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 Napier 65R photo

1908 Napier 65R

Montague Napier was the head of the precision engineering firm, D. Napier & Son that had been in business since 1908 and located in Lambeth, South London. In 1900, Napier formed an agreement with Francis Edge for exclusive rights to sell the entire firm's motorcars they produced. To increase publicity, the cars were demonstrated in many racing events, various competitions, and endurance challenges. One of the more prominent challenges of the early 1900s was the Gordon Bennett Trophy race, which was run annually with each competing car representing their country of origin. Edge won the Trophy in 1902 making it the first British automobile racing triumph. The Napier Racer of 1902 featured a 6.5-liter engine that had five valves per cylinder and a shaft drive. It had been delivered just seven days before the start of the race since build problems had delayed its completion. It had a cracked cylinder head on the way to the boat so another was sent via train and repaired while en route. To add to the complications, the second gear had not completely hardened and all of its teeth were bent. Edge was able to find a factory and re-harden the gears before the start of the race.

The success at the Gordon Bennett Trophy race surged demand for the Napier/Edge vehicles, and large production factories were quickly ascertained to help keep up with demand. The new facility was located at Acton, West London.

A six-cylinder version was introduced in 1904, though not the first to create a powerplant of this six, it was the first to make a six-cylinder engine a commercial success.

In 1907 Edge set his sights on capturing the World's 24-hour speed record. A team of three Napier 60hp cars were brought to Brooklands track and averaged 65.9 mph and set the record which would last for eighteen years. The two other cars averaged 64.1 and 63.5 mph.

In 1908, engine size came under some scrutiny. The French Grand Prix, in particular, that rules should center on engine development and there should be more interchangeability between the road cars and the race cars. Rules were placed that limited the bore of the four-cylinder car to 155 mm, and the overall weight of the vehicle was set at a minimum of 1200 kgs. The largest engine for the race was Victor Rigal's Bayard Clement which had a 14-liter displacement size. A Mercedes driven by Christian Lautenschalger and displaced 12.8-liters finished in first.

By 1913, the French Grand Prix had come down even harder on engine displacement size, mandating that each car gets about 14 mpg and limited the amount of fuel to 20 liters for each 100 kilometers. A weight maximum of 1100 kg and minimum of 800 kg was also imposed. This made the field more competitive and the mechanics more creative. A Peugeot with a 5.6-liter engine would go on to win the race, still having 22 liters left in the fuel tank. The largest engines in the race were the Itala's with 8.3-liters and none of them finished.


By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2008



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