The well known meeting of Henry Royce and Charles Rolls overshadowed an earlier and equally important meeting which spawned the production of a greater number of Luxury cars, commercial vehicles and great sporting achievements. Montague Napier, Selwyn Francis Edge and Charles Rolls all had a passion for bicycling. This was a popular sport and pastime in the 1890’s and the three men often met at the many cycle events. Charles Rolls and S F Edge both had Panhard et Levassor cars which interested Montague Napier. At the prompting of S F Edge Napier converted his Panhard to wheel steering , electric ignition and pneumatic tyres in 1898/9. This clearly started a train of thought with Napier which resulted in the manufacture and production of the first Napier vehicle in 1900.
Many vehicles at that period were either designed on the Daimler/Panhard basis or Benz style. Benz style was usually with a horizontal single cylinder rear mounted engine driving through belts making it quite a light vehicle. The Panhard system was based on a vertical engine multi cylinder in front followed by clutch, gearbox and final drive by chain and capable of much higher performance but heavier. Napier followed the Panhard design taking into account his appreciation of his friend’s cars. In 1899 Napier started work on an 8hp car. Generally engineers are not known for sales expertise and so Napier drew on the experience of his friend S F Edge. He entered into an agreement making Edge the SOLE sales Agent for Napier cars. Edge was an entrepreneur who had the vision and ability to entice the interest of the fledgling motor enthusiast. He excelled in Motor Sport drew a huge amount of publicity for Napier cars as well as gaining many accolades for Great Britain.
Napier’s started vehicle production in 1900 and finished in 1924. In that 25 year period they produced just under 10,000 vehicles made up as follows:
-Cars, taxis and a number of commercial vehicles based on car design - 7,395*
-Commercial vehicles designed as such and recorded accordingly from 1912 - 2,052*
Total vehicles produced - 9,447*
*All information taken from existing surviving Napier Factory records.
Of the total cars 198 were produced after WWI. Records for specific commercial designs started in 1912, of which 491 were produced after WWI. Out of the total production only just over 100 survive today (under 1%) with a great number located in Australia as well as the UK.
Montague constructed his first Napiers at his Lambeth Works. He finished his first 8 hp car 5 days before the start of the 1900 Thousand Mile Trial that April. Not surprisingly the vehicle had teething troubles but after overcome them it had the power and reliability to complete the 1,000 miles and in doing so winning its class. This was a remarkable achievement for everyone at Napiers since it was their first car. Although it had been ordered for a Mrs Kennard, Edge had her permission to run it in the trial. The car followed the Panhard System in virtually all respects with Napier fitting wheel steering, electric ignition and Dunlop pneumatic tyres. The major difference was the twin cylinder engine that had a 360 degree crankshaft with both cylinders on the same throw and a counter balance hanging between the two conrods in an attempt to offset the vibration. The gearbox was completely Panhard system with a double crown wheel giving 4 speeds in both forward and reverse, making it very heavy.
Napier then produced a 16hp vehicle based on same system with similar components but with 4 cylinders. Designs developed to a 50hp, 11 litre monster weighing over 3 tons. In 1901 a 9hp car was produced similar to the original 8hp with a conventional 180 degree crankshaft and a much smaller and lighter gearbox with only 1 normal reverse gear making a smoother and better performing car. In 1902 the 12hp 4 cylinder car was produced that proved to be very popular and was continued up to 1905. The later versions had mechanical inlet valves. Another interesting point was that the 12hp model was shipped to the USA and sold under the “Napier of America” Logo; three survive today. Probably the most famous of all the early road cars was on belonging to Mr Glidden. He owned a 1902 12hp Napier that he used for 42,000 miles circumnavigation of the world. Some parts of the run were using railway wheels by removing the road wheels.
Mention must be made of the Napier engines that Edge had fitted into several boats from 1901. The first in 1901 used a 16hp Napier car engine and later in 1903 the 50hp engine. This had been removed from an old racing car and produced 75 bhp at 800rpm. Edge had of course to compete and won many motorboat racing trophies including the International Harmsworth Trophy after the GB race in Ireland in 1903 piloted by Dorothy Levitt a famous female racer of the time. Edge and private boat owners such as Lord Montagu and Lionel Rothschild continued to compete although Edge withdrew from Boat racing in 1906.
The dawn of British Motoring history at the end of the 19th century was accompanied by the third generation of D Napier & Son, namely Montague Napier taking the helm of the business. Napier cars and commercial vehicles were the most important component of the Company at this time and were one of the few Napier powered products to leave the works as a complete entity under the Company name. The extent of Napier vehicle production is often missed however the Company was one of the most prolific British car manufacturers in the first decade of the 20th Century.
We include a sub-section linking from the 4th page in the vehicles section expanding on the Napier 6-cylinder car engine and its use. A direct link is opposite.
This section of the website is dedicated to the memory of
DEREK GROSSMARK 1928 - 2013
Who saved a significant part of the Napier Vehicle records from D Napier & Son Acton Works in 1961/2.