80th Anniversary of the Napier-Railton’s Ultimate Outer Lap Record

06 October 2015

On the 7th October 1935, John Cobb climbed into the Napier-Railton Special and lapped the famous Banked Circuit at Brooklands in just 69 seconds, leaving the lap record at a never-to-be-beaten average of 143.44mph.

Now Brooklands Museum is marking the 80th anniversary of this astonishing achievement on a day of celebration allowing visitors to experience what this wonderful car was like to race, and which will culminate in the broadcasting over the Museum’s PA system of 69 seconds of the sound of the car at speed.

The car itself will be away from the Museum on the date of the anniversary as it is embarking on its first-ever appearance in Asia as the centre piece at the Hong Kong Classic from October 9th -11th, taking the story of Brooklands around the world. However to mark the anniversary, rides on the Napier-Railton Race Experience will be free to visitors to the Museum on the 7th October (subject to availability, Museum entrance charges still apply). In the 4D Theatre visitors can see, hear and feel what it would have been like to drive this incredible car around the Banked Circuit. After being strapped into their seats and with 3D goggles in place, they are hurtled back to the 1930s as co-pilots in a thrillingly believable ride around the Race Track, their seats jostling to every bump and twist and live action and sound all around.

On the day, the sound of the Napier-Railton running hard at over 120mph will be broadcast on the Museum’s PA system and via the website and social media channels at various intervals for the same 69 seconds that it took to seize the ultimate Outer Circuit lap record on that wet October day in 1935.

Regular Brooklands driver John Cobb commissioned Reid Railton to design the car which 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 on the Banked Circuit in August of that year. It was 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.

In its life, it achieved no less than 37 World Records. Probably the most notable of these are the 24 hour record of 150.16mph set on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1936, the winning of the fastest-ever pre-war 500 miles race (the “BRDC 500”, also in 1936) and the Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record of 143.44mph mentioned above. A measure of the international stature of the car’s performance is that its ultimate Brooklands lap speed would not be beaten at Indianapolis until 1956, and its race average speed of 121.28mph in the BRDC 500 would not be matched at Indianapolis until 1949.

After its racing days ended in 1937 the iconic monster began a chequered life from starring in a film with James Mason and Ava Gardner (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, 1951), being used for testing aircraft breaking parachutes, competing in vintage race meetings and spending time in various collections and at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.

Its journey came full circle when, in 1997, thanks to Lottery funding and private subscription, it came back to Brooklands, where it all started, and has been part of the Museum’s permanent collection ever since. But far from being a resting place, the car is regularly driven and demonstrated ensuring it is seen at Brooklands events and at numerous shows and locations worldwide including Brands Hatch, Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival meetings, the Farnborough International Air Show, Dunsfold Wings & Wheels and recently on Pendine Sands, Wales as part of the Malcolm Campbell Bluebird World Land Speed Record 90th Anniversary run.

Listen to the Napier-Railton running hard at over 120mph: