(Popperfoto)

John Cobb at Brooklands during the 17 May 1937 Gold Trophy Coronation Race, Napier Railton…

What an awesome 23.944 litre, 580 bhp machine this is- there is little point waxing lyrical about a superb racing car which is a well known national icon in the UK, so I will keep it short and hopefully sweet.

Cobb was a big man and clearly liked his racing cars on some scale, a passion his fur-broking business Anning Chadwick & Kiver allowed him to indulge. Reid Railton designed the car which was built by Thomson & Taylor with the specific brief of taking the Brooklands lap record, a feat it achieved for all time, at 143.33 mph on 7 October 1935. It was an exercise he likened to ‘trying to see how far you can lean out of a window without actually falling!’.

Brooklands, Cobb, Napier Railton, date unknown (B Museum)

John Cobb and the Napier at Brooklands on 31 March 1934 (Pinterest)

Railton specified a slow running Napier W-formation aviation engine in a suitably butch chassis with massive side members, twin cantilevered back springs and a finely muscular front axle. Typical of its time, the cockpit was capacious and it needed to be for record-breaking runs of up to 3000 miles or so.

Successful from the start, the car won its first race at the Brooklands Bank Holiday Meeting in 1933, the big beast recorded a standing lap of 120.59 mph and a flying lap of 123.28 mph. ‘When running for long spells, very large Dunlop special racing tyres were required, imposing a heavy task for the mechanics changing wheels at pitstops’. In addition to three times breaking the lap-record at ‘The Track’ the car broke world records at Montlhery and at Utah. The BRDC 500 Mile Race was won at 121.28 mph and the 500 Km version at 127.05 mph with the Napier Railton timed over the kilometre at 151.97 mph.

‘Pandora and The Flying Dutchman’ starred the Napier Railton in a fantasy romance with Ava Gardner and James Mason. Here ‘Dunlop Boys’ Freddie Hicks and Sidney West push the Napier towards a run on the Pendine Sands. Love the fags in mouths- photo used by Dunlop as a PR shot (unattributed)

 

Napier Railton on duty for GQ parachute testing circa 1951 (B Museum)

In 1949 Cobb hired the Napier Railton to the Romulus Film Company to make ‘Pandora and The Flying Dutchman’, a film about a racing driver. In 1951 John sold the car to the GQ Parachute Company who used it to test aircraft brake parachutes at Dunsfold Airfield- GQ modified the car and fitted it with test equipment to deploy parachutes at high speed and then retract them at about 30 knots.

Cobb, who served as an RAF pilot during the war, was killed trying to achieve the Water Speed Record in the jet-boat ‘Crusader’ at Loch Ness on 29 September 1952- the boat hit an unexplained wake.

The Napier Railton was in the best of hands when Patrick Lindsay acquired it-after a rebuild by Crosthwaite & Gardner he raced it in vintage events. It was then bought by Bob Roberts for his Midland Motor Museum, it was kept in running order after ‘being completely overhauled, except the engine’ by Hodec Engineering, Surrey in 1975. Aston Martin’s Victor Gauntlett was the next owner in 1989, and then at auction it passed to a German industrialist and finally, thankfully, became the Brooklands Museum’s car when offered to them in 1997 via a Swiss classic car dealer who ‘discovered it’ in the German’s collection. It is regularly demonstrated, many of you will have been fortunate enough to see it on circuit.

An awesome machine in the true sense of the word, goodness only knows how it felt on the limit for 500 miles on Brooklands famous concrete bumps…

 Etcetera: Technical Details of the Napier Railton as MotorSport reported them in 1933…

Credits…

Getty Images- Popperfoto, MotorSport August 1933 and July 1997, brooklandsmuseum.com

Tailpiece: Reid Railton designed Crusader being towed out into Loch Ness in 1952…

(unattributed)

Finito…

 

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