1913 Napier 40hp Double-Deck Omnibus  Chassis no. 1172 Engine no. 20080/E391

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Lot 524
1913 Napier 40hp Double-Deck Omnibus
Chassis no. 1172 Engine no. 20080/E391

Sold for £ 17,250 (US$ 23,268) inc. premium
1913 Napier 40hp Double-Deck Omnibus
Chassis no. 1172
Engine no. 20080/E391

Footnotes

  • Best known for its highly successful WWI aero engines, the precision engineering firm of D Napier & Son, of Lambeth was first established in 1908. Headed by Montague Napier, the company turned to automobile manufacture at the turn of the 19th Century, swiftly forging a formidable reputation thanks to the racing and record breaking exploits of its sole distributor, S F Edge. Edge won the 1902 Gordon Bennett race for Napier, a feat that caused an upsurge in demand for its products, which was met from a new factory in Acton, West London. The company manufactured a diverse range of engine types before introducing the world’s first commercially successful six in 1904 and moving into the luxury car market. Outclassed by Rolls-Royce’s Silver Ghost, Napier’s larger models faded away after 1911, to be replaced by more modest offerings.
    Responding to this challenge to its luxury models, Napier had diversified into the manufacture of ‘business vehicles’ in 1908 and by 1910 production of the twin-cylinder taxicab chassis comfortably exceeded that of its private cars. Other light commercial designs followed and in 1913 a larger, 3½-ton capacity chassis was introduced. The journal Traction described Napier’s latest offering as ‘a worm-driven model built to withstand rough usage’ while The Commercial Motor observed that ‘all its machines have a margin for strength which is sufficient to compensate for the mishandling by inexperienced drivers and owners to which almost every commercial motor is subjected in everyday service. To this may be attributed the name for reliability and freedom from breakdown which this maker’s products deservedly possess. Users will, no doubt, appreciate the clean design and accessibility which obtain throughout the whole construction of this machine.’
    With its tidy overall design, the engine of this omnibus is typically Napier, while examination of the monumentally constructed mechanical components, the gearbox and back axle in particular, explains why the rolling chassis weighs in at 2½ tons. Unfortunately this vehicle’s early history is not known. Delivery dates of commercial vehicles are not recorded in the Napier works records, so precise dating is not possible. During WWI Napier produced around 2,000 commercial chassis, including this type, but production was severely restricted from 1915 onwards when Government policy enforced a switch to aero engine manufacture.
    It is understood that this chassis’ double-deck omnibus body, possibly incorporating some original elements, was constructed by master-craftsman, the late John Mitchell, best known for building the six original cars used in the 1968 motion picture Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He also built a number of period-style, open-topped buses for Disneyland. Described as in good order, the body is as yet unpainted, while the engine is reported as in running condition. Very few Napier commercial chassis survive, and when this example’s restoration is completed it should represent a welcome addition to the historic commercial vehicle scene.

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