The Silver Phantom Of Hyderabad, One Of The Most Astounding Cars To Have Left India

Images: Courtesy Louwman Museum

Hyderabad, the senior most (21-gun-salute) princely state in British India, was a 212,000 square kilometres region — bigger than England and Scotland combined — that for seven generations had been ruled by the Asaf Jahi dynasty, who used the title of Nizam, and the only Indian potentate to be bestowed the title of His Exalted Highness by the British (thanks to a £25 million donation to the British war effort during WWI and for their unflinching loyalty to the English).

Over the course of seven generations of the Nizams, Hyderabad had become one of the richest states of the world. And the Nizam’s collection of automobiles is the stuff of legends — one day soon you will see an article on that in this e-magazine. Yet the car that was seen as one of the finest in the state of Hyderabad during the 1920s and 1930s was not any of the Nizam's Rolls-Royces or Napiers, but that of his prime minister, Nawab Wali-ud-Dowla.

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The magnificent Silver Phantom of Hyderabad, which has been beautifully restored and is on view at the Louwman Museum, at The Hague, Netherlands

Wali-ud-Dowla was a scion of the Paigarh noble family, who claimed their descent from Hazrath Omar bin Al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam. The Nawab had the right education: schooling at Eton, then graduation from Cambridge and the British military school of Sandhurst, followed with a stint at the Indian military school in Dehradun. Commissioned a Second Lieutenant and attached to the 4th Queen's Own Hussars at Trimulghery, Ireland in 1905, the Nawab did his bit with the British Army till 1911, when he joined the Nizam's administration as the defence minister, followed by a stint as justice minister.

In 1924 he was appointed the Nizam's prime minister, and around that point of time he must have felt the necessity of adding another car to his fleet, in keeping with his standing. The choice, typical of the time for most Indian wealthies, narrowed down to a Rolls-Royce. And so, in December 1925, His Excellency the Nawab Wali-ud-Dowla, the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, placed an order with Rolls-Royce Ltd of Bombay for a very special example of the 'new' Phantom that Rolls-Royce had just introduced earlier that year, on May 2nd, after 28 years of making the Silver Ghost.

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A superb illustration that captures the Rolls-Royce and princely India, although this could very well be an “imagined” scenario

For their new car, the 40/50HP New Phantom, although more than a generation more modern than the Silver Ghost, Rolls-Royce preferred to stay with a straight-six, despite the company examining the possibility of either a V12 or a straight-eight. And as the Nawab wanted the very best, and perhaps impressed by the stately throne car owned by the Nizam, he commissioned Rolls-Royce's favoured coachbuilder, Barker, which had held the Royal Warrant since 1830, to clothe his Phantom.

Delivered in 1926, the silver Phantom, chassis # 71DC, was lavishly equipped: its door panels were polished teak, there were two veneered folding tables in the rear compartment and a special teak cabinet between the occasional seats held a camera and field glasses, as well as water bottles.

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Comprehensive instrumentation on the polished aluminium dashboard of the car

More spectacular though was the exterior. Left unpainted, the car was finished in polished aluminium. Looking positively impressive, the car became famous as 'the Silver Phantom of Hyderabad' and was soon regarded as the most beautiful car in the state.

The Silver Phantom was used for carrying visiting members of the British royal family, including the Prince of Wales — the future King Edward VIII — as well as the Viceroy of India when he visited Hyderabad. Apparently, the car remained the Nawab's favourite until he died on the 22nd of February 1935, whilst on a pilgrimage to Medina, Saudi Arabia.

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How can an article on a Rolls-Royce not have a pic of the Spirit of Ecstasy?

The car remained with the family and according to descendants of the Nawab, was seen as “a good luck car,” and was consequently used to carry over 100 brides to their weddings! The car was finally laid up in 1953 after 27 years of faithful service, but like many other royal cars in India, remained in the same family ownership, simply gathering dust in the Nawab's garage.

It was in 1964 that British enthusiast William Meredith-Owen, seeking to acquire an important vintage Rolls-Royce, advertised in The Times of India and received a reply from the family of the Nawab, indicating that they might consider selling. But first, Meredith-Owen had to gain the trust and friendship of Wali-ud-Dowla's family, a process that took over 200 pages of correspondence before the Rolls-Royce could return to England in 1966 for restoration to its original condition.

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Stephen Grebel spot lamps were almost par for the course for cars destined for the Indian subcontinent

The Hague-based Louwman Museum acquired the car in 2000 and since then it has been one of the crown jewels of the famous Dutch national museum — a must visit if you are in the vicinity. This “Silver Phantom of Hyderabad” was one of the cars that starred at the special “Cars of the Maharajas” show at Salon Retromobile, in Paris in 2014.

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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