NOT a Rolls Royce used to clean streets in India

The story goes that an Indian king or maharaja during his visit to London in the 1930s, was so angry about a snooty shop assistant at a Rolls Royce dealership who assumed this customer wasn’t rich enough to afford such a luxury car, that the maharaja bought ten of them on the spot, had them shipped to India where he then used them to clean streets with.
Of course the media wrote about this and Rolls Royce was terribly embarrassed.
The anecdote is so popular, there are several pictures that are regularly shared online, like this one;

When I first started researching this story alarm bells start ringing almost immediately when I realised that the anecdote is connected to several Maharajas, such as Nizam of Hyderabad, Maharaja Kishan Singh of Bharatpur, Maharaja of Patiala (Bhupinder Singh), Nawab of Bahawalpur and maybe others too.
When even the internet can’t even agree on which person actually plays the main role, you know something is not quite right.
Another detail that keeps changing is how many cars in total were bought, five, ten, all the cars in the showroom, all the cars in the region…
Why is there so much unclarity?

Let’s assume the maharaja in question is the one in the photo above, as he seems to be the most popular candidate.
This is Sir Jai Singh Prabhakar GCSI GCIE (14 June 1882 – 19 May 1937), Maharaja of the princely state of Alwar, who had been spending a lot of time in Europe after having been exiled from India in 1933.
Yes, he was no longer living in India when all this supposedly happened, which makes one wonder why he’d have the cars shipped there and if he still had much to say about in what manner the streets were cleaned there.

But yes, he was a real maharaja en he was in Europe during the 1930s, so far so good.
This is what he looked like during a visit to London in the 1930s;

But can you imagine him just wandering into a car dealership without any entourage, looking like a commoner?
Although a foreign royal in exile, he was still a member of the upper-classes, the British had made him a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire after his services during the First World War.
Even if he, for some reason, decided to ditch his staff, leave his fancy hotel dressed like some average chap and wander into an exclusive store, why would he be surprised or angry at someone judging and treating him based on his looks?
As someone of his standing and upbringing he would have expected or at least understood being treated like an office clerk or civil servant if he looked like one.
He was part of the class system, he had experienced privilege, he would not have been shocked at this kind of treatment.
The situation may sound weird to modern people, we live in a time when millionaires go around wearing jeans and T-shirts and want to be treated like everybody else, or claim they do.
Maybe it was because he was Indian but even then he would have to dress like a regular Joe to be treated badly because rich Indians were famous for buying Rolls Royces and other luxury cars, no salesman would risk losing out of such a sale, even if he was a raging racist.

Still, it technically could have happened, maybe the rich important ruler did go out in ordinary clothes, maybe he did try to buy a Rolls, maybe the shop assistant was rude… but there’s no evidence for it ever happening… and Rolls Royces weren’t really sold from showrooms…

I’ve looked through tons of old newspapers but there’s no mention of this anywhere, not till the 1980s when it started appearing in books like ‘Reader’s Digest facts & fallacies’ and other publications with “fun facts” and peculiar stories… but never any sources… and that’s of course a massive red flag. If it was even a tiny bit true, someone, somewhere, would have written about it decades earlier.

The same goes for any of the other maharajas the story is linked to.

So what about the other photo, the one of the car?
It’s totally unrelated, for starters it’s not even a Rolls Royce, but most likely an 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan.
On top of that the steering wheel is on the left side, while in Britain and India cars have theirs on the right side.
And although this isn’t an exact science, the people and the background also don’t really match the setting of India. Besides, if you’re using regular cars to clean the roads, why not tie brushes along the entire bumper in stead of just in front of the wheels?

I found the oldest version of the photo on the internet and it had a big clue written on it; מתגוננים נגד מסמרים
Which is hebrew and means; ‘protecting against nails’.

In the archives I found a photo of another car with brushes also covering the tires, this photo was taken in 1936 during the Arab revolt in Palestine and the idea was that this technique would help the driver avoid glass, spikes, tacks and other rubble.
Which makes a lot more sense than cleaning the streets in India.

If the story had been even remotely true, there would have been a trace of it in the newspapers, after all, why would Rolls Royce be that upset if the media completely ignored it?
And surely there would have been at least one real photo of these Rolls Royces being used in this manner!

The origin of this story may have been when the Maharaja of Bharatpur allegedly threatened to convert his Rolls Royces into garbage collectors when the car manufacturer delayed sending mechanics to fix his cars.
This sounds a lot more believable, but I’m yet to find actual evidence for it.

So, conclusion; there is no evidence whatsoever for any Maharaja using any Rolls Royce to clean streets with or collect garbage and there are no photos of this happening either.
The story is a myth.


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Picture(s) found online, used for (re-)educational purposes only.
I do not own the copyrights to these images, I only share them here for educational purposes to try and make sure the real story behind it becomes known and people will stop spreading false information.
If the copyright owner objects to the sharing here, kindly contact me and I shall alter the article.
If you’re interested in using any of the images here get in touch with the copyright owners mentioned in the article.
Feel free to contact me with questions.

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