Rich and famous individuals around the world are known for leading extravagant lifestyles. Motor vehicles are often a way to show the world just how much money you have and one car in particular does this better than almost any other; the Rolls Royce Phantom. These bespoke automobiles have been the most luxurious and expensive items on four wheels since the company was first started. In the early part of the past century, Rolls Royce was often commissioned by heads of state and wealthy tycoons to build one off custom creations to fulfill their various desires. This 1925 Phantom I is perhaps the most indulgent of all being commissioned by the Maharaja of Kota specifically for the purpose of hunting Bengal Tigers.
Today, it would be very odd to think about taking a Rolls Royce on a dirt road, let alone trudging through mud and brush on a big game hunting trip. Those jobs would be best suited for a Land Rover Defender or even a Mercedes G550, but in 1925 Rolls Royce stood for more than just luxury. These were the most mechanically and structurally sound vehicles being produced and thus provided for the greatest reliability of anything around. Not to mention Rolls Royce was willing to do anything a customer desired as long as the price was right.
This car will be auctioned off at the Bonham Quail Lodge sale on August 19, 2011. It has changed hands several times since being discovered in the late 1970’s and has undergone two extensive restorations. Experts predict that this rare Rolls Royce could fetch anywhere from $750,000 to $1,000,000 when it crosses the block.
Hit the jump for more details on the 1925 Rolls Royce Phantom I
Chassis & Exterior
In early 1925 Rolls Royce had introduced its new Phantom I model and the Maharajah felt it would be the perfect starting point to build his extravagant hunting machine. Chassis 23RC was delivered to the Barker and Co. Coachworks of London shop on August 8, 1925. Barker’s was the preferred coachbuilder for Rolls Royce and had been around since 1710. The Torpedo Phaeton body style was chosen for the car and it was originally finished off in a medium gray color. This body is easily distinguishable by the rounded sides, pointed dome hood, and functional cowl vents on the side of the hood.
In order for the car to be functional during a hunt several special items were included. Two large Stephen Grebel searchlights were installed on swivel mounts in the front and rear to light the path. These were so powerful that a separate 100-amp battery was installed and monitored by an optional ammeter. In addition to standard instrumentation a Tapley gradient meter was installed to help keep the car upright while off road. 44” mud tires were not an option in those days, but extra tall units were specified to help with rough terrain. Finishing off the non-lethal accoutrements was a nickel-plated snake horn.
The rear bumper of the Rolls Royce was modified to hold a Lantaka cannon. This weapon served as the gun of choice when hunting elephants. Even more special was the completely separate trailer built to house the tiger gun. The carriage holds a .450 caliber Bira hand crank machine gun. This weapon was actually considered as one of the most effective ways to hunt Bengal Tigers in the 1920’s, but today it looks like this car could start its own war, and probably win.
This car needed to be luxurious while providing more utility than most Rolls Royce models. On the luxury front, the seats were finished in black crocodile skin lending to an exotic hunting feel on or off road. The Maharajah also asked for waterproof seat covers to protect his high end upholstery. The multiple vintage big game rifles and the up close and personal “howdah” gun required different ammunition and thus ammunition boxes were included on the side steps.
During many of these hunts, the maharajah and his guests would have servants accompanying them into the wild. These “assistants” would have such duties as using sticks to rustle the bushes and attract the big game. This was clearly very dangerous work and could easily end in a violent attack from an upset tiger. The maharajah had a special safe built into the front passenger section of the vehicle to deal with the outcome of these situations. If an assistant was killed in the line of duty, he would give the family an amount of rupees equal to one year’s supply of rice. The safe held enough money to cover that and allow the expedition to continue uninterrupted.
Even though the chassis on the new Phantom I was essentially identical to the previous model, the powertrain had been significantly upgraded. Rolls had developed a new Pushrod OHV straight six cylinder engine. It was large enough to be in a locomotive displacing 467 cubic inches and producing what Rolls Royce calls “sufficient” horsepower. It had three groups of two-cylinders with detachable heads and a dual ignition system. The manual gearbox had 4-speeds and in this case used a very low gear ratio to help the heavy car negotiate unforgiving terrain.