GREAT RACING MARQUES
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE. WING to the fact that road racing in England has never been allowed, and that long-distance races anywhere in the British Isles have been few and far between, it is not surprising that comparatively few English manufacturers have ever seriously gone in for
this form of activity.
For a long period we looked to Sunbeam alone to uphold the national prestige ; and in the earlier days it was the Napier which was the great English representative in the big races. In the year 1899 an argument between M. Charron and Mr. Winton as to the respective merits of French and American cars had resulted in Mr. Gordon Bennet presenting a cup to be competed for by cars of all nationalities. The first race which took place in 1900 was won in convincing fashion by Charron on a 24 h.p. Panhard, and indeed the car of his own manufacture which Mr. Winton entered only boasted a single-cylinder engine and tiller-steering. The race, however, had aroused interest in other countries besides France and America, and England determined to be represented in
the second race which was run in 1901 from Paris to Bordeaux.
50 h.p. in 1901. The Napier company of Acton in fact set about building a set of four cars for the race, although only three from each country were actually allowed to compete.. Of these, however, only one was ready in time, but this car caused a general excitement by reason of its great size and weight. The engine, which was rated at 50 h.p. was one of the biggest which had ever been put into a car, and had four cylinders of 165.1 x 190.5 mms. bore and stroke, (16,257 c.c.), dimensions which look less awkward as 61 x 71 inches, and which are interesting in showing that English manufacturers had not then begun to think in millimetres. The car had coil ignition, an all metal clutch and chain drive ; unfortunately, however, the rules stipulated that all the items of a car’s equipment should be made in its country of origin, and as no English tyres could be found for so heavy a
car, the Napier, although it started, had to be disqualified from the Gordon Bennet race.
Though prevented from appearing official!: in this event, however, the first Napier racing cat made its debut later in the year. The big race of 1901 was run from Paris to Berlin, a distance of 690 miles and for this event the Napier was entered, with S. F. Edge as its driver. Edge started off from Champigny on the outskirts of Paris in fine style and soon overtook many of the French competitors, but before he reached the frontier he was put out of the race with a broken spring.
An entirely new Napier was built for the Gordon Bennet race of 1902, which as a Panhard had won again in 1901, was run by France. The engine now had overhead automatic inlet valves, with side exhaust valves and the cylinders were made ‘of aluminium with liners. The frame was of ash, strengthened by steel plates, and the car had a 3-speed gearbox and propellor-shaft drive.
France was represented that year by a Panhard, a Mors and a C.G.V., built by Charron, Griadot and Voigt, and her only challenger was England with a Wolseley and the Napier, which was again driven by S. F. Edge. As the number of competitors was small it was decided to combine the contest with the Paris-Vienna race, but the Gordon Bennet competitors only had to cover the 385 odd miles from Paris to Innsbruck. By the time Belfort was reached, however, Rene de Knyff on the Panhard and S. V. Edge were the only Gordon Bennet competitors left in the race : and while descending the Arlberg Pass, de Knyff too had to retire with a broken differential. Edge, however, reached Innsbruck in safety, and thus the cup was won for England and lost to France for the first time since the inception of the race.
As the rules stated that the race should be run by the country which held the cup, England was faced with the problem of organising the event in 1903. Luckily a course was found in Ireland near Carlow, and it was here that the 1903 race was run. ‘The fact that the cup had not been won by France in 1902 gave additional interest to the race, and challenges were sent to the English club by Germany and
the United States as well of course as France. The English team was this time composed of three Napiers, driven by S. F. Edge, Charles Jarrott and J. W. Stocks ; but the triumph of the year before was not to be repeated. The steering on Jarrott’s car broke while he was travelling at 60 m.p.h. and the car turned over ; while the race was finally won by Jenatzy on a Mercedes after a terrific struggle with de Knyff on the Panhard. Owing to Jenatzy’s win, the race in 1904 was run in ; but as ; as there was now keen competition to represent England in the race, the R.A.C. had to hold an eliminating test in the Isle of Man. This took the form of a duration race of eight hours followed by a speed test, and for this five Napiers were entered with S. F. Edge, Clifford Earp, J. R. Hargreaves, Mark’ Mayhew, and J. W. Stocks as their drivers. In the first part of the event, D. F. Edge secured a place in the team without any doubt ; but the race for the
last place was so closely fought out that the committee were not certain whether they should choose Jarrott’s Wolseley or Earp’s Napier. During the subsequent speed trial, however, the latter crashed, and Edge was therefore left alone to carry the Napier colours in the race in Germany. He was not destined to be smiled upon by fortune however, for after covering three rounds of the Saalberg circuit, he was forced to retire. The next year a Napier was again a member of the British team for the Gordon Bennet race, which this year as a result of Thery’s win with the Richard-Brasier in 1904, was run over the Auvergne circuit in Prance. The 80 h.p. 6-cylinder Napier of 1905 was in many respects a very advanced car for its date. It was very low built, and the tubes of the radiator which were ungilled, ran down each side of the bonnet and met in a point at the front, and as something of an innovation for a powerful racing car, it had wire wheels. This year the car was driven by Cecil Earp, which was a fitting
recompense for his hard luck in the Isle of Man in 1904. The race was over a distance of 450 miles, four rounds of the circuit near Clermont-Ferrand, and Francei as the holders of the cup, had received challenges from five countries, England, Germany, Austria, Italy and America. Earp started off in fine style, and finished the first circuit in sixth place. Then, however, his troubles began ; first of all the petrol tank, which was of the bolster type set across the car at the back, came adrift and knocked a hole in itself, so that the unfortunate
driver was forced to patch it up and buy some more fuel en route. As a result of this, by half distance he had fallen to thirteenth place. This trouble over, however, his seat came adrift also and he was forced to stop and secure that. In spite of this, by the end of the third round he had climbed to fifth place, and finally finished ninth, having averaged 40.3 m.p.h., 8 m.p.h slower than the winner. This was the last of the Gordon Bennet races, and thereafter de
cided to give up participating in the continental big events. The 1905 racer, however, put up several records, and covered half a mile at 88.2 m.p.h. During this year (1905) there was run the first Tourist Trophy race in the Isle of Man,the event being for ordinary touring cars limited to a fuel consumption of 221 m.p.g., this allowance being supposed to be equivalent to 25 m.p.g. on ordinary main roads. For this event two standard • 18 h.p. Napiers were
entered, the cars having 4-cylinder engines of 90 x 108 mm. bore and stroke (2,607 c.c.), which developed their power at 1200 r.p.m. and had high-tension single coil ignition. Transmission was by a 4-speed gearbox and chain final drive, and the cars were driven in the race by Clifford Earp and F. G. Cundy. Though neither of them were ever in the first flight of the race, both cars completed the course and finished tenth and fifteenth respectively, Clifford Earp calculating things to a nicety, as when he finished his petrol tank was practically bone dry.
When in 1906 the Gordon Bennet Cup race was replaced by the Grand Prix, Napiers decided that they would retire from this form of competition. The next year however they had an opportunity to add to their laurels in an entirely novel manner.
Edge’s Famous Record. It was S. F. Edge who had the happy idea that he would prove to the large number of people who were sceptical, that it was possible to travel at 60 m.p.h. for 24 hours in a motor car. Brooklands had lately been completed, and it was there consequently that the attempt was to be made by three Napiers, one of which was driven by Edge himself throughout, while the others were handled by men who took three hour spells at a time. The Napiers used were 6-cylinder machines having a bore and stroke of 127 x 102 mm. (5,170 c.c.), and soon after they started it was apparent that the sceptics were likely to be confounded. As a matter of fact all
three cars averaged well over 60 m.p.h. for the full 24 hours, and Edge, driving himself the whole time, actually covered more than 1,581 miles, thus averaging over 65 m.p.h. It was a really wonderful record, and one which was destined to remain unbroken for many years.
During the course of this run S. F. Edge incidentally captured the hour record, having covered 70 miles 130 yards during one of the 24 hours, and Napier thus held another highly coveted record. The same year, however, this record was beaten by Clifford Earp on a Thames car, but in 1908 P. Newton succeeded in recapturing the record for Napier by covering 85 miles 555 yards in the hour, a truly remarkable performance for 22 years ago. From this date onwards there followed a long period when Napier cars were absent from the great competitions, although various racers of the marque were wellknown at Brooklands in pre-war days. During the war Napiers became famous for their aero engines, and a few years after its end the firm gave up the manufacture of motor cars altogether in order to devote their attention to this new field. It seemed in fact that the days of Napier racing cars had gone for ever. But as an aero engine there had been developed the famous Napier ” Lion ” unit, a broad-arrow 12-cylinder of 23 litres capacity, with a stated horse-power of 450 h.p., and it was one of these engines which Malcolm Campbell decided to use when he was planning a special car for record-breaking in 1926. The machine was finally built, and the Napier engine used was made to develop over 500 h.p. The Napier-Campbell was then taken to Pendine in Carmarthenshire late in 1926, and after several unsuccessful attempts Campbell attained his objective on 4th February, 1927. On that day in fact the Napier-Campbell set up a record for the kilometre at 174.883 and for the mile at 174.223 m.p.h. Thus
to Napier belonged the honour of propelling a car faster than any had travelled before.
The record, however, was wrested from Campbell by the 1,000 h.p. Sunbeam, but nothing daunted the latter decided in 1928 that he would set out for it again. The performance of the Sunbeam at Daytona had shown unmistakably that there was no stretch of sand in England long enough to allow of the terrific speed necessary to break the new record being attained, and early in 1928 the car was shipped to America for a new attempt to be made. For this occasion the car was fitted with an entirely new streamline body of special design and the radiator was no longer in front but divided into two parts, one on each side of the car.
As soon as the Napier-Campbell got to Daytona it proceeded to show that it was terrifically fast, and finally on 20th February, 1928, Campbell succeeded in breaking the world’s record for the mile, his mean speed being 206.956 m.p.h.
Campbell’s gallant attempts to regain the record at Verneuk Pan in 1929 after it had been lost to the Americans are still fresh in everyone’s memory. But there could be few more fitting times than the present to mention the fact that as well as holding the world’s air speed record, Napier engines have also helped that great driver whose last record ended so tragically, to travel faster than any other man on land. On his “Golden Arrow” racer powered with two Napier Lion engines Sir Henry Segrave set up the world’s land speed record at 231.3 m.p.h., With his first motor boat, “Miss England I.,” which was, of course, Napierengined, he attained a speed at Venice which was within a fraction of a mile per hour of the world’s record. Thus has Napier shown the world that in speed in every element, Britain is supreme.