From the early days of motoring, Rolls-Royce cars were favorites of the Maharajahs of India. The rulers of the pre-independence princely states had considerable wealth and were inclined to spend it, on clothes, jewelry, royal palaces and fine motor cars. And so it was in 1934 that His Highness Dharmendrasinhji Lakhajiraj, the Thakore Sahib (Lord) of Rajkot, decided to replace his 20-year-old Rolls-Royce with a new one - not just any Rolls-Royce, but one that has become renowned as the "Star of India", named for the famous 563-carat star sapphire.
Thakore Sahib Dharmendrasinhji Lakhajiraj ordered a Rolls-Royce Phantom II to replace the 1909 Barker-bodied Silver Ghost open-drive landaulet (chassis number 60797) that he had inherited from his father. Chassis 188PY was duly completed at the Rolls-Royce works at Derby and dispatched to London coachbuilders Thrupp & Maberly Ltd. for a handsome and striking All-Weather Cabriolet body.
The Phantom II was the last model designed by Henry Royce prior to his death in 1933. Introduced in September 1929, it replaced the New Phantom, which we retrospectively call "Phantom I". The Phantom II differed from its predecessor both in its appearance and in its chassis, although the overhead valve 7,668 cc engine remained much the same.
His Highness's new car was painted saffron ochre, a shade which symbolised purity, while the bonnet and wings were left in polished aluminium. The interior was trimmed in ochre leather, and the wood dashboard was marbled with saffron paste. It had steerable driving lights and two small lights that flashed orange, signalling that the road should be cleared for its royal passenger. There were searchlights on each side, with smaller lights attached to the windshield, each with a mirror on its back side. The Rajkot state crest appeared on the doors and side windows along with the motto "Dharmi praja raja," meaning "An impartial ruler of men of all faiths". The back of the front seats has a half moon and full moon design made of ivory and dark semi-precious stones, with two small ivory elephant heads in the middle.
The reign of Thakore Shri Dharmendrasinhji Lakhajiraj, however, was not a happy one. His lavish lifestyle and heavy taxation of his subjects vexed the citizens, who did not appreciate his collection of fine cars. There were many protests, strikes and demonstrations. Finally, Thakore Sahib Dharmendrasinhji died early in 1940, while hunting lions in the Sasan Gir forest.
Little is known of the Star of India from this period until the 1960s. The name is thought to have been bestowed in modern times, but it has become indelibly linked to the car. In 1965, British collector Bill Meredith-Owens found the car while adventuring in Rajkot. He immediately wanted it, but negotiations for its acquisition and export took three years. Once expatriated, it became the star attraction at his museum at Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.
Meredith-Owens had Wood and Pickett carry out a general overhaul in 1970, after which he and his wife took the car on a lengthy tour through Sweden and Norway. In 1977, it was a participant in the great Rolls-Royce parade at Windsor Castle to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1989, after Bill Meredith-Owens' death, his heirs sold the car collection. After purchase by a German doctor, the Star of India came to the notice of Rolls-Royce collector Hans-Günter Zach, who purchased it in 2000.
In 2001, the Star of India suffered an engine fire that affected parts of the front body area and interior. Expert repairs were carried out, making the car ready for Techno Classica in Essen in April 2002 and a return trip to England later that month for Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee.
Source: RM Auctions.
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