by Simon Fisher
2022 review by James Loveridge
In his 1934 book “My Motoring Reminiscences” Selwyn Francis Edge said he had wanted to wait 40 years before he wrote about his experiences. Now almost 90 years later we get from Simon Fisher, himself a Napier owner, “S. F. Edge – Maker of Motoring History”. In his book, now thought to have been written by his long term friend St. John Nixon, Edge said very little about his personal life and Mr Fisher’s book comprehensively fills in the gaps in the story of this very remarkable man.
There is no doubt Edge was a very significant player in the early years of motoring, being the first Briton to win an International Event – the Gordon Bennett Trophy in 1902 – driving a British car and thus demonstrating the excellence of the Napier motor car, and with further record breaking performances.
Unlike Lanchester, Austin or Morris, Edge was not an engineer, he was a business man and a salesman and with these skills he made his fortune. What Simon Fisher’s book makes clear is that he was a very controversial man. He managed to fall out with Harvey du Cros, his early patron; Montague Napier, who built the cars which Edge used for his many achievements; and even with Winston Churchill!
This book is the result of considerable research and benefits from the support of Edge’s family who allowed access to evidence of his prolific letter writing, much of which is quoted in full or part. Like many early motorists Edge started out as a racing cyclist and the details given show he was very good at it. An early indication of the character of the man is that he had a weak chest and his determination to counter that helped him achieve so much on two and three wheels. He clearly had an inquiring mind and quickly identified the benefits of the pneumatic tyre which started him on the road to business success.
His introduction to Montague Napier, a fellow cyclist, and how Napier was persuaded to get into making motor vehicles is well explained. Also detailed is the very successful, at least to Edge, relationship whereby Edge contracted to sell all cars Napier produced, and then the ending of this relationship in 1912. A result of this was that Edge agreed not to be involved in the motor business for a period of seven years.
During this period Edge, who had bought a good deal of farmland, became a very successful pig farmer. In 1915 he became a member of the Metropolitan Munitions Committee and in 1917 he was appointed Director of the Agricultural Machinery Branch of the Ministry of Munitions but it seems, in characteristic fashion, he told them they were doing it all wrong. Winston Churchill had become Minister of Munitions and told him to resign.
Edge had acquired an interest in Auto-Carriers (1911) Limited and in 1921 effectively took it over. Despite producing a very good motor car, an AC winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1926 and the AC engine lasting for many years, the company folded In 1929, though the name continued when the assets were bought by the Hurlock brothers in 1930. Edge said he lost £200,000 – the whole of his fortune.
This well produced book with plenty of good, clear images additionally tells of Edge’s interests in motor boating and his numerous record-breaking drives, particularly for 24 hours. It is said, however, that the 24 hour run in 1907 did so much damage to the newly laid track at Brooklands that it never was as smooth as the builders intended. His many business ventures are recorded, as is information about his personal life, two marriages and his two daughters. Perhaps characteristic of the man is his bitter dispute with one-time friend, Charles Jarrott, about the respective merits of the six cylinder engine which Edge may well have conceived but Napier had to build.
Though Edge was born in Australia all Australians were British until the Commonwealth of Australia was created in 1901 so he can properly be described as British as Mr Fisher makes clear. His grave is at Tilford in Surrey and is just across the road from the Barley Mow pub, a favourite of Mike Hawthorn, another British motoring hero.
This is an excellent book about a fascinating period of our motoring history. Well worth buying.
Publisher: Evro https://www.evropublishing.com/
Price: £45.00, available from the usual sources.
Description: hardback, 240 x 210mm, 192 pages, 155 images.
Certainly, a good and welcomed book. There are a couple of typos and, the first edition of The Autocar was not October 1895. One of my pet hates is the repeated myth about the correct name of an ‘Ordinary’ or high bicycle. They should not be referred to as Penny Farthings, this name was intended as a derisory term starting at the turn of the 20th Century, and continually perpetuated today. Time and again I remind motoring friends, you would not call a veteran motor car an ‘Old Crock’ then why call these superb bicycles the dreaded ‘PF’ words. I see that Craig Horner in his excellent recent book is quite unnecessarily using the phrase.
Apologies Peter. I mainly use the description ‘Ordinary’ for the high bicycle. ‘Penny farthing’ only appears in three places and is prefaced by ‘now better known as’, which I believe is true.
Simon, I am wondering if you came across the relationship between my great-grandfather Arthur John McCormack of Wolseley and later AC when doing research for Selwyn Edge. They had many adventures together, it seems, from racing bicycles to cars.
Richard, thank you for bringing SF’s connection with Arthur McCormack to my attention. I’m afraid he doesn’t get a mention in my book, but I now see that he was appointed as a director of AC in 1926. He is mentioned in Charles Jarrott’s ‘Ten Years of Motors and Motor Racing’ since he rode on Jarrott’s Panhard in the Circuit des Ardennes race in 1902, which Jarrott won.