This great automotive brand started selling cars under the Rolls-Royce badge in 1904, but according to official company history, the brand may have connections with India that date back a few years before the first cars were sold.
Continuing legacy: A Silver Ghost outside Rolls-Royce’s Indian depot. Photographs by Rolls-Royce
In 1902, Lord and Lady Llangattock, parents of co-founder Charles Stuart Rolls, visited Delhi before the Coronation Durbar in 1903. “They must have told their son Charles,” says a page from Rolls-Royce history, “of the burgeoning interest in motoring amongst the fabulously wealthy Indian potentates.”
In 1906, less than five years after the first automobiles were shipped into the country, a catalogue called the The Motor Car in India was published in Mumbai. The book mentioned 70 international car brands and their agents in India, including the first mention of a Rolls-Royce model, the 30hp, 4-cylinder available from “C.S. Rolls Co., 14 Conduit Street, London”.
By the time of the next Durbar in Delhi, in 1911, Rolls-Royce was a well-established brand. So much so that the government of India ordered eight identical Silver Ghost models for the coronation ceremony. That year, a team of drivers was sent to India, under the stewardship of J. Inman Emery and S.G. Wheeler, to open a depot on Mayo Road, now Bhaurao Patil Marg, in Mumbai.
For the next three decades, the depot oversaw a booming market that lapped up cars. According to one estimate, by 1945, Rolls-Royce sold some 800 cars, more than a few finished in gold and other fine materials. Company records cite a fascinating list of accessories designed for the Indian market: purdah glass in formal limousines, sirens, thermos flasks, Stephen Grebel hunting lamps, gun racks, ivory steering wheels and control knob, and even a special servant’s seat.
With the onset of World War II, car shipments ceased and the depots were closed. Today, Rolls-Royce is once again selling its fine automobiles to the country’s well-heeled, re-establishing a rich, historic and sometimes flamboyant relationship.