Swan Car: Bizarre, Weird...or Just Quirky?
It was a car in shape of a swan, which would hiss and throw boiling water from its nose to clear the streets of pedestrians! There was also an unsubstantiated rumor, mentioned in contemporary accounts of the 1920s and 30s, that if the Maharaja was pleased with someone, it would even spring out an egg of gold, causing a stampede in the streets!
– It was said that the Swan car actually sprung out gold eggs, if the Maharaja was pleased!
‘The Swan Car’ was originally commissioned for a wealthy British engineer, Robert Nicholl ‘Scotty’ Matthewson. Maybe Matthweson was obsessed with swans, as his Calcutta mansion was called ‘Swan Park’ as well.
In 1909, Matthewson travelled to England and placed an order with JW Brooke & Company of Lowestoft, Suffolk to build a car in shape of a swan. The car arrived in Calcutta in 1910 and caused a sensation. Matthewson would take the car for a ride to Maidan Park in Calcutta and there the car had a special duct at the back which would discharge whitewash on the road, to make it more realistic, as if the Swan had pooped! The gold egg was said to have been discharged from the same duct. The car was also equipped with eight organ pipes and a keyboard for sound effects for a horn.
Soon after, the car caught the eye of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha, a ruler of a small princely state in the prosperous belt of Punjab and was acquired by him for a huge sum. The Maharaja would go on rides in this car with his family. In 1919, he even commissioned a Cygnet car for his children. Sadly, his subjects could not distinguish between a swan and a duck and would call him ‘Bathak Raja’ or the ‘Duck King’.
Maharaja Ripudaman Singh was deposed by the British in 1923 for maladministration, but the car remained with the Nabha family for the next seven decades. It was sold by the Nabha royal family in 1990 and was purchased by Louwman Museum in Netherlands, where the car is still on display.