1904’s Samson Napier L48 boasts world’s first 15L six-cylinder engine in a car.
The inaugural vehicle in the US to reach a top speed of 100 mph is now being sold by Bonhams at an auction, with an estimated value of approximately one million dollars.
The vehicle under scrutiny is the 1904 Napier L48 “Samson,” affectionately known for its uncanny resemblance to the iconic biblical figure, with its copper cooling tubes resembling the flowing locks of the strongman. This groundbreaking four-wheeler holds the record for its impressive 15-liter engine, hailed as the first ever successful six-cylinder power unit in the world.
The concept of developing a six-cylinder engine originated from the aim to offer a well-rounded and more refined power output, a trait that remains relevant with current six-cylinder engines such as the Toyota GR Supra.
In 1904, the L48 made its debut at the Portmarnock Sands Speed Trials in Ireland. However, its most noteworthy accomplishment occurred a year afterwards, as renowned driver Arthur MacDonald shattered the Flying One Mile World Record by achieving a speed of 104.65mph on a section of sand spanning between the Ormond and Daytona Beaches in Florida. This marked a significant milestone as the first car to reach the 100 mph mark in America, while also becoming the first British vehicle to achieve such a feat.
One of the impressive accomplishments occurred in 1906, when Dorothy Levitt, the pioneering British female racer, claimed the Women’s World Speed Record over the Flying Kilometer with a remarkable speed of 90.88 mph.
Napier had also successfully fitted a bigger 20-liter engine during its course. Once it ended its time on the racetrack, Alan ‘Bob’ Hawker Chamberlain, creator of the renowned Chamberlain Tractors in Australia, made the choice to restore the Napier. However, this proved to be a challenging task as he had to locate the original blueprints. The engine was finally found at the Cornwell pottery works.
Chamberlain achieved a major feat in 1982 by fully restoring the engine of a car that had lay dormant for 67 years. The vehicle was then transported to the United Kingdom, where it underwent high-speed trials. To the delight of Australian F1 driver Tony Gaze, the car recorded an impressive standing start kilometer time of 30.67 seconds and reached a top speed of 111.73 mph at the Colerne Sprints in 1983.
Ownership of the vehicle was transferred from the Chamberlain family to Peter Briggs. Subsequently, the car participated in prestigious events such as Goodwood in 1994 and 2000, a perfect setting for the renowned Napier L48, known for its speed. In 1999, the L48 made an appearance at the esteemed Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where exquisite vintage cars gather each year in California’s Pebble Beach.
Next month, a classic vehicle from the early 1900s will be up for auction at Amelia Island with an estimated selling price between $900,000 and $1,100,000. The car in question is a replica of the 1929 Bentley Speed Six Le Mans Tourer, which will be joining two other highly coveted cars at the same auction: a 2005 Ford GT and a 1966 Jaguar E-Type. This event marks a historic moment for car enthusiasts as they eagerly await the new owner of these luxurious vehicles.