The tiger hunting Rolls-Royce: When a maharaja goes to hunt, he does it with style

By Paul Pinkerton
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Rolls-Royces are probably one of the most luxurious cars made, but it turns out one of them was transformed into a mean hunting machine. This rare customized 1925 Phantom I is as deadly as it is luxurious – it came equipped with an elephant rifle and a hand-cranked machine gun.

This amazing 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom Torpedo Sports Tourer was originally commissioned by India’s Umed Singh II, also known as Sahib Bahadur.

Umed Singh II was the Maharaja of Kotah from 1889 until his death in 1940. Back in the 1920s, the Maharajas were some of the few people who could afford to customize a car to this amount of detail. As a great ruler, it was expected of him to have the best of everything, and he really did have it all.

The Maharaja was hugely passionate big game hunter. He enjoyed every opportunity he had to hunt on the grounds of his enormous estate, and often accommodated and hosted Monarchs, world leaders and industrial magnates on his property.

His guests would come mainly for the hunting, and for this reason Singh needed a fancy hunting car to show off with. The Maharaja decided to go wild with the car.

In 1925 Singh contacted Barker and Co., Ltd. of London, the best coachbuilder for Rolls Royce chassis at the time. He wanted them to outfit a Rolls-Royce New Phantom (aka Phantom I) that would serve as the main hunting car on his estate. The car was completed on August 8, 1925. It was originally painted in medium gray, with black crocodile leather interior. They nicknamed this Phantom Torpedo Sports Tourer “the Tiger Car” because it was mainly used for hunting tigers.

The ex-Maharaja of Kotah “Tiger Car”,1925 Rolls-Royce New Phantom Torpedo Sports Tourer Chassis no. 23 RC Engine no. CT 15. Source: Bonhams

Planned as a big game hunting car, this Phantom had all the things a hunter needs.  Here are some of the included features: two large Stephen Grebel searchlights installed on the car — one at the front, and one at the rear; extra-tall tires for rough terrain; low gearing ratio to help the vehicle make its way through mud and brush.

They even installed a nice snake’s head bulb horn. The car was powered by a standard New Phantom OHV 8.0-liter six-cylinder engine.

The snake’s head bulb horn. Source: Bonhams

The main highlight of the Tiger Car is its armaments. It looks like this crazy vehicle is ready for a real battle. It has a crazy arsenal of weapons on board: a double-barreled Howdah pistol hangs from the side of the car, useful if an animal decides to come closer, and two lockable vertical racks with an assortment of vintage big game rifles, bird guns, and shotguns.

In case an elephant was in the vicinity, there was a big Lantaka cannon mounted on the rear bumper, and as if all of this isn’t enough to kill a small army, the car tows a carriage-mounted Bira .450 caliber hand-cranked machine gun. It was considered to be a suitable weapon for hunting Bengal tigers.

A look on the complete car, together with the carriage-mounted machine gun. Source: Bonhams

Even after all these years, the Phantom is in good condition. Since its completion in 1925, it has been refurbished twice. The car has changed owners a few times over the years. The Tiger Car remained in India until 1968 when it was bought by Christopher Renwick. In 1984, the car was acquired by U.S. Open Champion golfer Gene “The Machine” Littler.

Later, in 1987, Northern Californian car collector Rubin Jurman acquired the Rolls Royce from Littler. In 2011 was appraised for a Bonham’s Auction at between $750,000 to $1 million. The car is currently for sale in the gallery at The Auto Collections in the Quad Resort & Casino on the strip in Las Vegas.

A frontal view of the car, showing the Stephen Grebel searchlight in the middle. Source: Bonhams
A look at the back end of the car showing the elephant gun mounted on the bumper. Source: Bonhams
The Bira .450 caliber hand-cranked machine gun. Source: Bonhams

Jurman did a detailed second restoration. During the restoration, he decided to repaint the car in its current red color. According to vintage car experts, the recent color change damages the value of this magnificent and one of a kind car, meaning it probably won’t fetch more than $1 million.