Car collector and racer - Maharaja of Gondal Jyotendrasinhji is no more
His Highness Maharaja Jyotendrasinhji of Gondal, passed away on 31st January, 2022. He was an avid auto enthusiast and car collector, and also known for his many feats and wins on Indian race tracks in the 1960s.
The late Maharaja of Gondal Jyotendrasinhji, with his wife Maharani Kumud Kumari Sahiba and son Yuvraj Himanshusinh at the Cartier Concourse D'Elegance
Old-timers will recall Jyoti Bapu (as I knew him) setting the race circuits at Sholavaram (Madras), Bangalore, Bombay and Poona, ablaze in his favourite Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster. This was and remains the only 300 SL in our country and instead of driving it on fancy boulevards like other affluent people, Jyoti Bapu being the true automobile enthusiast he was, chose to thrash it in the heat of competition. He also raced in his Jaguar XK 120 and 150 and some other cars.
Jyotendrasinhji and his wife with their Jaguar XK 150
I remember him telling me in one of the many conversations I had with him at his lovely palace in Gondal, that it was the rich racing history and performance of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL that inspired him to buy one. But instead of the more popular gullwing version he opted for the roadster or convertible as he liked its lines and styling more. And the fact that it made getting in and out of the car easier was another benefit.
Whenever Jyoti Bapu spoke about the 300 SL and his racing days, he would have a faraway dreamy look in his eyes. It was like he was reliving the wonderful times he had competing in races. He took great pride in the fact that the 300 SL was one of the fastest production cars of its time and also one of the world's first supercars. He loved describing the driving experience and how he used its immense torque on the track and utilized its nimble handling.
Jyotendrasinhji talking about his racing days with Prince Michael of Kent
At the inaugural Cartier Concourse D'Elegance event held in Mumbai in 2009, Jyoti Bapu proudly displayed his 300 SL (along with his Jaguar XK 140) and also spoke about his exploits in it to all the enthralled judges, including Prince Michael of Kent.
The Gondal family at the reopening of the Royal Opera House in Mumbai
Maharaja Jyotendrasinhji of Gondal will certainly be remembered for his achievements on the race track and his vast and varied car collection. But all artistically inclined citizens of Mumbai will also remember and thank him for restoring the Royal Opera House and making it a sort of 'culture capital' of Mumbai.
Maharaja Jyotendrasinhji, with his wife Maharani Kumud Kumari Sahiba at the Royal Opera House
Yes, the Royal Opera House opened its doors again in October 2016 because its owner, Maharaja Jyotendrasinhji of Gondal, commissioned its restoration and it's thanks to Jyoti Bapu's generous private patronage that the only surviving opera house in India can now reclaim the title of being one of the "Finest theatres in the East", with spectacular opera and musical concerts, theatre, dance, prestigious book launches, and other such enriching events happening there now.
He was a simple and humble man who carried himself with great grace
One thing that always impressed me about Jyoti Bapu, was his grace and simplicity. He was extremely down to earth and never ever flaunted his wealth or position, which in my view was his real fortune. In fact, many a wealthy person would do well to learn the humble ways of this late maharaja of the former princely state of Gondal in Gujarat. Goodbye Jyoti Bapu, keep racing your beloved 300 SL.
Photos courtesy Makarand Baokar and Ashish Doshi