Belgium's forgotten Nagant

Motoring history holds all manner of interesting items. Recently I learned that VCC member Mike Bradbrook has owned for the past four years a very desirable 1910 24/30hp touring Nagant, but knows not a lot about this rare make. Neither did I, so some modest research seemed in order.

The Nagant was a product of Liege in Belgium. It first appeared in 1900 and sold in England for a time as the Nagant-Hobson. In Belgium Leon Nagant and his brother built opposed-piston Gobron-Brillies in their armaments factory for an outside supplier until they began to make their own conventional cars. The 30hp chassis was rather impressive, if not perhaps quite in the class of the Minerva from Antwerp, which some regarded as the equal of our Daimler, also with Knight sleeve-valve engine, or even the Rolls-Royce. After which Nagant turned out quite brisk small cars, in the form of the side-valve 14/16. There was also an arrangement to make another French car, the Rochet-Schneider, under licence at their factory at 44 Quai de Coronmeuse.

It is pleasing to know that Nagant, like Germaine, Minerva, Excelsior, Metallurgique, FN and and other Belgian makes, took an active part in motor racing. There was a racing version of the 1907 35/40, and there was a Nagant, with a cowled radiator, in the 1911 Coupe de la Meuse. But the most striking appearance was in that gruelling French GP of 1914. Two cars were entered for Esser and Leon Elskamp, with neat bolster tanks and spare tyres behind and four-cylinder 16-valve twin-cam engines. In this memorable race, dominated by Mercedes, Esser, described as "driving splendidly", came home sixth, behind the three victorious cars from Unterturkheim, Jules Goux in the faster of the remaining Peugeots and Dario Resta in a Sunbeam. Esser had beaten Rigars Peugeot, Duray in a Delage, a Schneider, an Opel conducted by Joms and a Fiat, some of the greatest names in racing, and this in a race of 38 starters but only 11 finishers after those 467 miles at Lyon, before war broke out.

A 3-litre sportscar came out in 1925 and justified itself with first and scond in class in the Spa 24-hour race, driven by de Tozee/Cheville and Wery/Scholeur.

Original except for aero-screens and mudguards, and giving 10 to 12mpg on a 2.4 top gear, Esser's car was being used regularly in Glasgow in 1923. In England Nagant-Hobson, from their premises at 29 Vauxhall Bridge in London, had, as far back as 1908, advertised wins at Brooldands by private entrants with 20/30 Nagants. This 27.8hp model with dual-ignition sold as a chassis for 1500, and one took part in the 1908 Scottish 2000-Mile Trial.

For a time Ernest Valentin was Technical Director, his successor after 1907 being engineer Dufresne. Production was modest, some 200 cars a year after WWI, but the make was exhibited at the Paris Salon, though never, I think, in Britain. But these cars with the ringed 'N' badge had the reputation of being soundly constructed, with precision machinery. The post-war cars had overhead valves and four-wheel brakes, and the 15CV model was enlarged to 2 litres by 1925, and a s/c engine was exhibited at the 1927 Brussels Show. But this promising move ended a year later when the Imperia Company took over.