The first car to exceed 100 mph in America rumbles once again to Bonhams|Cars’ Amelia Island auction block

The first car to exceed 100 mph in America rumbles once again to Bonhams|Cars’ Amelia Island auction block

1904 Napier Samson L48


Amelia Island, Florida – The 1904 Napier Samson L48 will make a triumphant return to Florida, the very place where this powerful engine historically shattered the 100 miles per hour record on American soil 117 years ago. This iconic automobile, renowned for its rich racing history, will make its grand reveal at Ormond-Daytona Beach on February 10, in advance of the Bonhams|Cars Amelia Island Auction on February 29.

In the early 20th century, the annual auto races at Ormond and Daytona Beaches attracted the era’s finest and bravest drivers. These pioneers pushed the boundaries of speed and engineering. In 1905, British firm Napier, intrigued by the potential of these contests, shipped their revolutionary six-cylinder race engine to Florida. Arthur Macdonald, a British mechanician, made history on January 25, 1905, by setting a world record of 104.651 mph.

1904 Napier Samson L48 at Ormond Beach in 1905


The following year, Walter Thomas Clifford Earp, known as “England’s Leading Gentleman Driver,” took the helm of the Napier at these same beaches. Though Earp could not match the speeds of newer entrants, it was the performance of this combination of man and machine that became legend during the 100-mile race. Despite a tire explosion and racing part of the distance on a rim, Earp clinched victory by a mere 50 seconds, setting a new 100-mile world record and igniting “pandemonium” among the spectators. This victory was so inspiring that motoring historian Dick Punnett titled his book on these tournaments “Racing on the Rim.” Another feat was achieved in 1906, when Dorothy Levitt set the Women’s World Land Speed Record driving the car, which remained unsurpassed by any other woman until 1963.

1904 Napier Samson L48, with Walter Thomas Clifford Earp in 1906


Years passed, and the Napier, eclipsed by newer models, was disassembled. Its engine, once a marvel, was forgotten in a factory. That is until engineer Alan Hawker ‘Bob’ Chamberlain recognized its significance. Chamberlain embarked on an extensive research and restoration project, successfully reviving the world’s first successful six-cylinder racing engine. In July 1982, the rebuilt engine roared to life after 67 years, outperforming even Chamberlain’s expectations. The Napier’s return to the racetrack, reaching speeds of 111.73mph, affirmed the original car’s exceptional design and the quality of its reconstruction.

Having been with its current owner for four decades, this historic car fastidiously recreated around that ground breaking engine now seeks its fifth custodian in 120 years. Following its return to the beaches of Ormond and Daytona at the Historic North Turn Beach Parade on February 10, this legendary Napier will be offered at the Bonhams|Cars Amelia Island Auction on February 29.

About Bonhams|Cars – Bonhams|Cars uniquely offers a choice of live, online and private platforms for buying and selling collector cars—platforms characterized by levels of trust, reliability, and transparency born of over three decades of experience as the premier automotive auction house. Through prestigious live auctions around the world, 24/7 online auctions, and our recently introduced Private Sales service, Bonhams|Cars makes it simple for buyers and sellers to find the platform that best meets their needs.

Bonhams|Cars host 17 live auctions annually, participates in all the significant concours around the world, and presents unique selling opportunities at international events such as the 2023 Formula 1® Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as the official auction partner of the Formula 1 Paddock Club™, Goodwood Motorsport Events in the UK, The Quail on the Monterey Peninsula in California, The Audrain Concours in Newport, Rhode Island, and The Zoute Concours d’Elégance in Belgium. At Bonhams|Cars Online, formerly The Market by Bonhams, we provide our clients with fast, expert, accurate and agile single-car auctions, 24/7. With dedicated motoring departments in London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York, Brussels, and beyond, Bonhams|Cars has a world-class team with expertise in all divisions, from vintage cars to racing motorsport and automobilia to motorcycles.

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