An Elegant Limousine For The Occasional Use

Images: Makarand Baokar

A little over a year ago when Jyotendrasinhji Vikramsinhji, the erstwhile ‘maharaja’ of Gondal passed away, we featured him and his favourite car, a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster that had been in his ownership since it was bought new in 1958.

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The Mercedes-Benz 290 seven-seater limousine

The 300SL Roadster isn’t the only Mercedes-Benz in the fabulous Gondal collection—therefore the excuse to feature another rare car, one which isn’t much spoken about from amongst the jewels there.

The car we are featuring, a Mercedes-Benz 290 seven-seater limousine, was bought new by Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji of Bhavnagar, who was quite an auto enthusiast, one who acquired several very interesting bolides over the years, such as a Mercedes-Benz 500 K and a Packard One Twenty convertible, as well as this Mercedes-Benz 290, ordered and delivered in 1935.

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Big and elegant, the Mercedes 290 bears the 'Gondal 18' plaque

In 1945, Maharaja Bhojrajsingh of Gondal, decided to augment his palace garages—he went ahead and bought 15 cars from the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, and among them was this Mercedes 290.

Launched in 1934, the Mercedes-Benz 290 (W18) descended from one of the Stuttgart factory's most important and influential designs: the 170. The latter was the work of the company's technical director, Hans Nibel, the man who had also designed the 500K and the 540K that followed, as well as the very successful W25 racer.

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With a design that is classical and in sync with the times

In response to the economic downturn of the Great Depression, Mercedes-Benz shifted its focus from luxury models to the medium-priced family car market sector: the 170 was their attempt to establish a presence in this market. Competitively priced, the 170 was a huge success and spawned a family of larger-engined, more-powerful models, with the 2.9-litre 290 joining the range in 1934.

Powered by a 2867cc straight-six, the 290 was made until 1936. As was the case in those days, the car was available in two different wheelbases of 2.88 and 3.3 metres, and as many as 14 different body styles, ranging from a compact and sexy two-seater roadster to big and impressive seven-seater limousines.

With a bore and stroke of 78 and 100mm, a compression ratio of 6.6:1 and with a single Solex carburettor, the modest engine developed just 68 horses at 3200rpm, with the power going to the rear wheels through a three-speed gearbox; yet the car was capable of ambling along at over 100km/h.

With independent transverse leaf spring front suspension and swing axles at the rear, and riding on 17-inch wheels, the ride quality was quite good for the period and that may have been one of the reasons why the Maharaja of Bhavnagar chose this Mercedes.

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With the Gondal palace as the backdrop, the setting is perfect to capture the elegance of the Mercedes

In the five years that it was in production, as many as 3,929 examples of the longer wheelbase variants were produced, of which the seven-seater limousine was relatively popular (though most popular were the torpedo tourer or cabriolet D as it was referred to).

The Gondal 290 of course was the longer variant, with a wheelbase of 3.3 metres that allowed for an elegant seven-seater coachwork that came from Daimler-Benz themselves. The German carmaker, like some of the prestige American carmakers, preferred making the bodies in-house in Sindelfingen.

The chassis and mechanical combo weighed about 1325kgs. The body’s weight was additional to that, with the total vehicle weight approaching 1.8 tonnes. Prices ranged from Reich Mark 7,950 to up to 11,500 for the cabriolet on the long-wheelbase chassis.

Used more extensively during the early years of Gondal ownership, the Mercedes 290 is brought out sparingly nowadays. In the process the car has covered barely 75,000kms.

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That last longing look from far away

A two-owner car, the 290 is special as not many of them have survived and the car thus is relatively rare. Restored recently, the 290 is one of the cars in the Gondal collection that may not quite be grabbing headlines but is modestly elegant.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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