Selwyn F. Edge was one of the pioneers of the British car industry and marketplace, culminating in the ownership of AC Cars – whose later fame centred around the Cobra, however had built many desirable sports cars before that.
Edge was born in Sydney, in the suburb of Concord just west of the modern CBD during 1868, however when he was three, his parents moved to London. Many reports say he was Australian, however this is wrong as he was born 30 years before the Federation of Australia and the creation of the country. When Edge was born, New South Wales was still a colony of Great Britain – therefore he was British by birth!
Like many contemporaries, Edge found himself enjoying bicycles and the success of racing them. He raced for the English team and gained employment with Daniel Rudge, a notable engineer who manufactured bicycles. This lead to a role with Dunlop – through racing acquaintances. Dunlop were one of the pioneers of the pneumatic tyre that was making travel safer and more comfortable.
Edge could see that bicycles were being overtaken (literally) by the advent of the motor car and he was at the front of the queue to get his hands on them. In 1899, with two business partners, he signed a deal with De Dion-Bouton to import their cars into Britain. At the same time, he worked with Montague Napier, the scion of an engineering family to resolve issues with the Panhard that Edge owned. Napier redeveloped the car and Edge was so impressed that he formed another company, the Motor Vehicle Company Ltd to sell them as well as importing other French cars from Clement-Panhard and Gladiator.
In 1900, Edge formed another company, the British Motor Traction Company, that was in effect a restructured version of the British Motor Syndicate which in turn had been formed out of the remains of the Daimler Motor Syndicate! There appeared to be a bit of a motoring gold rush on at the time with companies floating and collapsing in quick succession. Litigation was common between companies scrabbling to dominate the new market. Companies created by Edge appear to be in the thick of things!
By 1907, SF Edge Ltd had been formed to continue the importation and selling of cars, bicycles and flying machines. This lasted 5 years before he sold it to Napier who went on to produce significant designs in the aeronautic and automotive industries. There was a non-compete clause in the sale which meant that Edge went pig farming for seven years!
On his return to the industry, he took a liking to Auto Carriers and started to buy shares becoming governing director very quickly, ousting the founders. He took the company into motorsport as a marketing venture and changed the company name to AC Cars. By 1927, Edge had bought the company outright and renamed it AC (Acedes) Ltd however timing wasn’t great as the Great Recession was looming and the company was put into voluntary administration in 1929 and the assets sold off to a new owner.
At the time of joining Auto Carriers, the company was looking for a new engine and approached the British Anzani engine company for a motor. An agreement was made with 2,000 engines being bought by the car company, at a rate of 30 a month, with the Auto Carriers founders becoming directors of the engine company. However, after Edge had become the head of what was now AC, he copied the engine design and got another company, the Cubitt Car Company to manufacture them. Edge then cancelled the order with Anzani, causing that company to go into receivership. He did however have a stake in Cubitt!
Some reports suggest that he was a director of both Anzani and AC which is disputable. Even if he was a smooth talker, I can’t see him getting away with destroying the revenue stream from a company he sat on the board of! Incidentally, that Anzani engine evolved into a successful 2 litre motor that AC used for many years. After the experiences with AC and Cubitt, both failing in the late 1920s, he left the industry for good.
Edge was what you could call a great marketer. He saw the value of motor sport early on by replicating what the bicycle manufacturers had done in the 19th century. For example, he raced several times with a Napier in the Gordon Bennett Trophy, winning it on his second attempt in 1902. He also promoted his cars in speed trials and was one of the first people to enter a female in a race – Dorothy Levitt, his personal assistant – who competed from 1903. Levitt became a preferred driver for him in races both on land and in motorboats.
Both of Edge’s wives were also accomplished motorists, at a time when female drivers were frowned upon. There is a record of his first wife Eleanor racing some of the French cars he imported. She died of pneumonia in Manly, Sydney in 1914 and appears to have been separated from Edge at the time of her death. She had arrived in Australia on her own 4 years earlier. Edge subsequently had two daughters with his second wife, Myra.
Edge died aged 72 in 1940 apparently after falling out of a hotel window on the south coast of England. He is remembered and honoured today with the SF Edge Trophy at the Goodwood Members Meeting – a race trophy for the early giants of the racing scene.