They were swashbuckling, charming princes and they loved expensive toys. But of all the Maharajas and Nawabs in India, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh owned something none of his peers could have – a Maybach gifted by the German dictator, Adolf Hitler himself.
Not many know of the Furher’s connection to the Maharaja of Patiala. Was it diplomacy or pure friendship that prompted the German dictator to gift this uber-luxury car to the Maharaja? Let’s find out.
The princely state of Patiala was established in 1763 by Baba Ala Singh, following the decline of Mughal power, and it rose to prominence due to its support to the British during the Revolt of 1857. The vast income from the fertile plains of Punjab turned it into one of the wealthiest and most powerful kingdoms in India, and the Patiala rulers played an important role in supporting the British army during its various wars in Afghanistan, China and the Middle East.
Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala (1891-1938) had a larger-than-life persona and a reputation to match. His appetite for everything – wine, women, jewels, sport cars – was legendary. He owned more than 27 Rolls Royces and seemingly countless jewels including the famous ‘Patiala necklace’ created by Parisian jewellery house Cartier.
He was also founder of the governing body for cricket in India, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and in fact instituted the Ranji Trophy in honour of his cricketer-friend, Maharaja Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar.
Bhupinder Singh was also politically very influential. As an important member of the Chamber of Princes, he carried a great deal of influence in India as well as in Europe. He was a personal friend of the Kings of England, Spain, Sweden, Norway and many other nations. This probably explains why Adolf Hitler gifted him a Maybach car in 1935, when the Maharaja was visiting Germany. The only two other rulers who were gifted cars by Hitler were King Farouk or Egypt and the Joddha Shamsher Rana of Nepal. It is generally believed that Hitler hoped for neutrality from the Patiala Maharaja, in the event of a war between Germany and the British empire.
The story of this gift is recounted by his grandson, Raja Malvinder Singh, younger brother of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder singh, in the book The Automobiles of the Maharajas by Sharada Dwivedi. He says:
“My grandfather Maharaja Bhupinder Singh went to Germany in 1935 and asked to see Adolf Hitler who very reluctantly gave him 10 to 15 minutes. They got into conversation, one thing led to another and 15 minutes became 30 and then 60. The Fuhrer asked grandfather to stay on for lunch and then asked him to come back the next day and then a third day. On the third day, he gave him German weapons like Lignose, Walther and Luger pistols and a magnificent Maybach.
There were only six cars of this type ever made. The Maybach was a ceremonial vehicle – a monstrous car that used a 12 Zeppelin engine, which made the size of the bonnet enormous. It was a cream coloured drophead with maroon upholstery, and the boot used to open with two jump seats for the retainers.
It could seat the driver and one more in front and three at the back because it was very wide. It also had fold-up seats like the later Buicks and Cadillacs, and foot-rests for passengers. In those days, the car used to do 3 miles a gallon.
This extraordinary car was shipped to India and kept in the garages of the Moti Bagh Palace at Patiala among the Maharaja’s numerous other vehicles including the 27 Rolls Royces! Interestingly, when World War II broke out, the Maybach was hidden within the palace and never used.
After Maharaja Bhupinder Singh died, he was succeeded by his son Maharaja Yadavindra Singh. In 1947, India became independent and the princely states were amalgamated. Patiala was merged with other states to form PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union). This is when the car was first registered in Punjab, with a number plate ‘7’.
Like other princely families, the Patiala royal family too sold its vast possessions to adjust to the new times. Many things were simply gifted away, including Hitler’s gift – the Maybach.
Raja Malvinder Singh recalls how the Maybach was lost to the Patiala family in 1967:
“I think it was the only Maybach of its kind that survived the war. I was sitting one day in Patiala House, Delhi, reading a comic when my father walked in with Sardar Sukhjit Singh Majithia after a game of Golf. The ADC came and said that Sardar Satyajit Singh had come to see my father. I was minding my own business but listening to what they were saying.
“After a while, Sardar Satyajit Singh, an ADC to my father, said, ‘Sir, I have come to ask a favour of you. You have this Maybach which you have never used. Can I buy it from you? My father said, ‘I am not selling any cars, but if you want it as a gift, you can take it.’
“We had an Australian named Harvey who was in charge of the garages and Sardar Satyajit said, ‘Sir, could you give it to me in writing as Harvey won’t give it to me.’ So my father dictated a letter to stenographer, signed it and the next day Satyajit drove to Patiala and picked up the Maybach. He eventually sold it and it is now with a private collector in America and probably worth close to 5 million dollars.”
In 2015, the car was offered for auction in Denmark, by an auction house, Bonhams, and was sold to an anonymous buyer for an undisclosed sum. It is an important souvenir of princely India that is lost forever.