Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,469 pages of information and 245,911 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.


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1871. Platen printing machine.
1872. Reversing Gear for Rolling Mills.
Napier Gripper Machine.
May 1901. Chronology.


September 1902.


June 1905.








1915. 45-CWT Subsidy Lorry.
January 1920.
January 1920.
November 1932.
Dec 1939.
April 1943.
August 1951.
January 1952. Nomad engine.
1955. Eland engine.
1970. Turbo Blowers.

D. Napier and Son was a British engine and car manufacturer and one of the most important aircraft engine manufacturers in the early to mid 20th Century.

See also -

1818 David Napier went into partnership with Francis Baisler, a London stationer, to open a machine shop in Lloyd's Court, St Giles, repairing and later building printing machines.

1822 Baisler left the partnership; Napier continued in business on his own account.

1830 The business moved to Lambeth, South London

1831 David and two other relatives, James and William, worked on improving a steam carriage designed by David Napier (1790–1869) which had been tested near Dunoon. They took out a patent.[1],

1834 Son James joined the business.

1836 Built larger works in York Road, Lambeth. Father and son developed a bullet stamping machine in 1838 (patented in 1840), ordered by Woolwich Arsenal and later by foreign governments.

By 1836, specialized in making printing machinery for the newspaper industry.

1848 Napier's son James Murdoch Napier became a partner; the company became Napier and Son. The company produced machines for bullet-making, gun-boring and turning for a number of government arsenals, as well as coin-weighing machines for the Bank of England, two-cylinder printing presses (designed to print simultaneously on both sides of a sheet of paper) and a centrifuge for sugar manufacturing. The machines were described as "delicate as any clock could be"; the printing press in particular earned praise by Thomas Curson Hansard.

1851 Award at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See details at 1851 Great Exhibition: Reports of the Juries: Class VI.

1861 Trunk Air Pump Engines illustrated and described in The Engineer of June 1888

1873 After his father's death his son James specialised in beautifully crafted precision machinery for making coins for the Royal Mint and printing stamps and banknotes.

1884 David Napier and Son, mechanical engineers, Vine St, Lambeth, and York Street, London SE; listed as makers of various products including turret clocks, perforating machines, cranes, chemical balances, etc[2].

1895 Advert: D. Napier and Son, engineers, Vine St and York Rd, Lambeth.

1895 James Napier died.

1895 James's son Montague Napier bought the business from the executors. Undertook the improvement of a Panhard car of his friend Selwyn Edge. Edge was sufficiently impressed to encourage Napier to make his own car, agreeing to buy the entire output.

1895 Seven employees.

1899 Details of their spirit motor.[3]

1900 The first car appeared. Napiers made the first ever production six cylinder car (at this time painted in olive green), many winning races

1901 A few charabancs were built on modified car chassis.

1902 Produced an open wagonette seating seven people for the Pioneer Bus Company.

1902 Won the 1902 Gordon Bennett Cup race in France. Afterward the car was bought by Arthur Brown who by March 1903 had sold it to the Marquis of Anglesey. It was then shipped to America by H. M. Bater a former employee of the company.

1903 Production reached 250 cars, overwhelming the Lambeth factory, so a move was made to Acton, north west London.

Produced 18 h.p., 40 h.p., 50 h.p. and 60 h.p. models of car. [4]

1905 Napiers expanded into marine engines as well, their 1905 boat Napier II setting the world water speed record for a mile at almost 30 knots (56 km/h).

1906 Produced 18, 40, 50 and 60 h.p. models with shaft-drive on the three larger models. [5]

1906 Produced a four-cylinder bus chassis with three-speed gearbox.

1906 Commercial vehicle models were produced in a bigger way, and from 1912 a separate department was formed to deal with these.

1907 1,200 people were employed and were making about 100 cars a year.

1909 30 h.p. cabriolet exhibit. [6]

1913 Following a dispute with Selwyn Edge, Napier bought Edge's distribution and sales company S. F. Edge for ₤120,000; they made an agreement that Edge would not be involved in motor manufacturing for seven years. Combined as Napier Motors.[7]Production rose to around 700 cars a year with many supplied to the London Taxi trade. [8]

1913 D. Napier and Son Ltd was incorporated as a public company to acquire Napier Motors Ltd

1913 Napier Turbochargers Ltd was incorporated to acquire and continue the business of Napier Motors Ltd

1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Petrol Motor Commercial Vehicles see the 1917 Red Book

1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Cars see the 1917 Red Book

1914 D. Napier and Son Ltd, 14 New Burlington St, motor car makers, and Acton Vale; patent coin weighing and classifying machine maker, motor engine and wagon maker[9].

WW1 1915: Napier was contracted to build engines from other companies' designs: initially a V12 Royal Aircraft Factory model and then Sunbeam Arabs. Both proved to be rather unreliable. In 1916 Montague Stanley Napier offered to produce, at his own expense, a wholly Napier unit - an effort that led to the superb W-block 12-cylinder Lion, designed by A. J. Rowledge, which appeared in 1918. The Lion was a best-seller for the company, and they eventually dropped all the other aero-engines. The Lion went on to be used in the 1920s to win the World Land Speed Record in Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird and Henry Segrave's Golden Arrow.

WWI Vehicle production continued - 2,000 trucks and ambulances were supplied to the War Office. Montague Napier's health declined and in 1917 he moved to Cannes, France, but continued to take an active involvement in the company until his death in 1931.

Post-WWI, the Lion was the most powerful engine in the world for some time in the 1920s and into the 1930s, and the Sabre produced 3500hp (2,600kW) in its later versions.

1919 civilian car production re-commenced with a 6 litre six-cylinder car, the T75. These were very expensive, costing about the same as a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and in the early 1920s sales declined.

1920 November. Exhibited at the Motor Car Show at Olympia and the White City with two 40-50 hp six-cylinder cars.

1921 Mr. Rowledge left the company. By an arrangement between the Air Ministry and de Havilland, Major Frank Halford, working as a consultant, designed the 16-cylinder air-cooled Rapier, and this was followed by the 24-cylinder Dagger.

1924 The last cars were made in 1924.

The Lion was a huge commercial success. Through the years between the wars the Lion was ubiquitous, and Napier manufactured little else. Between the wars it powered over 160 different types of aircraft.

1931 An attempt was made to buy the bankrupt Bentley company in 1931 but Napier was outbid at the last minute by Rolls-Royce. The last vehicle project was a three wheeled tractor-trailer goods vehicle, but rather than produce this themselves they sold it to Scammell who made several thousand.

1930s The introduction of much larger and more powerful aero-engines from other companies suddenly ended sales of the Lion. Napier quickly started work on newer designs, including the 16-cylinder, 1,000 hp, Cub, used in the Blackburn Cubaroo single-engined bomber, and the later 16-cylinder Rapier and 24-cylinder Dagger, both air-cooled H-block designs. Neither the Rapier nor the Dagger proved very reliable, due to poor cooling of the rearmost cylinders, and even the Dagger's 1,000 hp (750 kW) was less than its competitors offerings when it shipped.

1931 Montague Napier died. Obituary. [10]

1930s Napier also worked on diesel aircraft engines. In the 1930s they licensed the Junkers Jumo 204 for production in England, which they called the Culverin. They also planned to produce a smaller version of the same basic design as the Cutlass, but work on both was cancelled at the outbreak of World War II.

1933 Designers and constructors of aero engines. Head Office and Works: 211 Action Vale, London, W.3.[11]

c.1935 Subsidiary company Mayo Composite Aircraft Co Ltd had been established to handle the foreign rights in Major Mayo's inventions

1937 Aero engine manufacturers. "Culverin" Aero Engine. "Dagger" Aero Engine. "Lion" Aero Engine. "Rapier" Aero Engine.

1938 The first test flight of the Mayo-Composite aircraft had taken place, after much delay, at Rochester[12]

WW2 Starting from scratch, Napiers decided to use the new sleeve valve design in a much larger H-block 24-cylinder engine, soon to be known as the Sabre. Designed under Frank Halford, the engine was very advanced and proved to be difficult to adapt to assembly line efforts, so while the engine was ready for production in 1940, it wasn't until 1944 that production versions were considered reliable. At that point efforts were made to improve it, leading eventually to the Sabre VII delivering 3,500 hp (2,600 kW), making it the most powerful engine in the world, from an engine much smaller than its competition. It was used as the powerplant for the Hawker Typhoon and Tempest. This was the last of the Halford/Napier engines.

Napier developed a marine engine from the Lion aero engine, the petrol-driven Sea Lion, which could deliver 500 hp and were used in the "Whaleback" Air Sea Rescue Launches.

1942 Napier was taken over by the English Electric Co

1944 During the war (1944) Napier were asked by the Royal Navy to supply a diesel engine for use in their patrol boats, but the Culverin's 720 hp was not nearly powerful enough for their needs. Napier then designed the Deltic, essentially three Culverins arranged in a large triangle (deltoid). Considered one of the most complex engine designs of its day, the Deltic was nevertheless very reliable, and was taken into service after the war as a locomotive powerplant (in British Rail's Class 55) in addition to the torpedo boats, minesweepers and other small naval vessels for which it was designed.

Last of the great Napier engines was the two-stroke heavy-oil Nomad, a "turbo-compound" design that combined a diesel engine with a turbine to recover energy otherwise lost in the exhaust. The advantage of this complex design was fuel economy: it had the best specific fuel consumption of any aircraft engine, even to this day. However, even better fuel economy could be had by flying a normal jet engine at much higher altitudes, while existing designs filled the "low end" of the market fairly well. The Nomad was largely ignored by the market, and was duly cancelled.

Along with every other engine company in the post-war era, Napier turned to jet engine designs. Deciding to attack the only market not yet wrapped up by the larger vendors, Napier started the design of a number of turboprop designs which saw some use, notably in helicopters. Their first design, the Naiad and Double Naiad were intended for various Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm designs, but saw no use in the end. Smaller models, the 3,000hp-class Eland and 1,500hp-class Gazelle did somewhat better, notably the Gazelle which powered several models of the popular Westland Wessex helicopter.

The Oryx gas generator was developed but later abandoned

By 1958 The Eland and Gazelle turboprops were in production for very important applications.

Napier also participated in the development of rocket motors for missiles and aircraft - the Double Scorpion was largely responsible for a height record of 70310ft set up by a Canberra in August 1957. In co-operation with the National Gas Turbine Establishment, the company was involved in an extensive programme of ramjet research and development - one test vehicle "coasted" to a height of nearly 20 miles.

1961 D. Napier and Son Ltd was a subsidiary of the English Electric Co and employed 10,000 persons. Works at 211 Acton Vale, London and branches at Luton, Raynes Park and park Royal.

1961 Aero and marine engine designers and constructors and general engineers.10,000 employees.

1961 Rolls-Royce purchased Napier's aero-engine business; they continued to market the Gazelle, dropping the Eland; the Acton works was closed[13].

Napier later exited the engine business - with the ending of the Deltic sales in the 1960s they had no new modern designs to offer. Napier Turbochargers continues as a primary supplier of turbochargers, which can be found on many engines.

1973 Name of D. Napier and Son Ltd was changed to Napier Turbochargers Ltd

2013 Wabtec Group acquired Napier Turbochargers

See Also

  • 'Men and Machines - A History of D. Napier and Son, Engineers, Ltd. 1808-1958' by Charles Wilson and William Reader. Available in the SMCL

Sources of Information

  1. Said to be Robert Napier's sons, James and William, but not sure of the source of this as Robert Napier didn't have a son William. Other possible candidates are James Napier and William Napier who would have been cousins of David's
  2. Business Directory of London, 1884. [Part 2: Classified Section and Provincial and Foreign Register]
  3. The Autocar 1899/06/17
  4. The Automobile Vol. III. Edited by Paul N. Hasluck and published by Cassell and Co in 1906.
  5. The Automobile Vol. III. Edited by Paul N. Hasluck and published by Cassell in 1906.
  6. Museum of Country Life at Exmouth
  7. The Autocar 1913/03/15
  8. The Times, Wednesday, Dec 10, 1913
  9. Post Office London Directory, 1914. [Part 4: Trades & Professional Directory]
  10. The Times, Wednesday, Jan 28, 1931
  11. 1933 Who's Who in British Aviation
  12. The Times, Mar 05, 1938
  13. The Times Mar. 6, 1963