The Napier Railton Limited Edition Print

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Limited Edition Print reproduced from the original Pencil Drawing by Andrew Smith.

Unmounted and Unframed

594 x 420mm (23.4" x 16.5")
Retro GP Andrew Smith

The Napier Railton
by Andrew Smith - Founder of RetroGP

'This was a real labour of love. I've always been fascinated with this incredible machine so investing 450 hours of my life capturing as much detail as possible, was not a problem. Even though I was working in the garden shed throughout the winter'.  



Built in 1907 by wealthy land owner Hugh Locke King, Brooklands was the first purpose built motor racing circuit. With no blue print to work from or predecessor to act as a template, its creation, born out of pure imagination, set new standards in construction and engineering.

The racing world watched in awe as the 3 1/4 mile circuit rolled out like a giant concrete carpet into the Surrey landscape.

For 30 years, it was the epicentre of the British motor and aeronautical industries, attracting the cream of the nation’s premier designers and engineers to work within it’s perimeters. Malcolm Campbell, Barnes Wallis and Reid Railton, to name but a few.

It was the place where legends were created and where the first pages of land speed record books were written. There was nowhere similar in the world or in history, it was and is unique. 

Rather like the Napier Railton itself which between 1933 and 1937 broke 47 World speed records at Brooklands, Montlhéry and Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

The story of the Napier-Railton begins with race driver John Cobb who had a rich history at Brooklands before this car came about. As early as 1925, he took his first win at the track in a 10-Litre Fiat that was paid for by the spoils of his fur trading business.

He went through a number of other cars before commissioning the Napier-Railton to specifically break speed records. Its custom chassis was designed by Reid Railton and construction was executed at Thomson and Taylor's workshop in the Brooklands Aero Village. This was the same company that made the trio of legendary Bluebirds for Malcolm Campbell.

Many features of the Napier are unique including its oversize tyres custom made by Dunlop and a rear suspension that uses twin elliptic leaf springs. Surprisingly, it doesn't have an electrical system at all and is devoid of headlights or window wipers. This means the car has to be push started despite its massive size and weight.

Sitting at the front of the 15 foot chassis is a massive 12-cylinder Napier Lion aero engine that was probably repurposed from any number of the 160 different planes that used it.

Chosen for its brute power, the W12 was connected to the rear wheels through a custom-made Moss three-speed gearbox that lacked reverse or any synchro gears. It's now generally agreed that the engine produces around 540 bhp which is way too much for a car lacking front brakes.





Photo ©stefan lange

The Napier-Railton is covered in a massive polished aluminum body that does little to help its 4518 lbs of bulk. Its design is currently credited to Gurney Nutting and somehow hides the huge length of the chassis. To help keep the proverbial 'what is this?' question to a minimum, the script 'Napier-Railton' is affixed to both sides of the 'bonnet'.

Inside the cockpit has a range of Jaeger gauges, a four-spoke Bluemel wheel and an adjustable seat to accommodate the various drivers that performed some of the more lengthy runs. As with many cars of the time, the accelerator is centrally located with the clutch and brake on either side.

Completed during the winter of 1933, John Cobb was able to contest Brookland's fabled races and took top honors in 1935 when he won the BDRC's 500. He also smashed the outer circuit lap top speed record at 143.44 mph and the regular circuit lap record, both which cemented the Napier-Railton's place in history. Later, the car made an appearance at the Bonneville Salt Flats where it ran an average of 158.6 mph for 24 hours!

Eventually the Napier-Railton was sold to a parachute company to test various disc brake configurations. At this time, the 16 inch drums were permanently replaced by more sane 6-piston aeroplane discs.

Despite the age of the car, it still retains its original engine and gearbox that have both run over 12000 racing miles. Remarkably, the BDRC rallied enough money in 1997 to buy the car from Lucas Huni and keep the Napier-Railton in the UK. It's currently run twice yearly near the Brooklands Museum and also makes appearances at many English events including the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Technical Information
The car is fitted with a modified Napier Lion XI aero engine, chosen for its power and reliability. The engine has 12 cylinders in three banks of four, arranged in a ‘W’ or broad arrow configuration. The cylinder bore is 5.5” (139.7mm), and stroke is 5.125” (130.2mm) giving a total capacity of 23,970cc. It is fitted with double overhead camshafts, with four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. Ignition is provided by twin Watford type 12B magnetos. The rated brake horsepower for the engine is 530 bhp at 2350rpm.

The transmission via a Borg and Beck single plate dry clutch to a Moss three speed non-synchromesh gearbox, with no reverse gear. There is no self starter- the car is push started. The car was originally fitted with 16” drum bakes to the rear wheels only. These were changed to Dunlop 6 cylinder calliper disc brakes in the early 1950s when the car was used for testing aircraft braking parachutes. There is a transmission hand brake.

In its present form the car weighs just over 2 tons (4518lb, 2054kg). Overall length of the car is 16ft 3in (4953mm), wheelbase 10ft 10in (3302mm), and the track 5ft 3in (1600mm).  The fuel tank has a capacity of 15 gallons (68 litres). The engine has dry sump lubrication, and the oil tank capacity is 15 gallons (68 litres). The lubricating oil is Castrol GP50.





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