Simon Kidston Back from concours-judging in India, Simon muses the merits of using automobiles as rolling thrones
Simon resists the urge to put his hand in his pocket for a pair of glamorous classics in Arizona, and sits on the Throne of motoring excess in Hyderabad
So that was Arizona: a whirlwind of auctions to open the season but, if truth be told, nothing you’d really want to take home. Conclusions? A dealer joked that Ferrari Daytonas should now come with a certificate of unsaleability, and the recent frenzy for Porsche 993 GT2S seemed to evaporate just as suddenly as it had erupted. ‘Blue chip’ pre-war sports cars such as the delicate Bugatti Type 35 and Alfa Romeo 6C 1750, or thundering Mercedes-benz S-type and rival Bentley 4½ Litre confounded those who think the glory days of this market are numbered, showing there’s life yet in the wealthy silver-haired tycoons (and humble me) who underpin demand for them.
Actually, I was briefly tempted by two unsold cars: a Rolls-royce Phantom II dual-cowl tourer, and an art-deco-inspired Bentley 3½ Litre Sedanca Coupé. You could own the pair for the price of a massproduced Dino. ‘But what would you do with them?’ was a valid question from a friend. I can think of lots of things except easily find a buyer when you’ve had your fun, so I kept my powder dry. Probably for a Dino.
My travelogue continues days later at 39,000 feet between the palaces of Jodhpur and Hyderabad in India. The Maharajah of the former still lives in the domed 347-room digs built by his grandfather, whose car collection is kept at the ready by uniformed retainers who have never heard of Pebble Beach and probably have no notion there is any better way to travel than in His Highness’s Phantom II.
Tonight, upon arrival in Hyderabad to judge the Cartier Travel with Style Concours d’elegance, the most exotic and almost spiritual gathering of its kind, the contender I’m most looking forward to seeing was also built for the local ruler, a class whose one-upmanship in their heyday put Europe’s merely wealthy to shame. The ‘Throne Car’ is possibly the least politically correct mode of transport ever, but when you’re the Nizam of Hyderabad, said to be the world’s richest man and the owner of everything you survey, why not?
These days the Nizam’s heirs spend more time in London’s fashionable Notting Hill Gate and Eaton Square, so the Throne Car doesn’t get out quite as much. It is, after all, a Rolls-royce Silver Ghost – ‘The best car in the world’ – with coachwork designed to carry, er, one VIP, at paradewaving pace in silk-upholstered luxury. If you think modern supercars are pampered, this centenarian has covered barely 400 miles. Yes, from new.
And now it’s all over. We’re taxiing for take-off just a few hours after awarding the silverware to the stars of India’s young, new collecting vanguard. The Throne Car dazzled, but a humbler contender unexpectedly stole the show for me. Discovered as a rusting hulk under a hedge in Assam and unrecognisable as the only Bristol 400 sold to India, it was bought for a few hundred pounds. No sane person would have touched it, but there’s a deity here who inspires their ‘no obstacles’ attitude: Ganesh. Last night the Bristol roared on to the winner’s ramp to receive the Resurrection award. Even more remarkable? The whole project took eight months. ‘Less time than it takes to make a baby,’ smiles the owner. Incredible India. Simon Kidston is a classic car consultant, concours judge and event presenter. His own classics include a Lamborghini Miura SV and Porsche 911 RS 2.7.
Getting up close and personal with the Throne Car was a highlight of Simon’s visit to Hyderabad