occupation: enviable

Nubar Gulbenkian (1896-1972) was an eccentric British/Turkish oil magnate.

Gulbenkian’s long beard, monocle and the orchid in his buttonhole which was replaced daily led to him becoming noted for a fairly eccentric life, with a number of stories building up around his name. Indeed his character was summed up by an associate who claimed that “Nubar is so tough that every day he tires out three stockbrokers, three horses and three women“. He was a regular face on the international playboy scene.

A known gourmet, he was quoted as saying that ‘the best number for a dinner party is two – myself and a damn good head waiter.’ Other stories attached to his name include giving his position in life on a market research form as ‘enviable’.

When his mother died in 1952, he and his wife wore black for the next 12 months and refrained from eating in public places. He even had his dark bronze car, the bonnet of which was modelled on the Parthenon, painted black, and its upholstery changed to a more sombre colour. More on his cars here

Naturally his Rolls-Royces were as flamboyant as he was. The first, christened Pantechnicon, was built in 1947 and looked like the unfortunate progeny of a liaison between a Rolls and a Wehrmacht Panzer tank, with its faired-in wheels and front grille.

His next, built in 1952, was a four-door cabriolet that was also used by the Queen on a visit to Nigeria. He replaced it with another Hooper Sedanca Deville with full, sage-green, lizard-skin trim – and that included the steering wheel and grab handles modelled to look like lizards’ tails. In 1987 it starred as Uncle Monty’s car in the cult film Withnail and I.


The most dramatic of the Gulbenkian Rolls-Royces was the car built in 1956, again by Hooper, and fitted with a transparent Perspex hardtop strangely reminiscent of FAB1 from Thunderbirds. Gulbenkian planned to use the car only on the Côte d’Azur, so inside the hardtop was an electrically operated sun shade that, along with the air-conditioning, kept the interior at a reasonable temperature. Among its many luxuries were electric windows, a stereo radio and even a television set – quite something in 1956. He sometimes used it, posing along the Monte Carlo coastal roads, but by the 1980s it had fallen into disuse and languished in the basement of his club, where customers would sit in it as they enjoyed their drinks.


In 1965, he had a special taxi constructed to his own design. Several personalities have taken to taxis in the name of anonymity – the Duke of Edinburgh still does – but there was nothing low-key about this one. The front panels were more or less standard Austin FX4 (the old-style taxi that you still see today) but from the windscreen back it was designed like a miniature limousine with definite Victorian hansom cab overtones.

The driver’s compartment was open to the elements and carriage lights were fitted either side, just in front of the rear doors. The whole rear compartment was styled along the lines of a horse-drawn brougham, with real wickerwork panels. It had a Lalique bonnet mascot and gold-plated door handles.

Gulbenkian liked the cab’s tight turning circle when he was being driven around London. “It turns on a sixpence,” he once boasted. “Whatever that is.”

“Ten Shillings and Sixpence” found here

Published in: on August 10, 2010 at 8:12 am  Comments (45)  
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45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A tv in his car in 1956, with no chance of receiving a signal. At least he had his pretenses in order. And is it just me, or does he look suspiciously like The Most Interesting Man In The World?

  2. “Nubar is so tough that every day he tires out three stockbrokers, three horses and three women”

    Nubar…the original Chuck Norris.

    • Ha… good one bearman

  3. Hmmm…is it just me or does he bear a resemblance to Mountbatten?

    • I think it’s just you 😉

  4. Why is everyone named Nubar such an eccentric, its weird.

    • I could say the same about most of the Ethels

  5. Was a common sight round London in his cars in my student days,gave the city some character,far better looking than bankers bonus Ferraris

    • oh I’m so glad a reader remembers him. He sounds like quite the character

  6. “hey baby, wanna see my Franken-car collection?”

    • I want to see your toy boy collection daisyfae

  7. how dare he not give it all to me. lol

    • Stand in line Artsy 🙂

  8. One of my favorite recordings of all time — I posted a bit from it a few weeks back — was the Puccini Mass recroded under the auspices of the “Gulbenkian Foundation.” I have to assume the same provenance.

    • The Foundation was started by Calouste Gulbenkian. They’re probably related but I don’t know for sure

  9. Well, now I know how I want my tea served to me from now on…

    • I’d be happy to oblige…

  10. I love monocles. Nobody wears one anymore. I’m not entirely sure of their function but they look great. It seems he was a bit of a mamma’s boy. Who grieves for a year?

    • I’m still grieving for Stephen and it’s been nearly three years. Though I didn’t grieve so long for my parents. I guess because they had lived long lives and it’s in the natural order of things for parents to die first.

      • Grieving for Stephen is a completely different story. You can’t compare the two. In some way, you’ll grieve for him for the rest of your life. Parents? We tend to move on.

  11. Isn’t it strange how excessive riches can turn a man into an eccentric. Almost as strange as how a lack of money also makes some of us eccentric.

  12. I despair at the lo-grade, eccentrics we turn out these days. This chap was absolutely top drawer.

    “It turns on a sixpence….whatever that is.” Brilliant.

  13. He sounds like quite the delight. He must have been scented with rose water.

  14. Gourmand not gourmet.

    • The term gourmet may refer to a person with refined or discriminating taste or to one that is knowledgeable in the art of food and food preparation.Gourmand carries additional connotations of one who simply enjoys food in great quantities

      • Anyone who says, “the best number for a dinner party is two – myself and a damn good head waiter” is definitely a gourmand. Come on. Look at the guy. He lived fully at the edge. The most I will give to you is that he is a gourmand with discriminating taste.

  15. Lalique is VERY overrated …… just sayin’

  16. Today’s eccentrics are either running for political office, being sued, in prison or dead. Maybe even all of the above. Or Lady Gaga.

    Damn fine post and damn well written . . . damn it!

    • Thanks Jammer5. Most of the text in italics is not mine though – it can be found on the link you see when your mouse hovers over his name in the first sentence

      • My mouse is too damn old to hover anymore. It just kinda lays there 🙂

  17. Good plan. Put a TV in your car when there’s nothing to watch, and no way of receiving it if there were. He reminds me of a poorly groomed Most Interesting Man In The World.

  18. He had me at monocle.

    No wonder all the ladies loved him.

  19. Yegods with cars like that I think all his taste was in his mouth!

  20. Why is there never a man like this around to give me a lift home?

    • I ask myself the same question every day Madame

  21. Just lovin’ his car fetish …. 🙂

  22. I need to get me a monocle

  23. Ah what would the lunch break be without NurseMyra’s latest epistle.

    You do feel that his “three women a day” all had a pretty jolly time.

    • Three is too much for any man. I’d put my foot down and stop it at two….

  24. As with Clooney, Denny’s sees some similarities to Nubar G.

  25. I wonder if the television set was one of those big, heavy, wooden Zeniths like I had as a child? That would be hard to fit on a dashboard.

  26. I am still dazzed by a car with a TV in 1956. this guy knew how to roll,

  27. dazzled I mean.

  28. An eccentric of the highest caliber!

  29. lol, this guy is a legend! love his cabriolet car espessially…

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