Lagondas Of The Maharajas: The V12s – Part 1

Images: James Baxendale

This is the first part of a five-part series on the Lagondas that made it to India (or were somehow connected to India), courtesy Lagonda Club UK's historian James Baxendale, who has been kind enough to share the article that he wrote for the club magazine - Ed

A chance encounter with our Indian member and well-known vintage car restorer, Marespand Dadachanji (D3), at the Lagonda Club stand at the Beaulieu Autojumble last September, set me on a quest for the Lagondas that are, or were originally, in India and Pakistan (the ‘British Raj’, as it was known prior to independence), or linked to the British Raj.

The famous Lagonda - chassis # 16010 - with that goregous one-off Gurney Nutting body, which was ordered new by the Maharaja of Indore, Yashwant Rao Holkar II

Anyone who has read either Manvendra Singh Barwani and Sharada Dwivedi’s The Automobiles of the Maharajas, or Gautam Sen’s The Maharajas and Their Magnificent Motor Cars (which has a section on the V12s in India), or has been to India and seen some of the cars in person, will know just how stunning the cars ordered by the maharajas were in the period between the two World Wars.

Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II

It is difficult to know precisely how many Lagondas were shipped to the British Raj. But it is probably a good bet that many of the Lagondas bought by the maharajas have survived. Of those shipped to British officials, Indians and others, we can be less sure.

I have listed the Lagondas with links to India and Pakistan of which the Club is aware, which are still in existence (there were two M45s in Burma – the subject of a separate article). Ten are still in India (and a further one which has since been imported). Since June 1972, it has been illegal to export pre-1940 cars from India.

I am very grateful to the cars’ owners, who have clarified some of the history of their cars and permitted me to use their names. In particular, to Karl Bhote, an acknowledged expert on vintage cars in India; Manvendra Singh Barwani; and Jyotsna Sanghi, who has a collection of over 100 vintage cars and whom I had the pleasure of meeting in London.

Jodhpur royals in chassis # 14096


1. Chassis 16010

This 1938 V12, with a body by coachbuilder J Gurney Nutting Ltd (designed by John Blatchley), was ordered by the Maharaja of Indore, Yeshwant Rao Holkar II, on 2 September 1937, the chassis being delivered to Gurney Nutting on 2 February 1938. Known as the ‘Holkar car’, it was shipped to India and registered as HSC-1 (Holkar State Car-1).

Chassis # 16010 under Krit Chandra Nath’s ownership

The Holkar family had one of the most extraordinary collections of cars in India. Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II was a true c0nnoisseur of cars – he owned 40-60 cars – and ordered them during the 1930s on a 'cost no issue' basis.

He paid great attention to the cars’ design, all in the art deco style, down to the last detail. At least three others of his cars had coachwork by Gurney Nutting, including the famous Maharaja Duesenberg (now part of the Lyon Family Automobile collection in California). His collection included six Bentleys, a Bugatti, a Delahaye, a J12 Hispano-Suiza, three Alfa Romeos and, of course, the Lagonda V12. Most, like the Lagonda, were painted in the Holkar colours, black, with 'sunglow' saffron.

Following the Maharaja’s death in 1961, the car was shipped to England, where it was given number plate EYT 5. In 1963, it was exported to the United States, where it has been ever since. It is currently part of a collection in Nevada belonging to Anne Brockinton and Robert M Lee, who are Club members. Its history was covered by Len Cozzolino in Club Mag 243.

2. Chassis 14096

This 1939 V12 Rapide Coupe originally belonged to Alan Good, the owner of the Lagonda Car Company. But in 1940 the car was shipped to India: 'Prepare car for India', Lagonda’s factory records note on 7 September 1940. The car was second-hand, as the war made civilian car production impossible.

Chassis # 14097 has been a part of the Bhogilal Collection for many years now

The car first appears to have been used by the Maharaja of Morvi (or, more likely, his son, Mahendrasinhji Lakhdirji Shaib Bahadur, aged 22 at the time, and who succeeded to the title in 1948). He owned a number of cars, including a 1938 Rolls Royce Phantom III and a 1950 Daimler (the latter with a similar colour combination to the Lagonda). There is a photograph of the V12, with Morvi State number plates, in front of the Gateway to India in Bombay.

The car was then owned by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Umaid Singh, who bought it for his son, (later Maharaja) Hanwant Singh, the car having registration number JODHPUR 7. Hanwant Singh was a noted car enthusiast, owning a Delahaye and a number of big American cars, Cadillacs, Buicks and Packards.

Chassis # 14097 photographed at the late Pranlal Bhogilal's residence in Mumbai, Daskot, by Makarand Baokar

Following Hanwant Singh’s early death along with his third wife, the actress Zubeida, in a plane crash in 1952, the car was acquired by Krit Chandra Nath, the brother of Subodh Nath of Ahmedabad (when its registration number changed to RJQ 594). His son sold it in 2000 to Awini Ambuj Shanker, aged twenty-seven at the time, with just over 18,000 miles on the clock.

He wrote to the Club, “The car is in a terrible state, but complete”. (Club Mag 188). In a subsequent letter, he said, “The latest I know from the then Maharaja’s brother is that he and the Maharaja used to race this Lagonda and a Delahaye 135MS that he still owns in Jodhpur. Till about 100 mph the Lagonda led, the aerodynamics took over and the Figoni et Falaschi bodied Delahaye would gain and overtake. As kings they owned the roads, so they had endless roads to race on” (Club Mag 192). The car has been wonderfully preserved in its unrestored state.

Chassis # 14097 photographed at Daskot by Baokar

3. Chassis 14097

This 1940 V12 Drophead Coupe was owned by the Maharaja of Baroda, Sir Pratap Singh Rao Gaekwad. For a time, the Maharaja, a hedonistic spendthrift, was the second wealthiest maharaja and eight richest men in the world. His family is reported to have had a stable of over 30 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. The original car for the Maharaja was en route to India, but the ship was torpedoed and sunk; so, at the Maharaja’s insistence, a replacement V12 was hurriedly put together and delivered in the middle of the war. It may have been shipped at the same time as Chassis 14096, given the sequential chassis numbers; they were likely some of the last sports cars exported from England until after the war. The car was painted in the Baroda state colour, saffron (orange).

Its original registration number is not known, but by the early 1960s it had Gujarat registration number GJA 7111, when it was in the ownership of Ariel David (the Maharaja having gone into exile in 1951, deposed by the Indian government for “irresponsible behaviour” and de-recognised as maharaja).

Another angle to chassis # 14097

The car was subsequently acquired by the well-known Pesi Shroff, who sourced many cars for the renowned collector, Pranlal Bhogilal (formerly member B1). The car remains in the Bhogilal Collection in the Auto World Museum in Ahmedabad, with registration number MRW 4123.

Please tune in tomorrow for the next part of the story - Ed

James Baxendale

A director of the Lagonda Club, James Baxendale OBE owns a 1930 Lagonda 2 Litre, which belonged to his great uncle. His daily driver is a 1963 Porsche 356B.


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