Napier Vehicles – An Introduction
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.
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.