- A unique collection of veteran motor vehicles
1904 NAPIER 12/18 HP
1904 Napier 12/18 hp

A pair of 1904 "Napiers of America"
12/18 hp 4 seat side entrance

The Brace at Brighton


The respected precision engineering firm of D Napier & Son had been in business in Lambeth, South London, for nearly one hundred years before Montague Napier, grandson of the founder, made his first motor car engines in 1899. The firm converted the Panhard-Levassor of S F Edge from tiller to wheel steering and fitted it with a Napier engine and Edge came to figure large in the Napier motorcar story. He made an agreement with Napier that he would take all of the firm's output providing he had exclusive rights. Edge vigorously promoted Napier cars, bombarding the press with letters, engaging in publicity stunts, and taking part in motoring competitions of all sorts, including racing.

Early motor races only took part on the continent and in America as racing on public roads in Britain was illegal. Napier and Wolseley were the only British companies that regularly took part in European competitions in the early days. The most important event in the motor sport calendar became the Gordon Bennett Trophy race. It was run annually in conjunction with a town to town race but the competing cars represented their country of origin. When Edge won the Trophy in 1902 it was a triumph for him, Napier and Britain. There was a surge in demand for Napiers and a large new factory was built on a 'green field site' in Acton, West London.

The next Napier initiative was to introduce for 1904 a six-cylinder motorcar to its range of models. Despite Edge's claims, Napier did not invent the six-cylinder engine, nor was it the first firm to use one for a motorcar, but it was the first to make the six-cylinder car a commercial success. A 'Noiseless Napier' rapidly became the English car to own and it was some years before Rolls-Royce eclipsed this position.

Whatever their merits, British cars did not sell well in continental Europe. In a search for a wider market Napier opened an American factory in Boston in 1904 to circumvent the American tax of 45% of the purchase price on complete imported motorcars. Napier parts were exported, thus attracting a much lower tariff, assembled in Boston and had locally-made bodies fitted.

They were then able to compete on price with the finest American makes. However, unlike its English activities the operation was only a limited success and was wound up in 1912. In the same year Napier bought out Edge's rights and the diversification of its engineering activities was continued; the success of the Napier Lion aero engine during and after the Great War pointing the way forward.

Motorcar manufacture was ended in 1924 and after years of making a range of outstanding aero engines Napier was taken over by English Electric in 1945, eventually becoming a division of Rolls-Royce in 1962.

De Dion Bouton
Georges Richard
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