Another Napier mystery

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Not long ago I discussed a rather mysterious Brooklands Napier, the Wolseley Viper. I have now thought of another Napier, also raced at Brooklands and by the same person, Capt A G Miller.

Miller was known at Brooklands for as long as anyone, beginning with motorcycles before WWI and driving a wide variety of cars at Weybridge up to 1939, causing me to dub him ‘Mr Brooklands’, although some drivers thought the title should have been theirs…

Towards the close of his career Miller built a typical Brooklands car. He told me that this 40/50 racing Napier was originally a landaulette. By the time it made its racing debut the 40/50hp Napier had been forgotten by many. Yet it had been one of the better post-war ohc luxury cars, though not successful because Napier did not develop it. In the end Napier’s decided that they should make more ‘Lion’ aero-engines instead of cars. By shutdown in 1924 only 187 40/50s had been made.

Nevertheless, when I arrived at the Track on August Bank Holiday 1929 and saw Capt Miller’s navy blue Napier with cowled radiator, smart two-seater racing body, and 6178 cc ohc engine, it seemed just the sort of car to fit the Brooklands scene. For some reason Napier’s objected to it being raced as one their cars, so Miller had entered it as the Auto-Speed Special, after one of his businesses. Why? The 40/50 was long dead as far as factory-sales were concerned. Admittedly Miller was a flamboyant character, or was Napier fearful of any failure reflecting, however obliquely, on their splendid aero-engines? Surely not?

That apart, how well did the car go that August? It was seen first in the 90mph Short Handicap, in which it had a start of 16sec from Jack Dunfee’s 3-litre GP Ballot and had to leave 45sec after Wallbank’s 1914 TT Humber which I was delighted to see come in the winner, the Ballot second. Miller had lapped at 78.18mph, slowest of all, but showing that some pace had been achieved over a normal 40/50 Napier’s 72mph. (The gallant old Humber got round at 91.72mph and designer Burgess had tears in his eyes as he saw it win…) Dudley Froy had won the lightning Short Handicap in Delage I, and Cyril Paul won another race in the aged 21-litre Benz, and Miller took second place with it in another race, so perhaps the Napier was soon forgotten.

Miller then sold it to Gerald Denny, who entered it for the last BARC Meeting of 1931, and as the Napier-Miller Special what’s more had the Acton company relented or was the Irishman cocking a snook? It was, though, to no avail, as Miller, who was to drive it, non-started in both its races; but unless a lot more speed had been found he would have been completely out-handicapped anyway. Whether or not Mr Denny came over for these races is not known. He had a large estate at Cahir, Co Tipperary, and apparently liked being driven fast over its private roads, for which purpose he also bought Delage I. Miller used to go over for this. As he said, “…it was fun, I was looked after well, and always came home with a fine salmon…”

A small ad in The Autocar soon advertised the ’35/120hp Miller-Napier’ for £150. Does it perhaps still exist somewhere on that Irish estate? For Viper to vanish was had enough, when anyone with a spare £25 could have bought it; for both Napiers to disappear was just too much!

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