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Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society caters for veteran cars, vintage cars & classic cars, as well as commercials and motorcycles.

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1903 Napier 16HP Tonneau  ] ::

FROM HELP PAGE 133            IDENTIFICATION AND DATING:                 1903 Napier 16HP Tonneau
Very interesting period photo received from our regular contributor Tom Cosens, Yorkshire, (UK) asking if we could help with this one which he thinks is a French Panhard et Levassor. No background on caravan.  -- This one started a lively debate amongst our experts. It looked to me much like a Star but our specialists doubted it. Much searching later by Ariejan Bos suggests from the details of the visible rear breaking system that this is probably a cca 1903 Napier 16HP Tonneau, similar to the one on our previous Help Page HP133


Identification of cars is a very slow and pedantic exercise by specialists in their own marques who often have a language and approach which is interesting. The detailed knowledge some people have is quite astounding. I  hope they are writing it all down or it may be lost forever. One of the reasons for this website! It may therefore be interesting to record the exchanges of emails which lead to the eventual decision by Ariejan Bos that this car is a Napier. Interesting to note that he also identified a Napier of a similar age on our previous Help Page 133.

September 2018:  Could you help with this photo please?  I think it’s a Panhard et Levassor but I don’t know the date or model details. Many thanks. Tom Cosens

To: John Warburton & Neale Lawson: From Vintman at SVVS:   Many thanks to all for contributions to the identification of the 1905 Star 7 HP ET75 Rotherham ( Help Page 133. ).  I have subsequently received the attached photo from another enquirer. This one is towing a lovely little caravan of a very early design. Interesting that the caravan seems to have a single wheel where the tow hitch seems to be.  Not quite sure how it would hitch on?   Could be that the draw bar is in the ‘up position’ and the car has been backed up as near to the caravan as possible. So the caravan is a three wheel device and I note an external cart type block brake on the wheel which seems connected to an actuating cable going to the car?  To me the car looks to be another Star of a similar period as ET75. Regretfully the numberplate is not discernable but seems one letter and three numbers  (R?H?A?).  Has to be an early issue; likely during 1904. Would much appreciate your thoughts on the car, and caravan?  Investigations of the caravan have yielded no results. VINTMAN

Thanks for the interesting picture.  My guess is that it is not a Star although there is not much to go on.  The knobs on the catches for the louvre panels look to be round and fairly substantial.  I have only found Stars using very small handles like miniature water taps, you can still get a similar ones for cabinet doors.   The other point is the massive lever operating the rear brakes.  Some Stars (the 1902 20h.p. being an example) had a cross-shaft behind the gearbox but I think the Star levers generally went downwards and not upwards as in the picture. The 10, sometimes 12hp, and even 15 hp (4-cyl 1903) appears to have no intermediate cross-shaft.  The 1902 10hp twin dumb irons are very similar but I cannot make out the starting handle. Could it not be a Panhard in your picture?  NEALE

Been digging a bit more on the car and caravan on the internet and found same photo notated: “Panhard Levassor Vintage Car and Caravan , England. Voiture et Caravane Anciennes 1900s.“  By the way, a number of my Star archive photos have the central bonnet handle top on the side of the bonnet? VINTMAN

I'm inclined to agree with Neale, not a Star; and Panhard-Levassor is more likely - but a number of makes shared closely similar appearance at this period. Ariejan Bos in Holland is super-good on this type of early car. That single front wheel on the trailer / caravan has to be load-bearing, and one would guess that the trailer was connected to the car by a draw-bar for towing. It would certainly appear to be an over-large load for such an early car, even for one of above average power. Wonderful and intriguing photograph, I've never previously seen anything quite like that trailer. JOHN

This mystery picture definitely is a lesson in humility. After days of looking at images of 1902 and 1903 Panhards, Stars and Napiers I'm still not sure about the make, but I've learned a lot. e.g. that not only Panhard had the offset crank handle, but Star too, at least on some models: the two cars in the background on the 1903 Show stand as well as on the 1902 Autocar photo prove this fact. During the process I also had to rename a few Panhard images into Napiers, indicating the degree of increasing new insights …  As mentioned, I've taken only the makes Panhard, Napier and Star into consideration, because these show most of the features of our 'tractor' car. The details, which are important for identification are the following: the distinct front plate; the 'hanging' connecting rod; the hand grip on the bonnet top side; the side panel with round knobs; the size and location of the sprocket wheel; the absence, present and location of the reinforcement ring on the rear wheel; and the mudguard style. If we prefer an identification on the basis of these features, none of these makes would fit:  As for Panhard: I did not observe any Panhard with this 'hanging' connecting rod; I observed this type of front plate only on a few still existing Panhards, but never on period photos; also the shape of the hand grip is not like Panhard.  As for Napier: hand grips on bonnets are generally absent; moreover the front mudguards always were wing-shaped.  As for Star: the side panels normally didn't have these round knobs; the mudguard style was used indeed, but only on the smaller Star cars (with coal scuttle bonnet), the larger models normally had wing shaped mudguards; further the rear wheel had a reinforcement ring attached to the off-side.  If it would be an election, it would be clear: most votes would go to Panhard. Voting against are the hanging steering rod and the bonnet hand grip, which seems to have a different shape from normal. The front plate is unusual and I'm surprised that I can't find a period photograph with a similar plate, but based on the surviving examples I suppose that it was originally there on at least some models. When looking at it I was wondering what is present at the lower round cutout of the plate, as we see the crank handle offset to the right of the car. So, although I'm on the Panhard side at the moment, it is not for a 100% . Could there be another option (i.e. make?), or are we looking at a car which already had a previous life and hence had been subjected to some modifications?  ARIEJAN

Perhaps 16HP Napier?  NEALE

I always try to go open minded in these puzzles and I still haven't decided yet. It's a pity that the details are rather vague and that the photo has been taken from the 'wrong' side, so no levers are visible. This weekend I'll make some more time to dive into it. If I have a breakthrough, I'll let you (and John) know immediately.  ARIEJAN

I don't know whether John forwarded my comments on the picture of the car towing the caravan?  My "gut" feeling is that it isn't a Star. Although I made a suggestion that it might be a Panhard there is no basis for that suggestion and even Darracq came to my mind. The only points which I could say I have never come across on any pictures of Stars were the large knobs for opening the louvre panels and the large lever on a cross-shaft for the rear brakes, which incidentally on the few Stars using this method the lever appears to be downwards. I have a very clear picture of a 10h.p. of 1902. However, I have been going through my pictures which show a bonnet with round knobs as used on the 1901/1902 6 h.p. bonnet,  which you will also find Stars supplied to Brown Bros. Stars seem to have used what ever was available one might not rule them out if they had run short of the other type.  NEALE

Sorry not to have replied earlier but I have been away with my Little Star on a rally. Regarding car and caravan. I have some concerns that a 10h.p. could pull it!  Perhaps a larger Panhard ?  However I have persevered with the unusual brake lever and have found an earlier 16 h.p. Napier which appears to have this feature.  Unfortunately the bonnet proportions in the picture look to be wrong. The sprocket and rear spring front hanger look to be similar. I suspect 16 h.p. might pull the caravan with difficulty.  NEALE

I guess a small detail finally led to the solution. Well, at least I am convinced now that the car is a Napier. I hope I can convince you with the accompanying picture of Charles Glidden in one of his Napiers in India (from the small book Around the World in a Napier by Andrew M. Jepson, 2013). Of interest here is the braking stystem for the rear wheel: absolutely identical to that on the tractor car. I do not observe that on Panhard nor on Star. This observation, in combination with the fact that I already had a strong Napier feeling because of several details, makes me feel certain that the car is indeed a Napier. Only slightly modified with the bonnet grip and the mudguards. The car definitely will need a powerful engine, of course, so probably it is a 16hp model. ARIEJAN

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