Craziest Engines Appendix A: Railton Special – When One W12 Aircraft Motor Isn't Enough

Deartháir’s post was unbelievably awesome, and it shook loose this nugget from my skull about airplane-engined insane cars. The Railton covers all the bases: unusual aircraft-derived engine cylinder layout, multiple engines, unusual power delivery.

Let’s get more specific: first, anything with a Napier badge on the block is pretty awesome. I’ve got a serious obsession with the Napier Deltic, which in my opinion is possibly the most badass engine ever created. Well, even Napier’s “more conventional” engines, like the W12 Napier Lion aerospace engine, were pretty wild. Yes, that’s W, not V. Lightyears before Volkswagen had even dreamed of gorging upon Bugatti’s epic past to build a W16 quad-turbo Veyron, the Railton was sporting two of the monster 23.9 liter Lions with additional supercharging, making a total of 2,700 HP. That is space-time-warping levels of awesome. It was also enough to make it the first land vehicle to break 400 MPH.

<i>Source: Getty</i>
Source: Getty

The second is how these Lions were laid out. No transmission at the time could handle anywhere near 2,700 HP, so Reid Railton, the eponymous creator of the Special, had a bright idea – why not use two transmissions and two driveshafts? Each engine powered a different axle, giving functional four-wheel drive. A Subaru it wasn’t – we think of 4WD as an offroad thing, but for Railton, it was just a solution to getting the power down. The Special ultimately held the world land speed record until 1964, when jet-powered vehicles got into the game. For being all kinds of badass, this gets the Hooniverse seal of approval and the nod for the first update to our Craziest Engines list.
Seven miles a minute! Wow, that just sounds cool.

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  1. Paul Y. Avatar
    Paul Y.

    …and that they don't use your ankles as a crumple zone. That is key.

  2. PowerTryp Avatar

    He has 2,700 HP, He drives 400 MPH, He uses 23.9L and 12 cylinders to do it. His motor oil? He only uses one. Mobil the only motor oil you need for your engine.

    1. Han_Solex Avatar

      Correction: 48 liters and 24 cylinders … there are two Napier Lions aboard this monster. All the more reason to use Mobil, and only Mobil, for all your lubrication needs! Mobil is the best!
      PS: Mobil, want to buy some ad space on our blog?

      1. BrianTheHoon Avatar

        After that plug, how can they say no?
        C'mon Mobil, Pennzoil is holding on line 2 and their stuff is crap. We want quality advertisers!

  3. CptSevere Avatar

    I can just imagine what this sounded like as it raged down the salt. Must have been something else.

  4. engineerd Avatar

    Suddenly I feel so inadequate. My 6 cylinders arranged in a mundane V configuration and 210 horsepower don't even put a ding in the awesomeness that is the Railton Special.