A lost Grand Prix Napier

The French possess a knack of preventing a car from winning before a race has begun or a rally has ended, if it appears to be a serious threat to a Francophile victory. This happened in 1908. SF Edge was anxious to run a team of Napiers in that year's ACF French Grand Prix equipped with the new Rudge-Whitworth detachable wheels, which were much quicker to remove than hacking a burst tyre and tube from a wheel-rim or undoing all the bolts holding a detachable rim to a wheel. In a race of 477 miles this could save lots of important time if wheel changes were needed. But the ACF race regulations banned the use of the new wheels. The Napiers did not appear. What followed is told in David Venables' conscientious history Napier the First to Wear the Green (Haynes, 1998, ISBN 85429 989 0).

It seems that four Napiers intended for that important contest at Dieppe were built at Acton. In 1925, one of them appeared at Brooklands, the oldest car then to be raced there. Historians apart, I doubt if anyone took much notice. The entrant of this 11,440cc 6cyl Napier was JS Spencer. He also raced at Brooklands with a Super Sports type 445A Austin 7 and was second in the race for these cars.

On its first 1925 appearance the Napier was driven by RTT Spencer, who had won in 1924 with his 1914 4.5-litre Sunbeam. (It may be coincidence that both men had the same surname, but it seems more probable that they were brothers.) In 1926 JS won a BARC race driving one of the 1922 2-litre GP Sunbeams. So these Spencers obviously had a keen interest in the older racing cars. I have fried to trace them, without success.

The historic 17-year-old Napier was no joke. When it first appeared the handicappers gave it a limit start. It was not enough, although the old car lapped at 78.43mph. At the 1925 Autumn BARC races the aged car lapped at 71.95, 82.04 and 80.33mph, to finish in third behind a Thomas Special and Turner's quick Austro-Daimler, taking the smiles off the faces of puzzled spectators.

This old grey Napier was a non-runner at Easter 1926 and may have run at a minor club meeting that October. I've never heard of it since.