1904 Napier @ Bonhams Golden Age Of Motoring Auction

 1904 Napier @ Bonhams Golden Age Of Motoring Auction

1904 Napier 15hp Four-Cylinder Rear-Entrance Tonneau

Est: £275,000 - £350,000

1904 Napier 15hp Four-Cylinder Rear-Entrance Tonneau
Registration no. MC 143
Chassis no. 717
Engine no. 618
• Offered from more than 66 years of family ownership
• England's premier brand of its day
• Advanced technical specification with four cylinders and four speeds Veteran Car Club Dated
• Eligible for the London to Brighton Run

Bomhams Footnotes
In 2022, The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run will honour the magnificent achievement of S.F. Edge winning the Gordon Bennett Cup, from Paris to Innsbruck in Austria 120 years ago in a Napier car. It was a moment that drew great attention to British manufacturing of motorcars and British motorsport, but most of all it cemented Napier's place in the history of the automobile. This majestic Brighton Runner was built by that most coveted name of early British construction, being one of less than a dozen 1904 and earlier survivors of the marque.

The remarkable 1902 win came just seven years after Montague Stanley Napier had taken charge of the Lambeth-based family engineering business in 1895 upon the death of his father. The youthful twenty five year old – once described as "combining the philosophy and the modesty of the rustic cobbler with the best attributes of the unspeakable Scot" was a brilliant engineer keen to move the family business from its traditional fields of printing machinery manufacture into the new-fangled world of the horseless carriage. Fascinated by speed, he had earned repute as a racing cyclist of no mean ability and, mixing in those circles at the Bath Road Cycle Club, he came in contact with one Selwyn Francis Edge, London manager of The Dunlop Tyre Company. Napier's engineering flair and Edge's commercialism, combined with an at times uneasy flair for self-publicity, made for a powerful partnership that was soon to establish the name Napier at the forefront of the British motor industry as well as a force to be reckoned with in international motor racing.

In 1900 Napier entered their customer Edward Kennard's 8hp car in The Thousand Miles Trial around Britain, (a blatant piece of propaganda for the motor car), and with Edge at the wheel achieved not only first in class but second overall in the whole Trial against a formidable line up of 84 cars. Appreciating the value of such publicity Edge and Napier set their sights on the great Continental motor races, in particular focusing on winning The Gordon Bennett Trophy – the ambition achieved in 1902 in a spectacularly uneventful drive from Paris to Innsbruck which left the French team in a state of disarray by the roadside.

Alongside the epic drives and races Napier concentrated on building cars of high quality at the Lambeth works which they soon outgrew. A move to larger premises at Acton followed in 1902 and by 1906 1,000 men were employed at the Acton factory. Napier was the first to pioneer a reliable six-cylinder car, ahead even of Rolls and Royce and in doing so became the supreme luxury car of its day, but its light would shine more briefly in this form of engineering as the company focused on aero engines.

The fact that this car survives at all is thanks to the sleuthing of Captain Ivan Forshaw just after the war. Determined to find a good quality veteran or Edwardian car, he was most interested in the heritage of the Napier company and set about it, as one did in those days, by putting 'feelers' out with a few calls here and there to see if such a car could be found. One did materialise at Elford's Engineering in Southbourne, but when Elford Senior proved impossible to deal with and the price a prohibitive £50, the search moved on. In 1956, a chance encounter at the Post Office in Parkstone with a pair of scrap dealing brothers, the Kents, would prove to be the solution. Diver Kent asked Forshaw if a small chain driven lorry might suffice for what he was looking for, as they'd seen one recently somewhere in Upton in a barn near the road. Off went Capt. Forshaw to peak through barn doors until he found success.

As it turned out, the barn was partially collapsed and the owner a Mr. Palmer was very deaf. A form of dialogue was struck up and it emerged that the car was indeed a Napier, eureka! However, it could not be for sale, since removal of the car would mean that the barn would no longer have any support and it would fall down. Negotiations continued whenever Forshaw would pass Palmer's door, and eventually he found that he could have the barn shored up for £1.10s 0d, enabling the Napier to be purchased and removed.

Mr. Palmer would volunteer that the Napier was in fact a car that as for many higher performance vehicles had been repurposed as a flatbed lorry, most likely during the war years. It still wore a tax disc from 1923, which confirmed the last time it had been on the road, wearing the registration 'MC143', this would have been its second registration as that series was only offered by Middlesex County Council from 1917-1920, Palmer said that it had been driven down from London to Dorset in about 1923.

Immediately upon securing the car, Forshaw corresponded with D. Napier & Son Ltd., they quantified the car as a D45 model which had been built and delivered in 1904. The D45 model was marketed in England as the 15hp, the four-cylinder engine, cast in pairs, displacing 2,525cc and reputedly developing 21hp. This engine drove through a four-speed gearbox with final drive by side chains. In all it is understood that 182 examples were delivered between 1902 and 1904, the first ones with a serpentine radiator and then as fashion dictated a matrix radiator with shroud, as on this car.

Ivan Forshaw found that the Napier was in very tired order and the ensuing years would be a labour of love to return it to the road. The mechanical aspect was one set of problems, but another was its lack of bodywork beyond a rudimentary seat. Originally, it was Forshaw's intention to build a new body, but another chance connection through the Veteran Car Club provided a clue to the whereabouts of a period touring body that had been found in the loft of a coachhouse in Snowdonia. Quite possibly the alternative to a winter or formal body, the coachwork comprised a rear entrance tonneau which must have been stored and never returned to its car. The coachhouse itself was due to be demolished, so this was also a remarkable find and it was believed had been fitted to a Daimler of this same era. A little after the acquisition, Mr. Palmer said that he had the car's side lamps which were still in London and sure enough those were retrieved by him and given to Captain Forshaw.

As has always been the spirit in our hobby, the knowledge of an enthusiast wanting to restore his car provided a variety of leads, sources and helpers to his cause, including luminaries such as Derek Grossmark, the noted Napier historian. Forshaw whiled away many hours, days, months and years before eventually in 1982 the task was complete.

Resplendent in bright red paintwork, the magnificent Napier returned to use and made a debut London to Brighton Run in 1982, and it was entered and completed almost every year from then until 1995. An application to the Veteran Car Club in this period confirmed its date of 1904, carrying certificate number 1658. Again, a period of inactivity has elapsed since the car was used with regularity, but it remains in a cleanly presented order, and as recently as 2015 the wheels were rebuilt by Douglas Andrews the respected wheelwright. It is the felt that it should respond well to recommissioning, so much work having been carried out in its original restoration.

Surviving Veteran Napiers are incredibly scarce, a mere eight being listed with the VCC and a further two American built examples. Offered today from more than 66 years of private ownership, the Captain Forshaw Napier represents a generational acquisition opportunity for the astute collector, a chance to own one of the larger performance cars of its age, and with commodious coachwork to share with multiple friends on the 'Run. Better still, it is presented on the landmark occasion of this 120th anniversary celebration weekend of Napier's Gordon Bennett win.

This Lot is available to view at 101 New Bond Street from Friday 28th October to Friday 4th November during normal business hours

4 November 2022, 17:00 GMT
London, New Bond Street

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