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SNAPSHOT 8: 1914 Napier

In its 1914 catalogue Napier drew attention to the fact that if one was going to use a car in ‘Colonies and over-sea Dominions’ then it needed to be more robust than if it was supplied to the home market. This they said had been learnt from experience gained ‘notably in India and the East, South America, and the five principal Dominions’, the latter presumably included Australia and Canada.

Accordingly the 20hp Colonial model as seen here had a frame – somewhat surprisingly not referred to as a chassis – of ‘special deep channel section’, stronger axles and springs, a larger capacity radiator, the magneto and clutch in waterproof housings, and with a 3.1-litre 4-cylinder engine it had adequate performance – ‘a speed on Brooklands of over 50 miles per hour’. It also seems that it was deemed pertinent to show it in something of an appropriate setting – not merely on the King’s Highway.

In the catalogue there is a two-page report of another Napier Colonial car undertaking a RAC observed 5-day test over rough country in the south of England in July 1914. The write-up is from the Evening Standard newspaper and comments include: “We started with a three-foot water splash near Byfleet” – the depth not the width – and accompanying small photographs show that it was the same location as seen here, which is identifiable as being a crossing of the River Wey.

The reporter despite sometimes being bounced about “like a shuttlecock” in the back seat was enthusiastic about the car’s unfaltering performance over “trackless wild moorland” and, one could say got rather carried away when he wrote: “Perhaps the queerest sensation of all was dropping sheer over the crest of the steep hills and crawling down head-foremost in vampire fashion”. Clearly a reader of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Respite came when lunch was finally taken. “We had won through and fully earned our generous portions of lobster salad and champagne”. There were then some compensations to being a reporter!

He was probably unaware when writing his piece in mid-1914 that dramatic change was only days away and that it would not initially be in Colonial conditions but much closer to home where there would be a need for such robust motor vehicles.


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