The Napier "Samson"

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It is rather astonishing how many racing Napiers have survived, considering how long ago it was that they were unleashed. The 1903 Gordon Bennett car and a 1904 GB Napier survive in America, Barker’s well-known 1908 11 1/2-litre 60 hp. Napier was raced at Brooklands, and there exists a replica of Edge’s 24-hour record car of 1907. Now comes news that the 212 b.h.p. engine out of Napier L48, the celebrated “Samson”, survives in Melbourne, Australia. The great 90 h.p. Napier “Samson” with its pointed prow was the car which did sensational things at Brooklands in 1908, although defeated by Nazzaro’s Fiat in the celebrated match-race. It was capable of over 119 m.p.h. In 1968 Motor Sport published a letter from Mr. Alan H. Chamberlain of Alan Chamberlain Engineering in Melbourne, reporting the find of a huge Napier engine, which he thought had come from the Napier L48, which had been imported by the Cornwall brothers. Anthony Heal replied and it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the engine is that used in “Samson”. Some four-feet long, this great engine dates from 1904. It originally had the water pump above the engine bearers but this was repositioned below them, probably when the pointed prow was substituted for the original fiat radiator. Mr. Chamberlain is about to build a replica of this famous Napier, and writes as under, to seek further information:

I have collected quite 3 lot of further information and recently the South Kensington Science Museum located the original engine drawings. We now have full-size copies of the engine and cooling system drawings The cooling system drawings show also engine mounting and front-end of the chassis. These drawings are all dimensioned and dated (1904) and have original draughtman’s identification L48. On the cooling system drawings somebody has later added “Samson”. These drawings check up in all details with the engine have. The engine number is 1320 and we have further evidence that “Engine number 1320 was fitted to racing car L48”.

The Cornwall brothers bought this engine from Napier’s through S. F. Edge and I got it from the Cornwalls. There Can now be no &mix that this six-cylinder engine, 6 1/4 in. bore x 5 in. stroke, is the original engine from L48 (Samson). An interesting point is that the cooling system drawings showing the horizontal tubes coming to a point at the front are dated very close to the date of the engine drawings. The car appeared at its first showing with a flat radiator but from the dating of the later cooling system drawings it would seem likely that the flat radiator was a temporary installation to get the car running, while the more complex distinctive cooling system was made. Two rows of tubes only were used for the first engine (100 h.p.) but when the later 212 h.p. engine was installed it was found necessary to add two more rows of tubes.

Now that we have established that we have the original L48 engine, it is our intention to build a replica of the original car. This is not an engineering problem for us, as we have far better facilities than Napier’s had when they built the original car. Our problem is to get sufficient information to build an accurate replica. We have nothing at all so far on the special two-speed gearbox used on this car—not even a photo showing the gearbox. I intend visiting England early in 1977 to go through all drawings and information available and would appreciate it if you would publish this letter in the hope that some of your readers can provide some clues. Perhaps somebody has some close-up photos?

South Kensington Science Museum have sent me such drawings as they can identify. They were given the Napier car-drawings some time back. I am hoping that a further search with my detailed knowledge of the car will turn up more drawings. This was a “one off” car. The engine drawings were made in great detail but many parts may have been made from sketches. Through the years this car went through many changes and even modification drawings may provide clues to original design. I could, of course, easily design parts but this would not result in a true replica. We have information showing that many parts were from current Napier models or modified from same, but the gearbox (like the engine) was a special “one off” job. Any help you or your readers can give will he much apreciated.