The Late Maharaja of Gondal and His One True Love
Images: Makarand Baokar
In the annals of India’s historic vehicle history, the erstwhile royal family of Gondal is, without any doubt, one of the most important of them all. Beginning with Maharaja Bhagvatsingh (1865-1944), the Gondal family have been one of the greatest ‘‘patrons” of the historic vehicle movement.
Although the maharaja was more famous for being concerned with the well-being of his subjects, he did take to the new-fangled toy of the rich, and over the years he acquired a Minerva, a Humber, a Clement Bayard, a de Dion, a Renault, a Wolseley and a Lanchester. The very first car that he bought was in 1907, the car being a strange beast called the New Engine, a vehicle that is still very much a part of the Gondal palace mews. One of the maharaja’s sons, Maharajkumar Bhupatsingh acquired a beautiful Delage D8 S, which still remains in the family’s collection.
When Maharaja Bhagvatsingh died in 1944, his eldest son, the 61-year-old Bhojrajsingh became the maharaja. A year after his accession, Maharaja Bhojrajsingh acquired 15 cars from the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, and that included a Mercedes-Benz 290, a 1929 Bentley 4 ½ Litres, a very rare 1930 Daimler Double Six, and a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K, amongst others.
Maharaja Bhojrajsingh also acquired several cars new, including a Buick Series 50 Super convertible, a Studebaker Commander Regal Deluxe convertible coupé, a Cadillac Series 62 convertible coupé and a rare Frazer Manhattan sedan, as well as a rare Invicta Black Prince, which was not retained. Bhojrajsingh’s younger son, the late Ghanadityasinhji Vikramsinhji, raced regularly in the main track racing circuits of India.
But it was the elder grandson of Maharaja Bhojrajsingh, Jyotendrasinhji Vikramsinhji, who went on to add and nurture the collection, acquiring a Cadillac Series 75 limousine and the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster featured here, which remains the only 300 SL in India ever, as well as the car which is the one most associated with him.
In the year 1958, “Yuvaraj” Jyotendrasinhji Vikramsinhji Jadeja was visiting Europe and he was seriously considering the possibility of either acquiring a Ferrari or a coachbuilt two-seater Bentley Continental with the headlamps styled as a JJ, like his initials. But he also thought about swinging by Germany – as a serious car guy he had heard a lot about the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.
He had heard that the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was in all likelihood the most remarkable car in the world at that point of time. As a part of the post-war resurrection, Daimler-Benz decided to go racing, developing a car from the parts of the 300 family. The 300 Sehr Leicht, or lightweight, was built around a tubular space frame with a high, wide sill that surrounded the driving compartment, which, in turn, necessitated the creation of those epochal gullwing doors. After a one-two-three at the Grand Prix of Berne, a one-two at Le Mans and a one-two-three-four at Nurburging through 1952, the SL was turned into a street legal car that became the world’s first supercar.
After 1,401 SL coupes had been made between 1954 and 1957, Daimler-Benz unveiled a fleet-footed roadster (W 198 II series). It was the company’s answer to the demand for a high-performance open-top sports car. Compared with its predecessor, the roadster had a slightly modified front end and vertically arranged headlamp lenses. It also boasted improved running gear, the most significant design difference being a modification to the coupe’s space frame which allowed lower entry sills for easier access to the roadster and doors hinged conventionally at the front.
Still sensational, but much more civilized and more practical, the 300 SL Roadster proved to be no less extraordinary. The Yuvaraj wanted to have a look at an SL Roadster, have a go at it too, if it was possible. And it was possible. A short drive later, where he easily touched 200 km/h, the Yuvaraj was smitten. He had to have one. So, he ordered a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster.
The car arrived in early 1959. A keen enthusiast, Yuvaraj Jyotendrasinhji Vikramsinhji had no intention of keeping it as a boulevard cruiser – he went racing in the 300 SL. By 1967 it had participated – and won – in more than 15 races at Sholavaram (near Chennai), Bangalore and Poona. Then in 1967 he decided to give up his racing gloves and the 300 SL Roadster was ‘retired’ for occasional use.
Recently restored by his son, Himanshusinh, as a gift for his father, the 300 SL Roadster is the only one of the 1,858 roadsters manufactured that made it to India. The subject of several magazine reviews, the single-owner Gondal 300 SL Roadster is another example of the family’s endless love affair with the automobile. Of course, for “Maharaja” Jyotendrasinhji Vikramsinhji it was his first and last true love – no other car has attracted him as much since.
With the sad passing of “Maharaja” Jyotendrasinhji Vikramsinhji on Monday, the 31stof January 2022, the historic vehicle world in India lost one of its greatest patrons and well-wisher.
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