It's Genius! A Prince Marries a Guiness and Packs Up the Rolls -Royce for a Life in Africa

For sale with H&H Classics at IWM Duxford on June 22nd 2022

16/05/2022    

1926 Rolls-Royce 20hp Fixed Head Cabriolet with coachwork by Hooper Estimate £35,000 - £45,000

There can be few cars today that carry the sheer freight of romance attached to this Canary Yellow and Black 1926 Rolls-Royce 20hp fixed head cabriolet with its stunning coachwork by Hooper, for sale at auction with H&H Classics on June 22nd at Duxford.

The limousine was a part of the Prince and Princess de Mahe's retinue when they relocated to Kenya in 1947 where they lived until 1970. Many years later and back in the UK it was invited to participate in HM The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations at Windsor Castle (2002) and the Centenary of Rolls-Royce festivities at Goodwood (2004). This car has lived in the top drawer for all of its life!

Its second owner, Prince John Bryant Digby de Mahé, an officer in the British Navy who married into the Guinness dynasty, chose to relocate to Kenya after World War II taking the 20hp with him. He used the car to commute between his horse stud in the Kenyan Highlands and the capital, Nairobi, as well as for boarding school runs. Trailing clouds of dust the Fixed Head Cabriolet proved surprisingly adept on unmade roads. Eventually, it was replaced with something more practical.

Taking delivery on 14th June 1926, the renowned London coachbuilder Hooper & Co proceeded to clothe chassis GUK20 as a Fixed Head Cabriolet. Although many observers would have termed it a Sedanca de Ville, the resultant four-door body (number 6586) was undeniably elegant and well proportioned. Originally supplied new to Ralph Hawkes of Hawkes & Son, the renowned music publishing firm, it was at that point that it was acquired by its second owner Prince de Mahé in 1937, departing for Africa a decade later.

Damian Jones of H&H comments: “This is a handsome and delightfully patinated Twenty with a rich history that few cars can claim.”

In and out of Africa and back to Belgravia

Following ownership by Prince de Mahé, the Hooper was bought by Peter Stearn, the Rolls-Royce was much enjoyed as part of the burgeoning African old car scene. Indeed, the car still carries plaques for the 1962 Nile Centenary Run and the 1963 Nairobi-Nakuru Rally.

In 1970 the car was tracked down by inveterate automotive super-sleuth Colin Crabbe, a legendary eccentric and classic car hunter in the remotest parts of the world, floating some down rivers on rafts to extricate them from jungles. The 20hp was duly repatriated to the UK and sold to the vendors (good friends of his) the following year for the princely sum of £925. Very much part of the family for the past fifty-one years, the first entry in the Fixed Head Cabriolet’s running log reads: “7/8/71, on-road, with children, round Belgravia and to the Park (to feed the ducks) – six gallons, £2.30”, while a later one notes: “running well at 50mph, but the handling getting a little delicate at speed”. Subsequently entrusted to Crabbe’s Antique Automobiles for a new roof covering and retrimmed interior, the Rolls-Royce was also checked over mechanically and found to need nothing beyond new tyres! In pre-DVLA days, the London Vehicle Licensing Office proved most obliging by adding the 20hp’s existing Nairobi registration number ‘H 8055’ to its system (the H-series having also been an early London issue).

Never allowed to deteriorate to the point of requiring total restoration, GUK 20 is even thought to retain much of its original Yellow paintwork. That said, the following works have been carried out over time if only to ensure the car could participate in the vendors’ annual Boxing Day picnic (regardless of weather): Chassis and running gear overhauled – John Foy, Royston: wire wheels refurbished – MWS; electrics refreshed and rewired in conduits – Palace House workshop; windscreen and related items re-nickel-plated – Hoddesdon Platers; engine and ancillaries full bench overhaul – Arthur Archer; gearbox full bench refurbishment – PH workshop; wings repaired/repainted and running boards remade – PH workshop. Very much an oily rag car, ‘H 8055’ has not had much active use in recent years. Starting readily and running well during our recent photography session, the Rolls-Royce is awash with delightful details such as an elaborate curved division, period Bosch windscreen wiper motor, single fold-out rear jump seat, multi-piece windscreen, scuttle vents and triple door hinges (the central rears stamped with the body number: 6586). Invited to participate in HM The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations at Windsor Castle (2002) and the Centenary of Rolls-Royce festivities at Goodwood (2004), the 20hp has otherwise been enjoyed for family events and touring. A much-loved member of the vendors’ household since 1971, GUK20 is only reluctantly being offered for sale due to its owners’ lack of storage. Accompanied by a large history file, partial set of undertray, new old stock tyres (x2) and assorted literature.

Full details of this lot can be found here: 1926 Rolls-Royce 20hp FIxed Head Cabriolet

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