Sydney, March 10: One of Australia’s most historically significant cars and perhaps the most unusual car ever sent to auction in Australia was passed in at a Sydney auction on the weekend for AU$1.5 million.
A private buyer is now being sought for the 15-litre classic vehicle.
The Napier L48, later nicknamed Samson, was recreated by the Chamberlain brothers of tractor fame using the original engine of the 1904 Napier which set a land speed record at Ormond Beach in Florida in 1905.
The speed was 104.65mph (168kph) over the measured mile.
It was the first British car to exceed 100 miles per hour.
The Napier company was put on the map by Australian Selwyn Francis (SF) Edge who was born in Sydney but migrated with his family to Britain in 1871 at the age of three. Most of the Edge family returned to their homeland and also made a great contribution to the early years of motorised transport in Australia.
SF Edge stayed in England and became one of the most important figures in the nascent motor industry. He became the sales agent for Napier and used record breaking and motor racing as a way to garner publicity for the brand.
In 1903 Edge announced a new model for 1904 — a six cylinder machine. Napier’s engine was arguably the first successful six cylinder race engine ever built.
L48’s unusual cooling system, consisting of copper tubes running the length of the engine, was apparently not for streamlining or for efficient cooling, but because SF Edge thought the pipes would make the Napier stand out.
The record breaking first engine from the Napier race car was sold in 1908 to Fred and Percy Cornwell in Australia who used it in their record-breaking speedboat, Nautilus 2. The boat was specially built by the Cornwell brothers to house the engine and they won many races with the car including Australia’s premier motor boat race, the E.C. Griffiths Cup, in 1914 and 1915.
It was the fastest motor boat in Australia in its day, even against imported competition.
The engine from the Napier remained in Australia, apparently ignored in a corner of the Cornwell brother’s pottery factory for around 34 years, until discovered in 1950 by Bob Chamberlain, the wealthy industrialist famous for his tractors. Chamberlain bought the engine originally with the idea of cleaning it up and displaying it at one of his factories. Not until 1977 did Chamberlain begin the daunting task of recreating the original Napier. Using original factory drawings, photographs, and his company’s extensive engineering workshops, he recreated the car to its 1908 specifications when it raced at Brooklands with the 15 litre engine.
It was sold in April 1993 at a Sotheby’s auction in Melbourne, as part of Bob Chamberlain’s estate and purchased for display in Peter Briggs’ York Motor Museum collection.
The car’s former owner, Peter Briggs, who hails from Perth said that he would like to see a new Australian custodian for the historic car and hopes that he uses it with the same enthusiasm as he did.
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