Brooke 25/30-HP Swan Car

This Brooke Swan Car is truly extraordinary. It was the creation of the eccentric and wealthy Scotsman Robert Nicholl ‘Scotty’ Matthewson, who lived in early 20th century Calcutta, the capital of what was then British India

Matthewson wanted to shock the local elite with his car, and he certainly succeeded in doing so.

The bodywork represents a swan gliding through water. The rear is decorated with a lotus flower design finished in gold leaf, an ancient symbol for divine wisdom. Apart from the normal lights, there are electric bulbs in the swan’s eyes that glow eerily in the dark. The car has an exhaust-driven, eight-tone Gabriel horn that can be operated by means of a keyboard at the back of the car. A ship’s telegraph was used to issue commands to the driver. Brushes were fitted to sweep off the elephant dung collected by the tyres. The swan’s beak is linked to the engine’s cooling system and opens wide to allow the driver to spray steam to clear a passage in the streets. Whitewash could be dumped onto the road through a valve at the back of the car to make the swan appear even more lifelike.

The car caused panic and chaos in the streets on its first outing and the police had to intervene. Matthewson sold the car to the Maharaja of Nabha, whose family owned it for over seventy years.

The car was discovered years later in its original state, albeit in poor condition. The sumptuous Indian silk upholstery had been eaten away by rats.

In 1991 it came into the ownership of the Louwman Museum and was fully restored. New upholstery was commissioned from an Indian weaving mill following the discovery of remnants of the original material under the seats. All the gadgets were made to working order again. In 1993 the Swan won the Montagu Prize at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance in California.

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