D. Napier & Son Limited was a British engine and pre-Great War (the 'brass era') automobile manufacturer and one of the most important aircraft engine manufacturers in the early- to mid-20th Century. Their post-World War I Lion was the most powerful engine in the world for some time in the 1920s and into the 1930s, and their Sabre produced 3500 hp (2,600 kW) in its later versions.David Napier, second son of the blacksmith to the Duke of Argyll, was born in 1785. While cousins became shipbuilders, he took engineering training in Scotland founded the company in Lloyds Court, St Giles, London, in 1808. He designed a steam-powered printing press, some of which went to Hansard (HMG's printer), as well as newspapers. They moved to Lambeth, South London in 1830.
Between 1840 and 1860, Napier was prosperous, with a well-outfitted factory and between 200 and 300 workers. Napier made a wide variety of products, including a centrifuge for sugar manufacturing, lathes and drills, ammunition-making equipment for the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and railway cranes. David's younger son James, born 1823, joined the firm in 1837, succeeding him as head of the firm in 1867, and after his father's death in 1873, specialised in beautifully crafted precision machinery for making coins and printing stamps and banknotes. James proved an excellent engineer, but a poor businessman, considering salesmanship undignified. It became so bad, there were as few as seven employees in 1895, and James attempted to sell the business, but failed.
James' son Montague, born 1870, inherited the business in 1895, along with his father's engineering talents. Montague was a hobby racing cyclist, and at the Bath Road Club, he met "ebullient Australian" S. F. Edge (then a manager at Dunlop Rubber and colleague of H. J. Lawson in London, and amateur racer of motor tricycles.) Edge persuaded Montague to improve his Panhard ("Old Number 8", which had won the 1896 Paris-Marseilles-Paris), converting to wheel steering from tiller and improving the oiling.
Dissatisfied, Napier offered to fit an engine of his own design, an 8 hp (6 kW) vertical twin, with electric ignition, superior to the Panhard's hot tube type. Edge was sufficiently impressed to encourage Napier to make his own car, collaborating with Harvey du Cros, his former boss at Dunlop, to form Motor Power Company, based in London, agreeing to buy Napier's entire output. The first of an initial order of six, three each two-cylinder (8 hp) and four-cylinder (16 hp), all with aluminium bodies by Mulliners (Northampton) and chain drive, was delivered 31 March 1900; Edge paid £400 and sold at £500.
In 1912, following a dispute with Edge, Napier bought Edge's distribution and sales company and production rose to around 700 cars a year with many supplied to the London taxi trade. That year, only six models were produced. The last Napier car was designed by A. J. Rowledge, who also designed the Lion (and who went to Rolls in 1921), a 40/50 hp (30/37 kW) 377 cu in (6177 cm³) (102×127 mm, 4×5″) alloy six with detachable cylinder head, single overhead camshaft, seven-bearing crankshaft, dual magneto and coil ignition, dual plugs, and Napier-SU carburettor; it was bodied by Cunard, then a subsidiary. 187 were built in all by 1924, and Napier quit car production with a total of 4258 built.
Outside the racing program, Napier also gained notoriety in 1904 by being the first car to cross the Canadian Rockies, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Glidden (sponsors of the Glidden Tours) covering 3,536 mi (5690 km) from Boston to Vancouver.
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