Napier-Railton

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One of the largest and most impressive racing cars in the Brooklands section of the Goodwood Festival assembly will be the 24-litre Napier-Railton, holder of the ultimate lap record for the famous banked Surrey Motor Course.

It was built in 1933 for modest fur-broker John Cobb, who liked very big racing-cars, by Thomson & Taylor, specialist engineers with premises within the precincts of the Track. The celebrated Reid A Railton’s brief was to provide Cobb with a car that hopefully would take the lap-record, be durable for races over Brooklands’ somewhat rough concrete surface and survive long-distance record-bids.

To this end Railton, who was also responsible for the Railton-Terraplane touring cars, used a slow running Napier W-formation aviation-type engine, installed in a very rugged chassis. Look at the massive side-members, twin cantilever back springs and the fine engineering of the front axle, and you will understand this. The racing body has a spacious cockpit, for Cobb was a big man and would need this on record runs of up to 3,000 miles and 24 hours.

The Napier Railton was immediately successful at Brooklands, winning its first race at the August Bank Holiday Meeting of 1933 from a scratch start. The impressive aluminium-and-black car, consuming ordinary pump petrol, had shown the spectators a standing-start lap of 120.59 mph and a flying lap of 123.28 mph. This was the beginning of a highly-successful career for Cobb and his new car.

When running for long spells, very large Dunlop special racing tyres were required, imposing a heavy task for the mechanics changing wheels at pit-stops. The Cobb-Napier-Railton combination broke the Brooklands lap-record three times, to that final unbeaten 143.33 mph. (Cobb said this was like trying to see how far he could lean out of a first-floor window without falling out).

With top co-drivers, world records were broken at Monthlery track near Paris and on the American Salt Flats at Utah. The BRDC 500 mile Race was won at 121.28 mph and the 500km version at 127.05 mph, and the Napier-Railton was timed over the kilometre at 151.97 mph. After Cobb was killed trying for the Water Speed Record, his car was used in the film Pandora, employed for testing GQ aircraft-brake parachutes at Dunsfold, became a museum exhibit, then was sold abroad.

How excellent that this fastest of the Brooklands cars will be on display at Goodwood.

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