June 21, 2024

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Geared for the Automotive Life

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Watch: Bonhams Presents 1904 Napier Samson L48 at Amelia Island

If you think the idea of a large engine and small chassis started with American muscle cars, think again. How’s 15 liters of fury sound to you?

This car is a reconstruction of the 1904 Gordon Bennett Napier L48 “Samson” racer, built using the original engine from 1904. This was the world’s first six-cylinder race car, and it was fast — it broke the 100 mph barrier at Daytona Beach in 1905, with a Flying One Mile Record of 104.65 mph. It was later driven by Dorothy Levitt, who achieved the Women’s World Speed Record in the car in 1906.

“There is nothing in all of motoring quite like the massive displacement early racing cars. Driving this Napier you experience everything that makes this era so exciting,” said Evan Ide, for Bonhams|Cars. “When setting off you are struck by just how tall the gearing is — first is like high in anything else. When you get the machine rolling and apply any throttle the machine hurls forward snapping your back in your seat. You are launched to over 50 mph before you can grasp what has happened and you are still in first gear! You need a bit more speed still to drop it in the only other gear and then it starts all over with the engine dropping to just a few hundred revs. When you open the throttle, it feels like it could go forever well past 100 mph. While thundering around in this beast one cannot help but be captivated by the fact that you are controlling the engine that set such a milestone world record.” 

In terms of top speed, this car once hit 130 mph at Brooklands — and that’s at a time when most speed limits were around 20 mph.

After a long top speed career, Napier eventually sold the racer for scrap. The engine, however, lived on, first in a speedboat (which set a new water speed record), and later with collector Alan Hawker Chamberlain, who found the engine and elected to recreate the car around it.

Bonhams will be offering this car at its Amelia Island auction on February 29 at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club in Florida. 

Learn more here.