The Noiseless Napier was the real supercar of the pre-war era, having pioneered the commercial success of the ground-breaking six-cylinder engine. Glowing tributes were paid by the press at the time calling Napiers the “King of Cars”. In fact Napier was the original “Best Car in the World”, long before Rolls-Royce adopted the catchphrase. Quite naturally, the “Imperial Car” attracted the attention of the leading connoisseur of the time, the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad HH Nawab Mir Mahbub Ali Khan Bahadur. The marque boasted in adverts of the time, of its elite clientele that placed with it repeat orders, and topping that list was, of course, the Nizam of Hyderabad – the then richest man in the world.
It is a well known fact that S.F. Edge sold to the Nizam about half a dozen Napiers over a good lunch, and this was just the beginning. Ranging from 30, 40, 60, 90 to even a 120 HP model, the Nizam’s fleet comprised of the finest Napiers built. Most of these were bought from Marcks & Co, the dealer in colonial India. At least six Napiers were received from a single order which was featured in The Autocar. The bulk of the Napiers were Limousines and Landaulettes, and two specimens of the surviving L76 model are on display at the motor museum in the splendid Chowmohalla Palace in Hyderabad. Records pertaining to over 12 of the Nizam’s Napiers were unearthed by the author and motoring historian Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan. Chassis 823 is featured in two of his books titled ‘Automobiles of the Nizams’ and ‘The Noble Napier 823’.
In the year 2011 news was doing rounds of a Napier coming on the auction block. Its present owner Sirdool Singh pounced on the opportunity to acquire the 1904 L49 30 HP Napier from the widow of Martin Guy Saunders as she was contemplating to send it to an auction house. At that stage, not much was known about the antecedents of this chain-driven semi-limousine by H. J. Mulliner. It was only after acquiring the car that its uniqueness and provenance came to be known.
Oblivious of car’s pedigree & provenance, for the purist that he is, the owner decided to return it to its former glory and embarked on a comprehensive “nut & bolt” restoration project which was executed by His Highness Manvendra Singh Barwani, assisted by Christopher Rodricks on the mechanicals. The car is currently in top concours condition expertly maintained by Jonathan Wood in England.
Following its revival in 2018, its first outing was at the 2019 Concours of Elegance held at the Hampton Court Palace where it won the Best in Class award for the “Pre-1920” class. Its restoration was lauded by many, including the patron of the concours, HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO. The car was also invited to compete in the 2019 UAE Concours d’Elegance in Dubai, however it did not participate. When acquired it was in a dismal state and appeared knackered. While it was structurally sound and mechanically unmolested, it had minimal coachwork as there were signs of it being tinkered with for conversion to a Gordon Bennett race car, a crown won by Napier in early 1900s along with many other record-breaking feats at various trials and hill climbing contests.
California-based car dealer Ben Moser had discovered this Napier in an Argentinean barn along with two Bugattis. Subsequently it was passed on to the dutch dealer Jan Bruijin from whom the legendary racing driver & noted car dealer Colin Crabbe bought it with an intention to restore. He imported the Napier into UK in the 1980s and registered it with the DVLA in the name of his company Colin Crabbe Holdings Limited. However, discouraged by the staggering scale of work at hand, Colin eventually sold it off. Along with a few of his other legendary cars, Colin Crabbe forgot to mention Napier 823 in his now famous book “Thrill of the Chase”. He made up for it by writing a foreword for the forthcoming book dedicated to this historic car titled “The Noble Napier 823” being written by Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan.
Aside from being a historically significant motor car in Napier history and for the world of motoring in general, it also has a many firsts to its credit. The first production car in the world to be fitted with a 6 cylinder engine back in 1904 was a Napier. It was the same landmark year 1904, when the Motor Car Act came into existence in England. In fact the first-ever car to be registered in London in 1903 was also a Napier, bearing the registration ‘A1’. It is also believed that this very car chassis no. 823 may have been exhibited on the Napier stand at the 1904 Olympia Motor Show at Crystal Palace, when the 30HP L49 model was first unveiled. As a pre-1905 automobile, Napier 823 is a veteran car, and as such, it is an ideal vehicle for the celebrated London to Brighton Veteran Car run.