In “Pantaraxia — The Autobiography of Nubar Gulbenkian” (Hutchinson, 1963) we learn a lot about the oil millionaire, not least that in his younger days he drove as fast as he could, for example in the Hispano-Suiza his father had given him, at which time his wife had a Model-T Ford given to her by her father, possibly one of the fifty or one hundred war-surplus vehicles, which he shipped to Cuba. The Ford had red wheels and mudguards to off-set its special bodywork. Around 1925, when the Hispano was new, Herminia Gulbenkian tried to drive it through the gates of the Grand Hotel et des Iles Borromées at Stresa and hit one of the massive stone pillars, which was shifted a few inches. The chassis of the Hispano was badly damaged and it was out of use for four days while a mechanic was sent, at great expense, from Paris to repair it. Going there again in 1960, the millionaire noted that the gatepost was still out-of-true! There is also a reference to the Hispano being driven from Cherbourg to Paris faster than the boat-train, in spite of a lunch stop at Evreux.
Betore that, in 1920, Gulbenkian’s father sent him to Mont Dore to recover from a cold, telling one of the staff at the Paris Ritz to get his son a valet and a car, as he was leaving that afternoon. Not only was the perfect valet found almost immediately but in the Place Vendóme awaited a 40 hp Renault and chauffeur. A lady companion had also been thought of, but she Nubar refused . . . Unfortunately few other cars are referred to, apart from the Rolls-Royce lent to Gulbenkian for his honeymoon by his best-man, Constantine Chadinoff, which was involved in a skid and turned over coming back from Deauville, fortunately when driven by its owner. Other Rolls-Royces, owned by exiled Jews, are mentioned as being abandoned in Lisbon after Western Europe had fallen to Germany in WW2, at “two-a-penny”. What befell these cars, one wonders?
I now have a confession to make. When compiling the lists of Brooklands Certificates for one of the Appendices to my “History of Brooklands Motor Course” I had to decipher these from the hand-written entries in the actual BARC record books. One name was particularly difficult to read but I decided the nearest I could get was “M. Iulkenkian”. I think now that it was probably N. Gulbenkian who had got the BARC to officially time a 36/220 Mercedes-Benz coupé over a flying kilo and mile, which he covered, respectively, at 100.40 mph and 91.37 mph. That was in October 1928, so the Mercedes could have been the successor to the Hispano Suiza, or was this a test, done at Motor Show time, to see whether the multi-millionaire preferred the German car? Unfortunately, the book does not tell us, although the London taxi which Gulbenkian later had fitted with a special body by Jack Barclay Ltd for town work, is mentioned, as are some of the aeroplanes and flying boats the oil baron flew in, and the accident on a road close to Heston aerodrome involving a DH Dragon, from which Gulbenkian had a very narrow escape from being burnt to death. His chauffeur had been told, with the care the very wealthy often devote to themselves, always to wait until any aeroplane in which Nubar was flying was airborne, in case of disaster. In this case his car was quickly on the scene, to convey him to the London Clinic. His faithful chauffeur, Wooster, served him from 1920 until he was pensioned off in 1950, to die in 1964. W.B.