Breaking Barriers: The Napier Samson L48's Century-Long Journey of Speed and Survival

by AutoExpert   |  23 February, 2024

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The 1904 Napier Samson L48 was a true American trailblazer – the first car made in the US to break the 100 mpg barrier, all thanks to its six-cylinder gas engine. But it didn't stop there! Driven by English mechanic Arthur Macdonald, in January 1905 this very car smashed the 100 mph speed record, clocking in at 104.651 mph. If you love cars with a storied past, buckle up, because this Napier's history is truly wild.

This car just kept breaking records, even after getting a monstrous 20-liter engine upgrade. Then there's Dorothy Levitt – she set the Women's World Speed Record in a Napier back in 1906, a record that held strong until 1963!

Napier Samson L48

Later that same year, racing legend Walter Thomas Clifford-Earp battled it out in the Napier during a 100-mile race. His rivals? None other than Vincenzo Lancia (yep, the founder of Lancia cars) in a Fiat and Louis Chevrolet in a Christie.

Napier Samson L48

Imagine the drama: Clifford-Earp suffered a tire blowout just 32 miles into the race (on what's now Daytona Beach!). But he wasn't done yet. He finished the race with only three tires and a Rudge Whitworth wire wheel. Now that's dedication!

Napier Samson L48

Sadly, after all those epic races, the car was sold for scrap. But the engines lived on in a speedboat, making Napier the only manufacturer to hold both world land AND water records.

Napier Samson L48

Decades later, that original engine was found gathering dust in Australia. Alan "Bob" Hawker Chamberlain, of Australian Chamberlain Tractors fame, was up for the challenge of reviving this legend. Working from old photos and expert advice, he made tons of wooden casting blueprints, rebuilt the body, and even got the engine running again in 1982 – after 67 years of silence!

Napier Samson L48

The Napier Samson L48 enjoyed a second life on the exhibition circuit for a decade before being sold to Australian businessman Peter Briggs in 1983. He meticulously cared for it for decades. In its 120-year history, the car only had four owners. And on February 29th, at the Amelia Island Auction in Florida, it went home with a new, deep-pocketed enthusiast.

Napier Samson L48

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