You may have flicked through the pages of June 2011’s Condé Nast Traveller to pge. 29 to see an elegant lady posing in front of a yellow Rolls Royce and a palatial background – “yet another rose tinted portrait of India” I hear you say, but let me tell you, this portrait symbolises a golden era and the car in particular – a symbol of India’s economic might.
For this is the 1911 Silver Ghost Throne Car of Hyderabad, owned by His Exalted Highness, the Nizam of Hyderabad. It is also perhaps one of the most legendary and expensive cars, ever manufactured by Rolls Royce.
India was one of the biggest markets for Rolls Royce before Independence, with over 800 cars sold between 1911-947. Being the richest man in the world at that time, it was no surprise then that HEH Mahbub Ali Khan, Nizam VI of Hyderabad, commissioned the Silver Ghost to be his ceremonial car in 1911.
An open limousine, it featured a domed passenger cabin encircled with glass, in order for the Nizam to be seen by his subjects (how similar to that of Kate Middleton on her way to the abbey). A single seat sofa was upholstered by Cartier Paris in yellow and gold silk brocade. The dome itself was ‘pimped out’ with silver mouldings and a silver royal crown – the Dastar-i-Mubarak on top.
During the celebrations, the Throne Car led two more Rolls-Royces through the streets of Hyderabad, escorted by four regiments of infantry, a detachment of the local cavalry gaily caparisoned, two batteries of artillery, a regiment of Arabs and the personal bodyguard of the Nizam, the Sidis from Africa.
Instead of cheering the populace prayed and the Nizam rode his Rolls Throne in silence, wearing not a single ornament – he didn’t really need anything else to mark him out, what with the jewelled crests adorning the car’s doors and rear.
After the celebrations, the car was again parked in the royal garages and fell to rust and ruin having only completed a mere 365 miles.
It was Princess Esra (the elegant lady) and first wife of Nizam, Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah Asaf Jah VIII, who approached Cartier to restore the car in commemoration of its centenary year. Rana Manvendra Singh, automobile restorer, historian and Curator of the Cartier Concours D’Elegance carefully restored the car, with much difficulty given that there were only two photographs of the original shape.
All new body parts, panels and mouldings were hand formed by master craftsmen. The interior upholstery was recreated in France by Cartier using original parts of the yellow silk and gold brocade. Much of the silver ornaments lining the dome had also to be remade, as years of vandalism had seen much of it damaged or stolen.
So it was with great delight that the newly restored Throne Car, left Hyderabad for the first time in 100 years to appear in the Cartier Concours ‘Travel With Style’ D’Elegance, held at the New Delhi Jaipur Polo Club this Spring.
Her Highness, Princess Esra was driven by Rana Manvendra Singh around the Concours (a pre-requisite for entering) and deservedly won hands down, The Best Car of the Show for 2011.
However it was to be its last drive, as the car has returned to Hyderabad to take its rightful place at The Chowmahalla Palace.
From July 2011 The Throne Car will be displayed within a glass encasement.
Have a look but you certainly can’t touch!
The Chowmahalla Palace is open to visitors from 10 am – 5pm and is closed on Fridays.
Discover what the city of Hyderabad has to offer, with a tailor made tour arranged by leading India specialist operator, Greaves Travel www.greavesindia.com / tel: + 44 (0) 207 487 9111.
For more pictures of the Throne Car and celebrities attending the recent Cartier Concours D’Elegance, have a look at http://www.image.net.