Rolls-Royce cars from the 1920s often roll into auctions. But they rarely do it while towing a hand-cranked machine gun, or with an elephant gun mounted to the rear bumper.
Such a car is headed to auction this weekend. A rare, 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Maharaja "Tiger car" is headed to Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction. The annual event, now in its sixth year, runs Sept. 26-28.
Prized by collectors for their rarity and extravagant custom designs and accouterments, Maharaja cars hark back to a period in colonial India when money was no object for this ruling class. During the first half of the 20th century, the maharajas were known to order their cars with a vast array of customized bodywork and themes.
"They come from that royal type of provenance, when money was no object and cars were custom-made for the buyers," Craig Jackson, Barrett-Jackson’s chief executive, said.
Favored brands among this noble set included Bugatti, Daimler, Duesenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Maybach and Rolls-Royce.
This particular car is a 1925 Rolls. A Phantom I model, it’s powered by an eight-liter, straight six-cylinder engine that’s paired with a four-speed manual transmission.
It was ordered new by Umed Singh II, who served as the maharaja of Kotah from 1889 until 1940. Originally intended as a vehicle for hunting, the Rolls was ordered with custom flourishes, including a searchlight mounted to the front and rear of the car to startle big game, a nickel-plated snake horn, extra-tall tires for better ground clearance, and lockable gun racks.
Later, a variety of guns were added to the car. This included a massive .450-caliber, hand-cranked machine gun towed behind the car, a double-barrel pistol, and an elephant gun mounted to the rear bumper.
Jackson said he expected the car to sell for between $500,000 and $1 million when it crosses the auction block Saturday. It is being sold at an undisclosed reserve price.
Whether it will command that price remains to be seen. This very car was offered by Bonhams in 2011 and failed to find a buyer. This was probably due to several key factors that deter car collectors for whom originality is key.
For one, though the brilliant red paint may certainly look fetching on the showroom floor, the car was delivered new in medium gray. That it’s not an accurate representation of the original specification hurts its overall value.
Then there are the guns. They certainly make for interesting cocktail party conversation, but few of them were originally delivered with the car. This includes the elephant cannon and the hand-cranked machine gun.
Nevertheless, Jackson was confident it would at least reach the $500,000 mark.
"It only takes two people to get it there," he pointed out.
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