajpipla grew to be one of the most prosperous princely states in Gujarat, second only to Baroda. It was also known for its cornelian and agate mines, and the famous Cup of Ptolemy is reputed to have come from the mines at Limbodra in Rajpipla State. Its capital town of Rajpipla (Nandod or New Rajpipla) is now headquarters of Narmada district.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, arguably the greatest-ever Indian racehorse owner

A keen horseman, Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla maintained one of the finest stables of race horses in India and England, marked by quality and not quantity.

His thoroughbreds won several prestigious races, including the first Indian Derby in 1919 (Tipster), the Irish Derby in 1926 and Belgian Grand Prix in 1927 (Embargo), and the blue riband of the turf, the Epsom Derby of England in 1934 (Windsor Lad).

Maharaja Vijaysinhji – or ‘Pip’, as he was affectionately known in the UK - is still the only Indian owner to have bagged the English Derby, considered the greatest horse race in the world, cheered on by an estimated quarter to half a million people which included King George V and Queen Mary of Britain and other members of the royal family. The Maharaja thereby completed a brilliant hat-trick of Derby wins: the first-ever Indian Derby, the Irish Derby and the coveted Epsom Derby of England, making him arguably the greatest-ever Indian racehorse owner.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Top-of-the-line cars of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla in the late 1920s

Inevitably, the Rolls-Royce stable-mate, a 3-litre Bentley with chassis no. LT 1585 and Connaught coupe coachwork joined Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s fleet in 1927.

Rolls-Royce Phantom I 1927 at Maharaja Vijaysinhji's estate 'The Manor' at Old Windsor, Berkshire, UK.

The same year, Petersham Garage of Queen’s Gate Place, London SW 7 arranged for a cabriolet de ville body to be built by the Elkington Carriage Company on Rolls-Royce Phantom I chassis no. 55 EF. It was painted royal blue and black, and trimmed in gold-figured damask, the steering wheel ordered in ivory white, quite a common feature with cars supplied to Indian buyers. The car was delivered to the Maharaja at the Savoy Hotel in London, bore the registration no. YF-8389, and used in the UK.

Rolls-Royce Phantom I 1929 as seen in 2012 with its top cut off.

The Phantom I 55 EF was sold in May 1929 via Windovers, who replaced it with a January 1929 Phantom I carrying their Brougham limousine coachwork, design no. 5583 on chassis no. 27 WR. This car has an interesting history. It was shipped to India, and then back to the UK about a quarter-century later in the 1950s, used for another two decades and dry-stored in a garage since 1975. The top of the Brougham body was cut and converted into a tourer, and the Phantom I engine was replaced by a 4 litre Rolls-Royce engine. It surfaced in 2012 when it was listed for sale on e-Bay.

Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla at The Manor, Old Windsor with his Riley sports car in the background.

In the late 1920s, Maharaja Vijaysinhji owned a perky little Riley sports car in which he would zip in and out of his Windsor estate.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The first production Rolls-Royce 20 hp (Baby Rolls) was purchased by Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla

Maharaja Vijaysinhji already owned two Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50 hp cars, 1913 and 1921 models, both with tourer coachwork . When the small 20 hp Rolls-Royce (Baby Rolls) was announced, he expressed keen interest in it.

He, in fact, bought the first production car of this model in 1922, bearing chassis no. 40 G1 and engine no. 101. He instructed the coachbuilders Windovers to fit his Baby Rolls with a three-quarter landaulette body, painted claret with black wings.

This is where the Maharaja’s association with Windovers began. He ordered six further Rolls-Royce cars with their coachwork in the next 15 years.

The car was shipped to India, where it carried the Rajpipla No.25 red registration plate.

Governor of Bombay Sir Frederick Sykes arriving in Rajpipla Rolls-Royce 20 hp 1922, received by Maharaja Vijaysinhji in November 1929.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Magnificent Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 1921 of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla


In 1921 Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla bought his second Rolls-Royce, another Silver Ghost 40/50 hp, bearing chassis no. 32 UG. It was fitted with exquisite tourer coachwork by Hooper (body no. 5498) as specified by the Maharaja.

It was the pride of the Rajpipla State garage for many years, and carried the registration RAJPIPLA No.1. The car is pictured here in February 1926 at Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s riverside castle overlooking the Narmada at Hanumanteshwar, about eight miles away from the capital town of Nandod. In the foreground, facing the camera, is Governor of Bombay Presidency Leslie Wilson, while the Maharaja is about to enter the car behind him.

The photograph above provides a breath-taking side profile of this prized automobile in November 1929. Seated at the rear left is Maharaja Vijaysinhji, and next to him is Governor of Bombay Presidency Frederick Sykes.

This was one of the most magnificent among the hundreds of cars owned by the royal family of Rajpipla.

The car behind it is a Rolls-Royce 20 hp (Baby Rolls) 1922. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The first Rolls-Royce owned by Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla

The car partly visible in the background is the first Rolls-Royce owned by Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, a Silver Ghost 1913.

Maharaja Vijaysinhji  of Rajpipla - with a passion for cars like his father, Maharana Chhatrasinhji - bought several of the leading makes. The Delhi Durbar of 1911 and the famous Alpine test of 1913 - passed effortlessly by the Silver Ghost - fuelled interest in Rolls-Royce cars in India. Having succeeded to the gadi of Rajpipla in 1915, the young ruler was on the lookout for a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He found a 1913 model in Calcutta, then owned by Charles W. Tosh who had taken delivery of the car in April 1914 in London where it carried the UK registration R-1956. This Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50 hp 1913, chassis no. 16 CA, carried torpedo phaeton tourer coachwork (convertible in common parlance) by Barker, as depicted on page 37 of the Barker sales catalogue. In the hands of the new royal owner, a RAJPIPLA No. 3 red number-plate was put on this iconic automobile. Thus began Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s fascination for Rolls-Royce cars, owning twelve of them over the next three-and-a-half decades.

The lead car in the photograph is a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 1921. Behind it is a Rolls-Royce 20 hp (Baby Rolls) 1922. More about these Rajpipla cars later.