THE FIRST TO WEAR THE GREEN A Review of Napier Racing Cars, 1900-1908
by A. S. HEAL
This year we all hope that the B.R.M. team will establish British prestige in International motor racing. Here is an article to give them heart, from the skilled pen of Anthony Heal.—Ed.
THE welcome advent Of the B.R.M. reminds us that it is more than twenty-seven years since a British firm last set out to build a team of racing. cars to the current international formula for Dull-scale Grand Prix racing. The last occasionwas in 1924 when the Sunbeam Motor Co. constructed three supercharged six-cylinder machines for the Grand Prix de l’Europe which was run at Lyon under the 19221925 2-litre Formula. One member of the Sunbeam team (then Major) H. 0. D. Segrave, put up the fastest lap, despite powerful opposition from AlfaRomeo, F.I.A.T., Delage and Bugatti. He finally finished in fifth place. Later in the same year Segrave defeated his Continental rivals by winning the Spanish Grand Prix at San Sebastian. In 1924 Britain could feel that the green ears from Wolverhampton worthily upheld her honintr and prestige in International Grands Prix.
Unlike some seribes,, the writer dOCB not intend to offer unsolicited advice to these in charge Of the B.R.M. Trust nor yet to discuss the Sunbeam Motor Co.’s successes in Grand Prix racing twenty-six years and more ago: The purpose of this article is to deal with Britain’s first entry into international racing and with the subsequent successes and failures of the men who, more than fifty years ago, first challenged the products of the Continental motor industries with a British-built car. This brief chronicle of their achievements and their foibles contains some object lessons that we may profit from today.
By the year 1000, when our story begins, the speed and reliability of French Motor ears liad already been well developed by the long-distance road races that had been held on French roads. These events on the open roads had not only served to demonstrate that the new-fangled horseless carriage was a really practical form of transport but they had also done a .great deal in developing the motor cars themselves. As a result the French motor. industry enjoyed a lead both commercially and technically that was denied to those who were struggling to establish motor manufacture in this country, where public prejudice and vested intercA s /heaped obstacles in the way of the pioneer motorists. It was a courageous Step on the part of the late S. F. Edge to enter an almost standard 10-h.p. Napier for the Paris
Totdoi LS P tris race of 1900. This machine, which became the first BritiSli car ever to compete in a face on foreign soil, ILltd is 4.9-litre engine with four Cylinders (101.0 by 152.4 ram.), triple automatic inlet valves and trembler coil ignition. A four-speed gearbox and final drive by chains were Used. The only deviation from standard was the use of larger sprockets. Not unnaturally the 24-hp. Mors and Tankards proved morc than a match for the 16-h.p. English car, which had to retire because the Britishmade coils caused incessant misfiring.
Edge’s mechanic in this rare was none Other than the Hon. C. S. Rolls. who was later to Make a name for himself ina only in the motor industry but. also in the world of aviation.
Although the Napier did not cover itself with glory at its lirst attempt, the expedition . was a valuable reconnaissance in anticipation of the 11101 Gordon Bennett Cup race. Edge not only realised the enormous value that victory in the race would bring but it was also made clear to him that the 16-11.p. Napier was not nearly fast enough. To bring the Cap to England would need a much more powerful car than any that Napier’s had yet built. Montague Napier felt confident that, given a free hand, he could censtruct
car equal in power and speed to any yet produced by the French manufacturers. Edge agreed that he should have enge bbinehe, and Napier constructed an enormous 50-h.p. Wide with a huge fourcylinder engine (165 by 190 min.). In his book of “Motoring Reminiscences,” Edge remarks about this eat, ” everything about it was enormous, not. excepting the Weight.” It weighed 3f tons. The cooling system contained 14 gallons of water and the petrol tank held 50 gallons of fuel, which was consumed at the rate of one gallon every font. miles The 10-litre engine ran up to BOO r.p.m. and developed 103 b.h.p., which, it was claimed, sufficed to propel the machine at 85 rn.p.h, No throttle was fitted, the engine-speed being regulated solely by advancing or retarding the ignition. Triple automatic inlet valves were again used and the cylinders were east in alwninium, presumably with cast iron liners. Gerald Rose describes the clutch as ” metal to metal ” in contrast to the leather-lined cone clutch used on the 16-1t.p. car of the previous year. ThC gearbox gave four speeds and the final drive was by outside chains. The hand brake appears to have been of the “pushon ‘.’ type, placed in a rather awkward position behind the driver’s shoulder. It was guile impossible to test such a Monster in England, where the speed limit was still 12 m.p.h., se Edge and Napier sot off for France some time
before the Gordon Bennett race was due to take place. With II. J. Swindley, of The Antocar. as passenger, Edge covered a flying kilometre on the read from. Chartres to Ablis in 32.4 see. ((19 m.p.h.) and averaged 66.93 m.p.h. for five miles. It was soon apparent that no English tyres could stand up to the stresses imposed on them by the weight, power and speed of the Napier. It was decided therefore to fit French tyres instead and to abandon the idea of competing for the Gordon Bennett Cup, the regulations for which specified that all the components of each competing car had to be made in the country that the machine represented. Each country could be represented by a team of not more titan three ears. This regulation imposed a greater handicap on France titan on any other country in view of the size of her motor industry compared with other nations. The Automobile Club de France therefore decided to combine the Gordon Bennett competition with their ONVII Paris-I3ordeaux race and the Napier was able to take part in the latter. Edge, with Montague Napier as his mechanic, was the fourth man to start, behind Charron (24-h.p. Panhard), Levegh. (50-11.p. Mors) and Girardot (24-11.p. Panhard) who fonned the French team for the Gordon Bennett Cup. At Chartres the 50-1x.p. Napier was fifth, at Chateau’dun it was sixth, having been overtaken by Fournier (Mors). Voigt (Panhard) and Axt (Paultard), but the English car had passed Charron, who started first. At Tours Edge was seventh and at Coolie Verne, sonic 20 miles soul it of Poitiers and 350 kilometres from the start, he had fallen to eleventh place as adjustments had had to be min:e to the clutch. Before he reached the next control the clutch finally wilted, ” there was no further room for adjustment,” and the Napier retired. Edge wrote : ” I remember telling Napier, as we sat there in the car stranded .at the side.of the road, that it. was hopeless going to the great expense or producing a huge car capable of immense speed if it. were impossible to utilize that speed.” Poor Napier ! Ile can have been in no fit stale to argue that (lie driver may have had sonic share in the deb:wle. Not only had Naider ridden in the exposed mechanic’s-seat since 4.15 a.m. until after midday, but he had been taken nal:id:in It nexpected corner on two wheels when an
liecanut wedged between the clutch pedal and the floor boards. Montague Napier never took part in a motor race again. Incidentally, the driver’s practice of declutching on corners may have had sometldng to do with the clutch t roul tie (lint ultinuitely ea ivied t heir retirement.
The 50-14p. Napier took pant. in the Paris-Berlin race later in the same year but it retired, before the end of the first etape, with a broken back spring. At the Giulio:1 hill-clintb. however, it won the class for cars over 650 kilos in weight. The lessons of the two previous years had not been lost on Edge and Napier. No chain is stronger than its weakest link, and in designing their car for the 1902 Gordon Bennett race it real attempt was made to bring down the weight and so reduce the load on the tyres which had proved to be the Achilles’ heel of the great 50-11.p. car. The 1902 30-h.p. Gordon Bennett Napier was both smaller and lighter. It had four cylinders (127 by 127 nun.), quadruple automatic inlet valves and coil ignition. Engine speed was regulated by a governor-controlled throttle. To save weight a three-speed gearbox and shaft drive were used. The frame was of ash reinforced by steel Hitch plates, and the car, ‘complete with acctunulators, weighed only Ifq ewt., which brought. it well below the maximum weight permitted by the regulations for the race, nanatly Low kilos (approximately 20 cwt.). The 6.4-litre engine W as said to develop 44.5 b.h.p. and to propel the car at neatly 75 m.p.h. Mon
tague Napier sought in this design to strike a nice balance between weight and engine power. The 1902 race for the Gordon Bennett Cup was run in conjunction with the PariS-Vienna race on June 26th-29th. The former terminated at Innsbruck, a distance of 351 miles. It was not until June 19th that the new Napier was completed!, so very little time remained for testing and tuning. On June 24th the car left. the Napier works at Lambeth laden with spare tyres, spare parts, tools and all the paraphernalia inseparable from racing cars. Thattague Napier sat in the mechanic’s scat while S. F. Edge drove, and his cousin Cecil, who was to accompany him in the race. perched on the floorboards. Before they reached Folkestone one of the cylinder heads cracked and, after a frantic telephone call to the works, a spare was found and rushed down by two mechanics, who fitted it during the Channel crossing. The work was compicted and the car (nice more set out for Paris, but near Abbeville the gearbox made a protesting noise while ascending a hill in second gear. On removing the cover, to quote Edge’s Own words, ” we found that the teeth of the second-speed pinion were completely bent over, thus allowing its companion to revolve out of mesh. By some fatal oversight at the works the second-speed piiiion had tait been properly casehardened.” The expe. I it ion proceeded, however, using bottom and top gears only to Paris, where the Napier was housed in a stable and the &pipe dismantled the gearbox. Montague Napier took the damaged gear-wheel to the Clement Netory, where, believe it or not, he straightened the teeth and completed the ease-hardening. fly working all night the car was got ready in time for the scrittineering and weighing-in next morning. Having passed through this ordeal successfully, Napier discovered that in reassembling the gearbox a distance piece that. prevented two gears being engaged simultaneously had been left. out. There was nothing for it but to dismantle and reassemble the gearbox again ! The race was due to start at 3 a.m. and the work was completed just. in time to allow Edge and his cousin Cecil to have a meal before setting off to race across France to Belfort, where the first day’s run finished. Neither of them had been to bed for three nights before. the start, but they were buoyed Ilp by the fact that tilt. car was nitni tt inig perfectly. Their troubles were by no means at an end, for :t fiat tyre interrupted their progress and alter fitting a new inner tube they found that their tyre pump would not work. Count Zhorowski, the father of the creator of ” Chitty-ChittyBang-Bang.” driving a Mercedes, very sportingly stopped and gave them his pump. The Napier readied Belfort safely and after a night in bed the crew were up again at 3 mt.ini After changing all four tyres, which had gone flat overnight. I hey at off for 13regenz. Although on this section of the course through Switzerland no raving was allowed, the prospect of crossing the Arlberg Pass on the next day began to trouble Edge and his cousin as their brakes were wearing out. But other competitors had their Continued on page 230 —continued from page 228 troubles too ; the Chevalier de KnylT, who was leading the Gordon Bennett competitors OH his Paniutrd. had damaged his differential. Fournier (MOM) and Girardot (C.G.V.), the other two members of the French tram, had already retired. 1)e Knyff had it comfortable kad if 1 hour and 48 minutes from Edge, who was the only remaining competitor for the Gordon Bennett, Cup. The Chevalier could therefore afford to take it easy on the last stage Irian Bregenz tO Innsbruck, and, provided his transmission held _together, the third Panhard victory in succession was assured. The Napier reached the summit of the Arlberg Pass despite its rather doubtful second speed, but, on the descent the brakes faded out entirely and Edge was forced to use the indirect gears to slow the car for the lutirpin beads. Like so amity Austrian mountain roads, l he Arlberg was crossed, every fifty rants or so, by gullies or can/moue, over which the Par proceeded in a series of resounding crashes. At the bot tom of the Pass, Edge stopped to look over the car and he was dismayed to find II at the bottom of the locker, containing the tools and the spare tubes, had broken away and the contents had been lost on Hie i•oad. Whilst Edge and his cousin surveyed the damage, Charles Jarrott, who was driving a 70-11.p. Panhard, stopped and told them that de Knyff’s car had had to retire and they need only reach the control at Innsbruck to win 1 he
Gordon Bennett Cup. In order to preserve their only remaining inner tubes. they proceeded to fit new covers to the rear wheels, using only their bare hands to do so. Such a feat sounas impossible, .and in later years when Edge was asked by tin incredulous person whether this legend was true, he said that had it not happened to himself he would not have believed it possible. The Napier reached Innsbruck safely and so beeame the first English cmto win an international motor race, and the first ” foreign ” competitor to wrest the Gordon Bennett Cup from the French motor industry. It was not until 21 years later that a race of comparable importance was again won by an Englishman in a British-built racing car.
To be continued.
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