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Napier launches in to Competition and the Gordon Bennett races “The First to Wear the Green”.

Saturday 5 January 2008, by Roy Gasson

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1903 GB car

The 1903 GB car now owned by Lord Montague in the National Motor Museum

We are all aware that Motor sport technical development leads to an improved standard of everyday cars, very much the case with Napier’s. The sporting and competitiveness of S F Edge were the driving force of developing the Napier Car this shows up in the Sporting period of Napier’s which ceased by 1908 many trophies listed in the back of the Sales brochures of the period.

With the first car the 1900 8hp, Edge was determined to show that Napier’s could compete, winning a gold medal in its class in the 1,000m Mile Trial . When the 16hp car was ready Edge was in action, Starting with the first assent of Porlock Hill with the 16hp car, then with the 50hp monster at Gallion Hill Climb proved that Napier cars could perform. Although Edge with C S Rolls took the 16hp car to France to enter the Paris-Toulouse race the car they were aware was outclassed, Edge came back determined to have a Napier that could be more competitive. Montague Napier then made the 50hp car working on the basis more power must achieve results BUT a car of over 3 tons just could not run on English tyres as they then were, although entered for the 1901 Gordon Bennett Race Edge had to fit Continental tyres which then excluded the car. Edge was determined to enter the GB race in 1902 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 Britain won in 1902 taking the crown away from France. After this the event became much more International as manufacturers realised how important to the buying public competition was.

A car weighing under 1,000 kilos was produced just in time for the 1902 race. The race was run in conjunction with the Paris-Vienna event, Edge after many incredible trials and tribulations ended up as the only surviving competitor and just had to complete the course, with Napier reliability did so winning for Great Britain the Gordon Bennett Race in 1902. The car was painted dark green hence the title “ First to Wear the Green” which 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. Napier 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 1903 race but without success as the race was won by Jenatzy on 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 that Edge drove, he blamed the British tyres for many of his problems. In 1905 E Trails were held again in the Isle Of Man, Edge not driving. Cecil Edge, Clifford Earp, John Hargreaves with earlier improved cars and MacDonald with Samson. Clifford Earp was the only finisher, but 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 Napiers 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 reaching 130mph Most of the Gordon Bennett cars were sold off in 1905 into private owners hands. The GB Races publicised Napiers the way no other type of publicity could and the works had to extend to cope with the demand for the cars.

When Locke-King decided to build Brooklands Race Track at Weybridge, Edge decided to again prove the superiority of Napier cars by running three 6 cylinder cars for 24 hours on the track before the official opening. This they did in June 1907 achieving all three cars exceeding an average of over 60 miles per hour for 24 hours. Edge driving single handed for the 24 hours covering 1,581 Miles being one of the first to use Rudge Whitworth detachable wheels. This achievement stood unbeaten for 18 years Napier cars were entered in many races at Brooklands and driven by works divers Tryon and Newton.

Napier/Edge in 1908 withdrew from the competitive scene except for private owner entries in UK Events.

More detailed information on Napier cars in Competition can be found in books listed in the Bibliography as it is not possible to do justice to the many events that Napier competed in, with in this short synopsis.

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