Have you heard about the fabulously wealthy Indian ruler who was snubbed at a Rolls Royce showroom? When the salesman did not recognize the distinguished visitor and dismissed him as someone who could not possibly afford one of the expensive vehicles, it was an insult that could not be overlooked. The visitor bought all of the cars on the spot and had them shipped to India to be used to collect garbage. As a result, Rolls Royce’s reputation in India was destroyed, as people associated the once-coveted brand name with garbage.
What a perfect story for Commonplace Fun Facts! Our overworked writers rejoiced at a story that is fun, funny, and surprising. A quick internet search provided countless confirmations of the veracity of the story. For once, it looked like deadlines could be met without having to resort to the use of whips, cattle prods, and threats against loved ones.
Just one itty bitty obstacle stood in the way of pushing the “PUBLISH” button: the story just didn’t pass the smell test. No, we’re not talking about the aroma from the luxury garbage vehicles. Something about the story just didn’t feel right.
We also came across the sage wisdom of Socrates, who warned, “Άκου, Μάπετ! Μην πιστεύετε όλα όσα διαβάζετε στο διαδίκτυο!” If Google Translate is to be believed, he was telling us, “Listen, you Muppet! Don’t believe everything you read on the internet!”
With this in mind, we sent our writers back to do some more research. What they found made the veracity of the tale evaporate as quickly as our writers’ hope of an easy assignment.
According to the popular account, Jai Singh Prabhakar, the Maharajah of Alwar, visited London around 1920. He did not want to be recognized, so he dressed in the casual attire of a middle-class Englishman. He came upon a Rolls Royce showroom and went inside to learn more about the vehicles and possibly purchase one. The salesman (or security guard, depending on the version) did not view him as a potential customer because of his appearance.
Feeling insulted, the Maharaja bought all six of the vehicles on display. He had them shipped to India where he had them used for garbage collection. Because of this, when the people of India think of Rolls Royce, they don’t associate it with luxury; they think of it as something only suitable for garbage collection.
In some accounts, the story continues that the top leadership of Rolls Royce sent a telegram to the Maharajah, apologizing profusely for the conduct of its employee. The telegram pleaded for him to stop using the cars for garbage collection and sent him an additional six cars as compensation for the inconvenience. Satisfied that a lesson had been learned, Jai Singh granted their request.
As “proof” of this story, you will find pictures of Rolls Royces with brooms affixed to the front.
So what is dubious about this story? Well, for one thing, the exact same thing seemed to happen to Nizam of Hyderabad. It also happened to Maharaja Kushan Singh of Bharatpur. And wouldn’t you know it, but the same thing happened to the Maharajah of Patiala! Apparently, Rolls Royce needs to do some serious employee training about not insulting people from India; you never know when an Indian royal will show up incognito. Also, members of Indian royalty probably should consider doing business with other automobile manufacturers.
Or maybe the whole thing is just an urban legend.
But what about the brooms on the cars? That much is true, but it had nothing to do with their alleged use as garbage vehicles. In the days when roads were in less than ideal condition for motor vehicles and when tires were much less durable than they are today, brooms were often used to get harmful debris out of the way.
Rolls Royce cars have long attracted the attention of the wealthy of India. Many of the vehicles purchased in the 1920s have been restored and are on display in museums throughout India. There is no indication that Rolls Royce’s reputation was ever in doubt.
Even so, you have to admit that it’s a good story. It probably ranks up there with the guy who was killed when he was struck by a bullet twenty years after he fired it. As much as we’d like to believe it, we have to declare it BUSTED.