Napier-Railton's glorious times

Our Founder Editor witnessed the start of the big Napier’s record career with John Cobb, which went far beyond Brooklands

Motoring historian Graeme Simpson has triggered some memories by sending me a photo of the launch of the Napier-Railton in 1933, with myself visible behind the great car.

Just as the Leyland-Thomas was constructed by Parry Thomas at Brooklands in 1921, so 12 years later at the same location Thomson and Taylor produced the Napier-Railton for John Cobb. It proved to be one of the outstanding Brooklands cars.

It was built round a Napier ‘Lion’ aero-engine and in a test at Acton it gave 564bhp at 2350rpm on a compression ratio of 6:1. This big 139.7×130.2mm 12-cylinder engine had three banks of four cylinders in the form of a ‘W’ with the outer banks at 60 degrees to the centre bank. The engine was installed in a massive chassis possessing deep side members; this chassis followed the style of the 1926 GP Talbot, Delage, Thomas Special and Eldridge Special cars, which involved much machine-shop work.

In its first race in August 1933 it set a new standing-start lap record of 120.59mph and a flying lap at 123.28mph, and won by 2.6sec. For his next race Cobb was re-handicapped and was timed at 137.20mph, a new Class A record. Later that year he took the car to Montlhéry to try the 24-hour record; he did not achieve this because of tyre trouble but he did break the 200-mile record at 126.44mph and the hour at 126.83mph, plus other records at lower speeds.

Returning to Brooklands he broke the Class A standing-start mile record at 102.52mph. In another attempt to break the standing-start mile record he was clocked at 143.67mph, the highest officially clocked speed at Brooklands up to this time, but did not achieve the record. He went back to Montlhéry in 1934 to try again to break the 24-hour record but was unsuccessful due to the car going over the wall.

Back at Brooklands in August he put up a new race speed of 131.53mph. Cobb’s next challenge was the BRDC 500-Mile race but once it started raining heavily he wisely withdrew.

In 1935 Cobb went to the Salt Flats of Utah, USA and at last broke the 24-hour world record at 137.40mph. Also that year he entered for the Brighton Speed Trials and came second with a standing-start half-mile of 76.27mph, and later demonstrated the car at Donington Park.

Back at Brooklands for the 500-Mile race he won at 121.28mph in an event lasting 4hr 28min 52sec. Then in October he broke the lap record at 143.44mph and was clocked at 151.97mph, this being the fastest speed ever officially recorded at Brooklands.

He returned to Utah in September 1936 where he regained the World 24-Hour record at 150.6mph, with his best speed being 168.59mph over the 100 miles.

The Napier-Railton last competed at Brooklands in 1937 in the BRDC 500-Mile race, winning at 127.05mph. It is now housed at Brooklands Museum.