Commisioned by the Brooklands driver John Cobb, and designed by Reid Railton, the car was built by Thomson and Taylor at their engineering works within the Brooklands Track. The car was completed in 1933 and first appeared in a race at Brooklands in August of that year.
John Cobb and his co-drivers achieved many Brooklands and World speed records with the car. Probably the most notable of these are the 24 hour record of 150.6mph set on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1936 and the Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record of 143.44mph set by John Cobb in 1935, which was never beaten.
The Napier-Railton’s racing days at Brooklands came to an end in 1937. In 1949 the car was hired from John Cobb by the Romulus Film Company and was used in ‘Pandora and the Flying Dutchman’, a film about a racing car driver.
In 1951 the car was sold to the GQ Parachute Company of Woking. GQ had the car modified and fitted with test equipment capable of deploying an aircraft braking parachute at high speed, and then retracting the parachute when the speed had dropped to about 30 knots. These experimental trials were carried out on Dunsfold airfield and proved to be most successful.
After the parachute testing trials the car was acquired by Patrick Lindsay. It was overhauled by the engineering company Crosthwaite and Gardner, and then used by Lindsay in VSCC races. While the car was in Lindsay’s possession it spent some time on display at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
The car was later acquired by Mr T.A. ‘Bob’ Roberts to form part of his Midland Motor Museum collection at Bridgnorth in Shropshire where it was kept in running order. In 1975 the car was completely overhauled, except the engine, by Hodec Engineering at Old Woking in Surrey.
In 1989 Bob Roberts sold the Napier-Railton to Victor Gauntlett, one-time chairman of Aston Martin. The car was put up for auction in 1991 and bought by a German industrialist to add to his private collection of classic cars in Leipzig. In 1997 the car was discovered by a Swiss classic car dealer who purchased it and offered it on loan to Brooklands Museum.
Brooklands Museum was then given the first option to buy the car and it was consequently purchased by the Trust in December 1997, partly funded by a 75 percent Lottery grant, the shortfall being met by private subscription.
Since the acquisition of the car by the Museum it has been demonstrated at many venues including Brands Hatch, Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival meetings, the Farnborough International Air Show, Dunsfold Wings and Wheels and regularly at Brooklands Museum events including the Double Twelve Motorsport Festival. It is usually on show in the Speed Record Exhibition in the Motoring Village at the Museum and now features in the Napier-Railton Race Experience in the Museum’s 4D Theatre.
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.
Listen to the sound of the Napier-Railton running hard at over 120mph: