Napier-Railton: The hardest working car in the world
88 and counting....
If the Napier-Railton was a person, it would a person who begins working as soon as they are born and don't stop working until the day they die. You may think this is an exaggeration, but then again, you don't know the story of this magnificent car.
The story goes that in 1933, affluent racer John Cobb commissioned Reid Railton to design him a race car. This car would race at Brooklands, which was an oval track and one of the fastest race circuits in the world. The most important thing at Brooklands is speed. So Railton took the early 1900s approach of sticking a massive engine in the front of the car. However, he didn't just choose any old engine.
The Napier Lion is a 24 litre engine. Yeah, 24 litres
Railton used the Napier Lion, an RAF- Specification aerospace V12 engine. The total displacement of the engine is 24 litres, which means that each cylinder has a displacement of 2 litres. Essentially, each cylinder is bigger than a modern F1 engine. The engine featured three banks of four cylinders and produced 580 bhp. This figure is still impressive in a car today, but back then, it was unheard of. Since the engine was initially designed for planes, there were a few teething problems, but car builders Thomson & Taylor sorted out said issues to build an extremely powerful car which was actually stable at high speeds.
The Napier-Railton came out of the blocks firing, taking the lap record at Brooklands in 1935, with an average speed of 143.44 mph. In 1935! Brooklands soon after stopped hosting races, so the Railton's record is the all time lap record at Brooklands. After Brooklands, the Napier-Railton travelled to the South of France and Utah to set an eye- watering 47 speed records, including the fastest open wheel vehicle in the world.
Soon after in 1939, with the eve of the World War 2, the Railton stopped racing competitively. Now, at this point, many race cars would be sold to a private collector and stored in a collection, never to see the light of day again. However, the Railton had a very different fate. Although the car lay dormant during the war, in 1950, John Cobb sold the car to GQ Parachute company. The company used the car to test aircraft parachute brakes, as the car had the right amount of power to simulate an aircraft. Also, note the front of the car in the image below. GQ asked Reid Railton to redesign the front of the car to reduce drag, in order to achieve speeds even higher than before.
Around 1960, GQ Parachutes sold the car to a private buyer. This buyer got the car restored to its pre- parachute testing glory, with shiny new aluminium and the cooler looking, less aerodynamic nose. Although the car's ownership history is quite murky, the car was never hidden away from the public. The car has had a rumoured 6 owners since 1960, but each owner put effort into maintenance and the car raced at many events, such as the Goodwood festival of speed and it also made appearances in the Brooklands collection.
In 1997, Brooklands bit the bullet and purchased the car. Although it wasn't in bad condition, the car stripped and restored. The engine also got a thorough restoration, allowing it to once again produce 580 horsepower as it may have lost a few horses while in other hands. Now, the car is displayed to the public and it still makes its way to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed. But it isn't put on display there. Oh no, it gets driven on the hill climb and it always takes part in the parade. Simply, the Napier-Railton was a pinnacle of engineering when it first raced in 1933, but it is still a very relevant car.
The Napier-Railton looking pretty at the Brooklands Museum
Thanks for reading. If you would like to find out more about the Napier-Railton, visit brooklandsmuseum.com to read more about this car and many, many others in the collection.
Also, big thanks to the really nice volunteer at Brooklands Museum who was as (if not more) passionate about cars as me. If he hadn't taken the 10 minutes to talk to me, I wouldn't be aware of the incredible story of this car.