Revived Icon: 1904 Napier L48 “Samson” Races to Auction

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Revived Icon: 1904 Napier L48 "Samson" Races to Auction

The automotive industry has made remarkable strides since the introduction of automobiles in the late 1800s. Present-day hypercars can achieve speeds of 300 mph or more, a feat unimaginable at the start of the 20th century when even reaching 100 mph was considered extraordinary.

Every milestone has its first, and in the United States, the Napier L48 “Samson” became the inaugural car to hit 100 mph, equipped with a 15-liter, six-cylinder gas engine built in 1904.

The Napier L48 Samson holds a significant place in automotive history, renowned for its success in racing and record-setting endeavors. Notably, on January 25, 1905, British mechanic Arthur Macdonald shattered the 100 mph barrier at Ormond-Daytona Beach, Florida, reaching 104.651 mph (168.4 kph), setting a new World Land Speed Record.

Revived Icon: 1904 Napier L48 "Samson" Races to Auction

This achievement marked several milestones: the first car to surpass 100 mph on American soil, the initial British car to achieve this feat, and the world’s first successful six-cylinder engine racing car. In the following year, Dorothy Levitt, dubbed “the fastest girl on earth,” established a Women’s World Speed Record in the same Napier vehicle, a record unbroken until 1963.

Notably, the car reached speeds of 130 mph (209 kph) at Brooklands, an extraordinary feat considering contemporary speed limits of around 20 mph (32 kph).

Furthermore, British driver Walter Thomas Clifford Earp secured victory at Daytona Beach later that year, triumphing over formidable competitors such as Vincenzo Lancia in a Fiat and Louis Chevrolet in a Christie. Despite a tire blowout at mile 32, Earp won the race with a remarkable lead of 50 seconds.

Though not the world’s first, Napier’s revolutionary six-cylinder engine was a pioneering feat. Generating 240 hp at 2,300 rpm from its 15-liter inline F-Head engine, coupled with a two-speed manual transmission due to chassis constraints, it was a marvel of its time.

The Napier continued its winning streak, especially after upgrading to a massive 20-liter engine in 1907. While the car presented here isn’t the original 120-year-old Gordon Bennett Napier L48 “Samson,” it houses its original engine. This vehicle is an authentic reconstruction of the 1904 racer, crafted utilizing the original L48 engine.

Following its illustrious racing career, the original Napier was eventually sold for scrap, with its record-breaking engine finding its way to Australia’s Cornwell brothers, who utilized it in their speedboat, “Nautilus 2.”

Subsequently, the engine lay abandoned in the brothers’ pottery factory until it was discovered decades later by Bob Chamberlain, manufacturer of Chamberlain Tractors. Chamberlain undertook the challenge of reconstructing the iconic “Samson” race car around the successful six-cylinder racing engine.

After meticulous research and reconstruction work, a faithful replica emerged, with the restored engine roaring to life again in July 1982. The car enjoyed a second life as a showpiece for about a decade, even participating in events like the Brooklands Reunion and the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb in 1983.

Revived Icon 1904 Napier L48 Samson Races to Auction

In April 1993, it was acquired by Peter Briggs as part of Bob Chamberlain’s estate and displayed at the York Motor Museum in Western Australia.

Mirroring the original’s acclaim, it garnered attention at events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed hill climb in the UK and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it earned accolades for being the Most Historically Significant Car.

If one wonders what it’s like to drive the Napier, one of the fastest cars of its time, Evan Ide, a Senior Specialist for Bonhams|Cars, describes the experience as exhilarating. He notes the rapid acceleration, the need for additional speed to shift gears, and the sensation of limitless power when the throttle is opened.

The meticulous Napier L48 Samson replica, setting a new standard for historic car recreations, is set for auction at the Bonhams|Cars Amelia Island Auction on February 29, with an estimated value between $900,000 and $1,100,000.

Before the auction, the car returned to its historic roots, participating in the Historic North Turn Beach Parade on February 10 at Ormond and Daytona Beaches.


By Annie Linardos

I'm a journalist student and completed my masters in Journalism and Mass Communication. With a strong track record as an intern at Mathrubhumi News and The New Indian Express as a reporter and content writer, I'm creative, motivated, and have a keen eye for the truth and attempting to use the expertise and talents to contribute to the emerging field of journalism. I have also been working as a freelance writer and have the capability of producing interesting and bold articles.

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