What broke the 100-mph barrier in America? This 1904 Napier.

Photography Courtesy Bonhams

While it might not seem like a big deal today, breaking the 100-mph barrier in an automobile was a huge milestone in the early 1900s. This exacting recreation of the vehicle that did it on American soil, a 1904 Napier L48, features the actual engine that powered the original car to the record.

The feat occurred on January 25, 1905, on the mile at Ormond Beach, Florida, with a speed of 104.651 mph. To put things in perspective about the achievement, the Wright brothers had their first successful flight just a little over a year before.

In 1906, Walter Thomas Clifford Earp, aka “England’s Leading Gentleman Driver,” broke the 100-mile race record on the Florida beach, despite blowing out a tire and riding on a wheel to the finish line. That same year, Dorothy Levitt set the Women’s World Land Speed Record.

Find this 1904 Napier Samson L48, 15 Liter 240 BHP up for auction at Bonhams, with an estimated value of $900,000-$1,100,000.

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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/21/24 10:20 a.m.

A 15-liter engine good for less than 300 horsepower is absolutely bonkers.

I love pre-war race cars.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
2/21/24 12:00 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

And today a Toyota GR Corolla gets 300 horsepower out of a 1.6-liter 3-cylinder. Half the cylinders, a little more than a tenth of the size of the Napier's power plant. However, the prewar cars have a certain aura about them.

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What broke the 100-mph barrier in America? This 1904 Napier. details

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