Selwyn Francis Edge commenced racing in the dawn of motoring, on a de Dion tricycle, after which he drove Napier cars in the great townto-town events, and in 1902 won the Gordon Bennett Cup for Great Britain. As a Napier agent he became their irrepressible publicist. He defended them in the papers, ran a team of these fine cars in races, challenged other makes to match contests, and entered them for officially-observed demonstrations of various different kinds.
Before Brooklands had been officially opened, Edge had driven a 60hp Napier round it for 24 hours without relief (it was said that he would be unable to breathe or would go mad from monotony). At the Track his fleet of six-cylinder racing Napiers, including the 90hp ‘Samson’, was highly successful, netting £1760 in prize-money (a fortune today’s money) in the first three race meetings, until he gave up, saying that motor racing was too dangerous!
His letters advocating every aspect of the Napier were at times open to question, but were powerful publicity until, in 1913, Montague Napier dispensed with him, under a stipulation that he keep out of the motor trade for eight years. Edge resorted to scientific pig-farming in Sussex until 1919, when he became MD at AC Cars. He resumed his intense promotion, this time of these well-made but expensive stylish light cars, a difficult task as not everyone liked their quarter-elliptic springs and three-speed rear-axle gearbox with a disc brake behind it.
When John Weller brought out his splendid light-alloy 2-litre ohc sixcylinder engine, the AC chassis was not at first exactly suited to it. But S F Edge ignored all complaints, in streams of letters, and entered ACs for record bids and races. In 1922 he sought a bit of personal publicity. He asked The Motor if it would award him a r copper medal if he t could better his 1907 se; 24-hour record, when i he’d covered 1581 miles 131 yards (a speed of 65.91mph). Edge was then 54, at a time when, at 60, you were coming up to old age (not now, I hope!). His replay of the 1907 record could not be exactly reproduced: the night spell could not be repeated due to noise objections by selfish persons who had built their residences near the Track long after it had been built. Nor would Edge sit high, as he had on the big Napier, at the mercy of wind and weather. In 1907 24 wheel changes had had to be made, but now tyres were reliable. What the middle-aged gentleman might have to endure was boredom, in 12-hour stints on the wide course, rather than danger.
In this context I admire the bravery of drivers of fast cars such as the Bentleys in the BRDC ‘500’s. They had to keep up high speeds to defeat the handicaps, yet had little chance of avoiding any car that moved into their path. Think of John Cobb, for instance, who drove the NapierRailton at over 120mph for nearly 41i hours to win the 1935 ‘500’ ,with only small rear-wheel brakes. How sensible he was to give up in 1934, as being too dangerous on the wet track. Edge’s run was longer by far, but not quite so hazardous.
It raises those minor mysteries which either intrigue or trouble historians. Why, for instance, did he choose a Spyker for this bid? J A Joyce, with a Hawker-bodied Anzani AC, held the light-car Double-12 record, having done 128 miles more than the big Napier did in 1907, in spite of the fact that the AC had broken both crankshaft and clutch after 11hr 20 min, an odd ruling giving him this record and the 24-hours, despite .the run being 40min and 12hr 40min short of them. But Edge would have found a small car uncomfortable, apart from the reliability factor.
Yet the choice of a Spyker is curious. It was unknown at Brooklands and never went there afterwards. Why not? Who supplied it? Perhaps the British Spyker Co of Duke Street, SW1, although they were not at Olympia. Was Edge thinking of an agency? He did later become MD of Cubitt. How was the car engined?
In his biography Edge says it was by Mercedes, but it seems far more likely that it had a 5.7-litre side-valve six-cylinder Maybach engine designed by Fritz Koolhaven, son of the MD of Maybach, as used by Spyker in this 30/40hp near-standard chassis, now equipped with a racing body, the engine mildly tuned. Anyway, a Spyker it was.
The elderly Edge took T Gillet of AC Cars with him. He drove from 8am until 8pm on both days, covering 1782 miles 1006 yards (74.27 mph); the car gave no trouble. Instead of 24 wheel-changes, only two of the Dunlops punctured, due to a nail and a screw picked up from the Track. It was a commendable show, watched by a big crowd, with many ACs present. The Motor responded — with a gold medal.
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