America’s hyper-consumerist post WWII period coupled with a pent up demand for cars and a sudden interest in sports models led to all kinds of automotive start-ups, not the least of which was a high-quality sports car named the Edwards America.
Sterling Edwards was the scion of a wealthy San Francisco company that had made a vast fortune selling ropes and cables, but his brilliant, restless mind led him to further engineering pursuits. A licensed pilot by age 17, he’d designed a twin-engine plane based on Lockheed's ground-breaking Electra. Edwards had served as a test pilot during WWII, giving twin-boom P-38s their final shakedowns before they were sent off to do battle.
While attending Switzerland’s 1948 Winter Olympics, Edwards spotted a sleek Italian Cistilia roadster and his life changed. He was inspired to build an American sports car that could stand up to the sharp new European cars being introduced as the continent awoke from its nightmare years of war.
The first Edwards car was a "clean sheet" design that incorporated a bespoke chassis and bodywork. Designed and engineered by race car developer Norman Timbs, it was conceived in the European tradition as a car that could be driven casually during the week and raced on weekends.
Introduced in 1950, the first Edwards was powered by a hopped-up Ford flathead V-8. Edwards drove it to overall first place in its first four races battling Europe's finest and totally dominating the nascent American sports car scene.
Further experiments led Edwards to build his next car out of a then-new material called fiberglass and use a pre-existing chassis in order to save costs. A stock Kaiser Henry J chassis cradled a hot Chrysler Firepower Hemi V-8. He’d built a plastic-bodied American sports car two years before Chevrolet's first Corvette was offered for sale.
Edwards went on to complete five cars named Edwards America, powered by Oldsmobile and Lincoln V-8s with GM Hydramatic transmissions, but ultimately his project was done in by the same problem that’s slayed many automotive dreamers; the mind-meltingly high cost of going into production. Edwards lost money selling his Americas at $8,000 while Ford’s exciting new V-8-powered 1955 Thunderbird was priced at $2,700.
Most Edwards have survived to enjoy lovingly restorations by owners who appreciate their unique slot in automotive history. But don't hold your breath waiting to see one at a car show or auction, the rare-as-hens-teeth Edwards are remain all but invisible on the classic car scene.
Written by Jim Cherry