If you were a wealthy Scotsman living in India around the turn of the 20th Century, maybe this wouldn't have seemed so strange -- ordering a custom-built car with a wood body carved to resemble a swan, one that can spew hot water from its beak and play music. Whatever they thought of it at the time, visitors to this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance will get to make up their own minds about its oddity up close.
The Brooke Swan Car was commissioned in 1909 by Robert Nicholl Matthewson -- an engineer nicknamed "Scotty" -- and built by England's foremost maker of fairground rides on the chassis of a 30-hp Brooke sedan. The eyes in the head of the swan glow amber, the horn has eight notes so the passenger can play a tune from the rear seat, and the beak of the swan can shoot hot water so that a chauffeur could clear crowded Indian streets of pedestrians. There was even a device that would deposit drops of whitewash behind the car to mimic swan excrement.
While one might think this car alone could spur a revolt, the car was instead a hit among India's wealthy. It was soon bought by the Maharaja of Nabha, who had a tiny companion Cygnet built to match the Swan, and held onto both cars for 70 years. Now stored at the Louwmans Museum in the Netherlands, the pair is en route to California for this month's show, where it will be the centerpiece attraction. If you're going, be careful when walking right behind it.