On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
IT’S NOT EASY to work a high point of one’s career into everyday conversation, but it can be done. There I was leafing through the 1969 volume of R&T, prompted by 50 years ago and all that. Wife Dottie was already there as Editorial Associate. Our San Diego friend Ron Wakefield was Engineering Editor. And, wouldn’t you know, in January 1969, on pages 84–85 there was a Richard Corson-illustrated article “John Cobb & the Napier-Railton.”
“John Rhodes Cobb,” the R&T article began, “was a physical giant, given to giant deeds in giant cars.… By his early teens he was hopelessly addicted to the big outer-circuit machinery [at Brooklands]; the behemoths, the aero-engined hybrids.”
“He began to ride the mechanic’s seat in the most famous cars at the track, impressing drivers with his calm. Even rides in the enormous black Fiat, ‘Mephistopheles,’ Cobb allowed as merely ‘a bit exciting,’ despite Ernest Eldridge’s penchant for charging off the banking sideways.”
Cobb drove his first Brooklands race in 1925 at the wheel of a 10-liter Fiat. Another of his Brooklands’ mounts was the 27-liter Higham Special (also known as Chitty 4).
“In 1932,” the R&T article continued, “Cobb sounded out Reid Railton of Thomson & Taylor about a new car. Railton visualized a leviathan powered by the 24-liter 502-hp Napier ‘Lion’ aircraft engine of WWI fame.… The car, body by Gurney Nutting Ltd., was 15-and-a-half feet long. It was tagged the Napier-Railton….”
Details of the Napier-Railton are given here at SimanaitisSays. These include its “broad-arrow” Napier engine, its world records at Montlhéry, Bonneville, and Brooklands (this lap record still stands), its cameo role in a 1949 Ava Gardner movie, and—ta da—my brief piloting this fabulous car at Pebble Beach in 2007.
It’s not easy to work this into conversation, but it can be done. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019