Napier Launches into Competition
We are all aware that motor sport technical development leads to an improved standard of everyday cars. This was very much the case for Napiers where S F Edge’s sporting ‘driving force’ brought about improvements for the Napier marque.
With Napiers first car of 1900, Edge was determined to show that it could compete and win a gold medal in its class in the 1,000 Mile Trial. When the 16 HP car was ready Edge was in action once more in the first ascent of Porlock Hill and later with the 50 HP monster at the Gallion Hill Climb; both proving that Napiers could perform. Although Edge with C S Rolls took the 16HP car to France to enter the Paris-Toulouse race they were aware that the car was outclassed. Edge returned to England determined to have a Napier that could be more competitive. Montague Napier then manufactured a 50HP car working on the basis that more power must achieve results. However a car of over 3 tons could not run on English tyres as they were. Although entered for the 1901 Gordon Bennett Race Edge had to fit Continental tyres which then excluded the car since all components had to originate from the UK. Edge was determined to enter the race the following year and persuaded Napier that weight was the critical factor.
The Gordon Bennett Race was first held in France and did not attract a great deal of attention until Great Britain won in 1902 taking the crown away from France. After this the event became much more International as manufacturers realised how important competition and performance was to buyers of the cars.
A car weighing under 1,000 kilos was produced just in time for the 1902 race. It was held in conjunction with the Paris – Vienna event. Edge, after many trials and tribulations ended up as the only surviving competitor and just had to complete the course. With Napier reliability he did so winning the Gordon Bennett race for Great Britain. In tribute to Ireland which was the only country in the UK which still permitted road racing, the car had been painted dark green earning the title “First to Wear the Green” which, of course, became the British Racing colour.
The Napier win meant that the 1903 event had to be held in the UK. The law was against out and out racing on public roads so it was decided to hold the event in Ireland, after passing of an Act of Parliament. Napiers produced a team of four cars to compete in the Welbeck eliminating trials to be held to determine the British contenders.
Edge Jarrott & Stocks were the drivers for the 1903 race but without success as the event was won by Jenatzy in a Mercedes. British tyres and accidents prevented the return of the Trophy to Britain in 1903. Undaunted the same cars with improvements were entered for 1904. The eliminating trials were held in the Isle of Man and due to a major crash only one Napier was selected with two Wolseleys. Edge drove his Napier over to Germany but broke his crankshaft en route but a new one was fitted just in time for the race. The race was however won by Thery on a Richard-Brazier. This was the last GB race in which Edge drove; he blamed the British tyres for many of his problems. In 1905 Eliminating Trials were held again in the Isle of Man, Edge not driving. Cecil Edge (Edge’s cousin), Clifford Earp, John Hargreaves with earlier improved Napier cars and MacDonald with Samson. Clifford Earp was the only finisher, but was without success in the actual GB race.
Mention must be made of L 48 Samson probably the first 6 cylinder engine competition car made by Napier’s mostly driven by MacDonald which achieved speeds in excess of 100mph in the USA in January 1905. In its final outing for Edge at Brooklands in 1908 Samson reached a speed of 130mph.
Most of the Gordon Bennett cars were sold off on 1905 into private owners hands.
The GB Races publicised Napier’s the way no other type of publicity could and the works had to extend to cope with the demand for the cars.