APpa 07/26 1407 Rajneesh-Rolls Royce By DANIEL J. WAKIN Associated Press Writer NEWARK, N

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APpa 07/26 1407 Rajneesh-Rolls Royce By DANIEL J. WAKIN Associated Press Writer NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- When the unusual Oregon community of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh collapsed two years ago, the world's largest fleet of Rolls Royces suddenly was up for sale. The prospect of the Bhagwan's 90 luxury automobiles appearing on the market struck some as a curiosity and others as an excellent chance to buy a Rolls cheap. But executives at the carmaker's U.S. headquarters, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Inc. in Lyndhurst, were more than a little perturbed. "Image is a great deal of what our company is about," said company spokesman Reginald Abbiss. So company President Robert Schwartz and two top dealers went out to the commune, called Rajneeshpuram, to examine the fleet. "We were anxious to ensure that when they went on the market they were cosmetically and mechanically authentic Rolls Royces," Abbiss said. Company officials and dealers also worried about the effect of dumping so many of the cars on the market, particularly in a region with a low ratio of Rolls buyers. All of the fears, however, appear to have been unfounded and most of the Bhagwan's cars have been sold. Interviews with Rolls Royce officials and dealers last week told the tale of a lucrative -- and somewhat strange -- customer relationship. The Bhagwan bought his first Rolls Royce, a Corniche, in 1980 and had it plated with armor. After establishing his commune in Oregon, followers of the Bhagwan said their leader wanted a new Rolls for each day of the year, and began ordering two a month from dealers. The commune even had its own service center, and a Rolls engineer periodically traveled there to trouble-shoot. Rajneesh would get into a Rolls each day and be driven slowly down the commune's roads. On each side, disciples clad in red clothing would sing, chant and toss flowers on the hood. The company also was happy. "Anybody who's got 90 cars is a good customer, even though it was a rather bizarre place," Abbiss said. As for the Rolls-a-day idea, "We though this was a splendid marketing opportunity," he said. The company only made 2,500 of the cars last year, and sold 1,155 in the United States, Abbiss said. The U.S. subsidiary's British parent, Rolls Royce Motor Cars Ltd., reported net income last year of $28 million on sales of $280 million. A new Rolls costs from $109,000 to $173,000 and the company earned about $1.4 million from sales to the Bhagwan, company sources said. "The fact was that Rajneesh himself enjoyed driving a brand-new Rolls Royce every day," said Anthony Thompson, manager of Carriage House Motor Cars Ltd. in New York, the nation's largest Rolls Royce dealer. But a number of the cars were painted "psychedelic colors" that seriously distrbed the aesthetic values of Rolls dealers and officials. "They were pretty horrendous, some of them, enough to put our senior executives (in Britain) in cardiac arrest," Abbiss said. Peacocks adorned sky-blue panels on one car and "lace kitchen curtains glued to the hood" adorned another, said Bill Ferris, owner of a Rolls Royce dealership in Dallas. The paintings may have been of "great artistic merit, but you usually don't put great artistic merit on motor cars," Thompson said. In November 1985, the 54-year-old bejeweled Bhagwan was deported to India on immigration charges, and his commune disbanded. Schwartz made his visit to examine the used Rolls Royces, and followed with an undisclosed offer to buy the Bhagwan's fleet. But he was outbid by Dallas autodealer Bob Roethlisberger, who offered a reported $6 million for the collection, including premiums for the specially painted cars. The arrival of the cars in Texas brought a deluge of media attention. When interested buyers sought to inquire about buying a Rajneesh Rolls, they most often asked telephone directory operators for a number under "Rolls Royce," which brought callers to Ferris. Ferris called that month the "biggest December of my life." "My inventory was wiped out," he said. Today, just about all of the Rajneesh cars have been sold, Abbiss said, including 30 to an unidentified buyer from the Middle East. Most of them have been repainted. All in all, the experience had little effect on the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Abbiss said. "It was a blip in our 83-year-old business." Last page !

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