1954 Edwards America; photo by Richard Spiegelman. Click image to enlarge
By Bill Vance
Several new car companies attempted to get established following the Second World War. Kaiser-Frazer was the most successful, but even it would ultimately succumb after building cars for 10 years in the United States, and for a short time in Canada. Others included Tucker, Playboy, Muntz and Cunningham, all of whom soon failed.
Another who tried was Sterling Edwards of California. Since Edwards was born into a family engaged in the manufacture of wire rope in San Francisco, there was no shortage of funds. Edwards worked as a pilot for Lockheed during the war, giving newly built planes their initial test flights. Among them was the P-38 Lightning whose twin tail boom rudders inspired the 1948 Cadillac tailfins.
In 1948 during a trip to Switzerland the 30-year old Edwards was captivated by the sleek lines of a Cisitalia sports car. He began to formulate the idea of building such a car for the American market, long before the appearance of the Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Thunderbird.
Edwards was also becoming interested in sports car racing, which was emerging in North America as cars like MGs, Healeys, Jaguars, Allards and Ferraris were starting to be imported. He decided to begin his car building quest by constructing a sports racer using American components.
A tubular, ladder-type frame was constructed, and the most advanced feature of the chassis was its four-wheel independent suspension. The rear trailing arms and torsion bars were similar in layout to the Volkswagen and Porsche, although it had fully articulated axles, not swing axles as in the VW/Porsche.
Parts were drawn from various cars, including Studebaker A-arms and brakes, and a Ford transmission and modified V8 60 engine. This 2.2-litre (136 cu in.) version of Ford’s side-valve V8 was built from 1937 to 1940, and with higher compression and twin carburetors it developed a reputed 120 horsepower in the Edwards, twice its original 60. The car was clothed in an attractive aluminum body.
The first Edwards was completed in 1950 and was immediately launched into its racing career, posting victories in the four road races it entered. Encouraged, for 1951 Edwards fitted the Ford V8 with an Ardun overhead valve conversion (conceived by Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Corvette’s first engineering “father”), raising horsepower to approximately 135.
This wasn’t enough, however, to counter the Ferraris and Allards that were becoming popular, so Edwards began building a new car based on a Kaiser-Frazer Henry J 2,540-mm (100-in) wheelbase chassis, and equipped with disc brakes. It was powered by Chrysler’s new 5.4-litre (331 cu in.) “Hemi” V8.
Edwards fitted it with a body made of an emerging material called fibreglass, or glass reinforced plastic. In this application he preceded both the fibreglass bodies of both the Chevrolet Corvette and the Kaiser-Darrin.
When this second car proved far less successful in competition than his first one, Edwards turned for his racing mounts to such European cars as Ferraris and Jaguars. But he also continued with the development of his production sports car using American components.
The first prototype of the Edwards America, as he named it to emphasize its American ancestry, was ready in 1953. It was a low, handsome, two-seater convertible with an Oldsmobile “Rocket” V8 driving through a GM Hydra-Matic transmission. It was also fitted with a fibreglass body, as were all subsequent Edwards Americas built by the Edwards Engineering Co. of South San Francisco.
Edwards got some welcome publicity when Road & Track magazine featured it in their January, 1954 issue. As they summed up the Edwards: “Here for the first time is a practical sports car which combines reliable American components, high performance, styling which shows the Italian influence, and a reasonable price.”
Based on this prototype came the second road-going Edwards America, a coupe built on a reinforced Ford station wagon frame with its wheelbase cut down from its original 2,997 mm to 2,718. A Lincoln V8 was used instead of an Oldsmobile engine, although the Hydra-Matic was retained.
In response to a specific order, Edwards America number three was powered by a Cadillac engine. It was another convertible, the only other open car built besides the prototype. Edwards America number four went back to Lincoln power, while number five was again fitted with a Cadillac engine.
Number five was the last production Edwards America, although another one was half completed. The end came in 1954. Edwards had suffered the usual fate of start-up car companies: lack of capital. There was also sales resistance as the Edwards America’s price climbed to nearly $8,000, more than twice that of a new Corvette.
Thus another aspiring automobile entrepreneur’s dream came to an end, and remains a small footnote in automotive history. Fortunately most of the Edwards Americas have been saved, and stand as a reminder of one man’s vision of what a true American sports car should be.