From the picturesque Le Mans to the narrow lanes of Calcutta, how a motorsport rivalry led to the creation of one of the most legendary cars to grace the streets of the sub-continent. 

In 1923 the city of Le Mans in north-western France witnessed its first motor race, the famed 24 Heures du Mans. Among its first participants was a Canadian war veteran John Duff who was participating in his Bentley.

Duff’s Bentley was one of the fastest on the tracks, even setting the fastest lap of 9 mins 39 sec. Due to tough road conditions, however, Duff had to settle for 4th spot. The next year he raced again and won.

Walter Owen Bentley, owner of Bentley Motors Limited, was ecstatic and in the next few years, Bentley would dominate the 24 hours endurance race, winning multiple times between 1924 and 1930.

Bentley’s success caught the eye of Sir Frederick Henry Royce, founder of Bentley’s British rival Rolls-Royce. Henry Royce wanted to make something that could rival the Bentley.

From 1926 to 1928 Henry Royce commissioned three experimental cars which were supposed to give Rolls-Royce a sportier look. The last of these so-called experimental sporty cars was the 17EX, the Phantom 1 Jarvis Torpedo.

The 17EX was based on the Phantom I ladder frame chassis with a specially tuned version of the 7668cc overhead valve engine.

In December 1928 the 17EX was sold for an eyebrow-raising 42,000 rupees to the 33-year-old Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh. A few years later it was sold to a certain Ram Narain of Kanpur who then sold it to the Mitters of Calcutta.

The Mitter family of Calcutta was well known for their fascination for elegant automobiles. By the time Sir Benode Chandra Mitra, a prominent lawyer of his time, died in 1930 the Mitter family had accumulated enough wealth to indulge themselves in some expensive toys.

By 1931 the Mitter family garage in Loudon Street already had some of the best cars on the planet, a couple of Weymann-bodied Duesenberg Sedans, a pair of Mercedes Benz SS38/250s, and Italy’s finest the Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A.

The Italian Tipo stayed with the family until Provat Kumar Mitter, the youngest of the Mitter Brothers replaced it with the 17EX. For the next many years, the Phantom would grace the streets of Calcutta and would go on many adventures with the Mitter Family.

When the Mitter Family made their annual visits to their estate in Hazaribagh, the residents of the small town lined up to see the Phantom roaring through the streets. The 17EX made trips to the Kulu Valley, Kashmir, and even as far as the Khyber Pass.

In 1944 the Mitter Family parted ways with the 17EX after it acquired quite a legendary status. The Phantom then changed several hands among the royal families of Northern India, until it came back to the City of Joy again through a curious sequence of events.

It all began with Suchendra Roy, wife of Pratap Roy, wanting her Doberman to win a Dog show. Pratap, like the Mitter Brothers, belonged to a well-to-do Calcutta family and had a keen eye for rare automobiles.

Around 1967 Pratap had heard about the legend of the Phantom 17EX and was able to locate its current owner, the Rajasheb of Bhadri, a small princely state in Uttar Pradesh. The Raja turned out to be a dog lover and a judge of the annual dog show at the Kennel Club in Calcutta.

Pratap sensed his chance, he and his wife and their faithful companion Simba made their way from Delhi to Calcutta. Simba won the dog show which presented Pratap with a chance to corner the Raja.

A deal was struck but in addition to the price the Raja wanted something in return, he asked Pratap to get hold of a couple of corgis for him. How Pratap got the corgis might be a story for another time, but the 17EX he got fixed.

In 1970 Pratap sold the car to Christopher Renwick, with Renwick the 17EX went out of India. It changed several hands since and was last seen in 2016 at the Chantilly Arts & Elegance.

From being conceived as a rival to Bentley to roaming the streets of Calcutta, Hazaribagh, Kashmir, the 17EX has lived a life even many of us would be jealous of, and at the age of 94, it might still be out there raring to hit the streets once more.