The Rolls-Royce Phantom I 17EX: To Star at Villa d'Este
Images: Makarand Baokar
With the highly competitive Bentleys garnering all the headlines in the mid-1920s, and eventually winning at Le Mans and stealing all the thunder, Sir Henry Royce decided that Rolls-Royce too needed to look at acquiring a more sporting image. Thus, the task was outlined to develop a series of cars that would explore sporting possibilities.
The first in the series had the chassis number 10EX. Based on the new Phantom I ladder frame chassis, the 10EX received a specially tuned version of the 7668cc overhead valve engine that the standard car had. The car though, was hardly quicker, as the open tourer body by coachbuilder Barker was just too heavy.
No doubt the bodywork department needed to be re-looked and Rolls-Royce designer H.I.F. Evernden was tasked with redesigning the 10EX. Overall the car was lowered, and 10EX received a lowered steering wheel, new rear section, new wings, and a lowered windscreen. The re-done 10EX was noticeably quicker.
Royce was pleased with the result, and it was decided that three more ‘experimental’ cars were to be built. The three that followed were chassis numbers 15EX, 16EX and 17EX, with bodies by Hooper, Barker and Jarvis of Wimbledon respectively.
15EX was sent off to Europe for extensive high-speed testing, but it met with a catastrophic accident in France. 16EX spent most of its life in the United Kingdom, changing hands several times and eventually finding its way to the United States, and is now with a collector.
17EX travelled the world. Noticeably quicker than 10EX, 17EX was extensively tested before the car was sold to the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh Bahadur, just before Christmas of 1928. The Kashmir princely family was known to be a good client of Rolls-Royce, with at least 26 cars finding their way to them over time. Hari Singh kept the car until 1932, then sold it to a certain Ram Narain of Kanpur.
A few months later, P.K. Mitter of Calcutta, a well-known connoisseur of very exclusive cars (including a Duesenberg and an Isotta Fraschini; the latter being sold to finance the acquisition of Rolls-Royce’s experimental car) acquired 17EX and he used it for a dozen years. The Mitter family also owned two Duesenbergs, as well as a pair of Mercedes-Benz SS, which were the fastest cars in the world then.
The Rolls-Royce was sold to Greta Devi of Allahabad in 1944, and at some point, the Rajasaheb of Bhadri (a minor princely state in central India) became the owner. Sometime in the 1960s, news of the car’s existence reached the ear of a keen collector, Protap Roy, a scion of the princely family of Santosh (in present-day Bangladesh). It took Roy a few years of trying before he managed to persuade the Rajasaheb to part with 17EX, which was in poor shape, in 1967.
Protap Roy, a true-blue aficionado, was one of the ultimate authorities on Indian historic vehicles; he also had a reputation of having the uncanny ability to track down rare and extraordinary cars across India. Though 17EX stayed in the ownership of Protap Roy for several years, in the early 1970s, the former sold the car to Christopher Renwick, who, in turn, had the car spirited out of India, eventually selling 17EX to Italian enthusiast Dr. Veniero Molari in 1976.
Molari decided to entrust the job of restoring 17EX to Gianni Pena. The car changed hands once again in 1998, acquired by Dutch enthusiast Victor Muller, who would go on to relaunch the historic Dutch marque Spyker.
After extensive restoration work, 17EX was eventually ready for the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, just in time for Rolls-Royce’s 100th anniversary. But that outing was a disaster: the engine was not quite sorted out, it could not hold water, and there was smoke everywhere, with the car stalling.
Another rebuild later, 17EX was back in the limelight when it won the Trofeo Rolls-Royce as the most elegant Rolls-Royce at the 2006 edition of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, in Italy. Three years later, on the 29th of October 2009, 17EX was put on the auction block, at RM Auctions’ Cars of London event.
The new owner was Vienna-based enthusiast Alexander Schaufler, who believes in using the handful of extremely exclusive cars that he owns. Since late 2009, Schaufler has competed in more than a dozen road events with 17EX, starting with the 2010 edition of the Flying Scotsman.
Alexander Schaufler also entered 17EX for the 2011 edition of the Rallye des Alpes, a recreation of the Alpenfahrt, or more correctly, the International Alpine Rally (or the Alpine Trial as it was better known later), which was started in 1929 by the automobile clubs of Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and Austria, and which morphed into the Coupes des Alpes after the Second World War.
17EX has also been starring at several concours d’elégances too. It was back at Pebble Beach in 2012 for the Maharaja Cars class, and then once again at Villa d’Este in 2013, followed by a starring role at Salon Retromobile in Paris, for Les Voitures des Maharajahs, in February 2014. It has also been on display at the Balatonfüred Concours d´Elegance and then at the Chantilly Arts & Elegance in September 2016. And now, it is all set to wow the visitors to the forthcoming concours d'elegance at Villa d'Este.
Arguably, one of the most famous amongst all the great pre-War Rolls-Royces, 17EX has had a fabulous life so far.
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