A.W. Erickson and his Napiers


1906 American Napier (all original) at Hershey

Napier's 1904 Gordon Bennett car when owned by George Waterman

The 1902 Gordon Bennett winning Napier (photo credit: gracesguide.co.uk)
D. Napier & Son Limited gained notoriety for their automobile manufacturing through racing - specifically their 1902 win in the Gordon Bennett Cup Race. Napier's were well-built and expensive cars, rivaling Rolls Royce at the time. In 1904, Napier established the The Napier Motor Company of America in Jamaica Plain, MA (a suburb of Boston). Napier built all components in England and shipped them to the United States to be assembled under license, and in doing so, avoided certain importation duties and taxation. Napier was not alone in this strategy; companies such as Mercedes (manufactured under license by the Steinway Piano Company in NYC) and Fiat (manufactured in Poughkeepsie, NY) did the same. The economic challenges of 1907-08, created challenges for many auto manufactures. Napier was one such company and ceased production in America in 1907, reorganizing in 1909, and finally closing operations in 1912.
Mr. A.W. Erickson (Arioch Wentworth Erickson) of Swamscott, MA was descended from a historically important MA family that traces it's roots back to the Mayflower. It was Mr. Erickson's grandfather's donation that established the Wentworth Institute of Technology, in Boston, MA (A.W. Erickson Jr. would serve as the institute's chairman of the board 1981 - 1985). A.W. Erickson had a particular interest in Napier motorcars as well. He purchased a brand new American Napier in 1906. The 60hp, six-cylinder, seven-passenger touring car was the largest of three models offered that year. The family would keep this car in their carriage house in Swamscott until 1950, when noted collector George Waterman purchased the car. I photographed the car at Hershey, still in fabulous original condition. The car was sold to James Conant in 1973, and later to Otis Chandler in 2000. Gooding & Co sold the car when the Chandler collection was dispersed in 2006 for $935,000. But the story doesn't end there, for Mr. Erickson owned other Napier's as well. As was the custom at the time, Napier decommissioned its race cars after the factory was through with them, and would then sell them to the public. The car that won the 1902 Gordon Bennett race was sold to Author Brown who sold it to the Marquis of Anglesey in 1903. Soon after, the car was apparently was given to H. M. Bater, a mechanic, in lieu of wages. H.M. Bater, a one-time Napier employee is said to have been the riding mechanic for Clifford Earp when he set a 100-mile world record at the Daytona Beach in 1906. Mr. Bater seems to have worked for The Napier Motor Company of America for a period of time and imported the 1902 winning car into the United States. The story get's a bit fuzzy here as it is suggested that Mr. Bater sold the 1902 racer to Mr. Erickson. It is unclear what H.M. Bater's relationship with A.W. Erickson was, however Bater would acquire and import the 1903 Napier Gordon Bennett racer (entered in the 1904 race) as well. George Waterman would find both the 1906 touring car and 1903 racer in the Erickson family carriage house - purchasing both. It seems Bater may have had other Napier racers in his possession, but it's unclear to me what other car's he had and how the 1902 left the US. I believe the 1902 racer is now in Australia. The Napier raced in the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup is in the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu. The Napier car raced in the 1904 Gordon Bennett Cup is now in the Louwman Museum.

2 comments:

  1. Steve - these entries are exceptional. Can you send me your email address? I would like to connect with you on some of these posts and cars.
    Thanks...Colin

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  2. Colin -

    Thanks for your kind words. You can connect with me at steveevans.arizona@gmail.com.

    Steve

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