1924 Vauxhall 30/98hp OE Velox Tourer

Only the very best motor car would do for the exacting ruler of Jammu and Kashmir explains Mark Beech

In 1924, one of India's most powerful rulers was in the market for a new car. The wealthy Hari Singh, Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, always demanded the best. With money apparently no obstacle, he could choose from any of a large number of cars, with prestigious Rolls-Royce and Bentley models among the possible choices. He mulled the options and then ordered the one he considered the finest: a Vauxhall 30/98hp OE Velox Tourer.

The Indian car aficionado has been followed by many knowledgeable enthusiasts who declare the OE to be the best British sporting model of the Vintage period. The Maharaja's customized model, undoubtedly one of the best examples that still exists, is being offered in The Bond Street Sale by Bonhams on December 1 with an estimate of £330,000 to £390,000.

The Vauxhall company raced at Grand Prix and Tourist Trophy level before the First World War. While Bentley was known for Le Mans victories, the 30/98 could beat 3-Liter Bentleys on cross-country journeys thanks to its gutsy 4.2 liter engine coupled with a comparatively lightweight factory-built coachwork.

"It was a better car with better performance," Bonhams specialist Sholto Gilbertson says of the Vauxhall on offer. "It's the best 30/98 we have offered, without doubt. It also has the most comprehensive history file, with press cuttings, photographs, letters and much more. Its story is fascinating."

The 30/98 is an evolution of the 20hp Prince Henry car from 1910, which was initially created at Vauxhall, based in Luton, by its Chief Engineer Laurence Pomeroy. In 1913, motor sport competitor Joseph Higginson asked Vauxhall to make a vehicle capable of winning that year's Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb in Worcestershire, an event that still runs today. The 30/98 obliged, setting a hill record in the process which lasted 15 years. Its 100bhp was transmitted via a four-speed gearbox to the rear axle, pushing the top speed to more than 100mph in the stripped-down racing versions. By 1923 the OE had overhead valves and front brakes. Only 312 examples of the whole series were made. This latest one, with green trim, is completely symmetrical. The Maharaja was a particular man. It is not known why he was so set on symmetry, but the Maharaja insisted on a handbrake on the passenger's side and a door on the driver's side. These were both non-standard, though they always were non-functioning: the door is sealed shut and the second brake handle is just for show. The tourer also had a special V split windscreen.

The Maharaja was born in 1895 and educated by the British military. He was a progressive ruler, banning child marriage, making basic education compulsory and allowing lower castes to enter all places of worship. With the end of British rule and the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947, he acceded to India despite the majority of Jammu and Kashmir's population being Muslim. This decision provoked the first Indo-Pakistan war.

At the time of the division the Maharaja reportedly handed the car to Lt-Col R. Byrne of Peshawar in thanks for the training of his Palace guards. The colonel wrote to Autocar to say he had paid a token sum of less than £150 and the Vauxhall had "been laid up for practically all the time and has done to date less than 7,000 miles." The officer was unable to return the 30/98 to India after partition and reputedly sold it to an artist who kept it on blocks in a garage in Lahore until 1954 when it was bought by an American collector and shipped from Karachi to Boston. (Gilbertson points out that the relevant shipping paperwork is on file.) The OE was sold on to Edgar L. Roy, President of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, who fully restored it. Finally the righthand- drive car returned to the U.K. in 1980.

The Vauxhall's first British owner, Gerald Batt of Farnham, wrote a long letter shortly after acquiring the tourer. He noted: "The standard Velox body is completely polished aluminum, which must have kept many men happy at Fords in Michigan, where the car has been displayed." The car had been loaned to the Ford Museum for its sports-car section and to the Larz Anderson Museum.

By 1991 it was owned by Judy Daniels, wife of master watchmaker and car collector, the late George Daniels. Bonhams sold much of the Daniels's collection in 2012, including a record-breaking, ex-Tim Birkin, single-seater 4½-Liter Supercharged Bentley for £5,042,000.

The Vauxhall OE production ceased in 1927 as it was overtaken by Bentley and Sunbeam rivals. The Vauxhall name faded. Even so, in 1964, Automobile Quarterly said it was "affectionately known as the last of the Edwardians and boastfully decreed as the first and perhaps the best British sports car." This 30/98 is striking in its polished metal and still as beautiful as when it graced the sweeping carriageway outside the Maharaja's palace.

Mark Beech is an author, journalist and broadcaster

Sale: The Bond Street Sale
101 New Bond Street, London
Saturday 1 December
Enquiries: Sholto Gilbertson
+44 20 7468 5809

  1. Sholto Gilbertson
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 5809
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5802

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