Sterling H. Edwards was the heir to a manufacturing fortune from a California wire and cable business. He became involved in aviation as a young man in the 1930s, and during the Second World War he became a test pilot for Lockheed. He was also quite the sportsman in his youth, having taken an interest in skiing well before the sport became widely popular in America.
The Ski Trip That Changed American Sports Cars
It was this interest in skiing that ultimately led to the creation of one of the most influential American-made race cars of the post-war era: the R-26 Roadster that presaged the development of sporty American classic cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird by almost half a decade.
He was at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, when he spotted a late 40s Cisitalia Mille Miglia roadster. The clean lines and classic Italian styling of the little roadster captured his imagination, and from that moment he began developing a plan to create an American-made sports car that could compete with the best of the European breeds.
Thanks to his fortune, connections and extensive knowledge of the automotive industry, Sterling was able to assemble a team of some of the most accomplished designers and technicians available. He also had the luck to live in southern California where there were any number of auto component manufacturers and racecar constructors looking to revive the racing scene in the post-war years.
The R-26 Roadster
He contracted engineer and race car designer, Norman Timbs, and together they came up with working drawings based on the Cisitalia concept. He then employed the shop of Indy car builders, Emil Deidt, Lujie Lesovsky and the legendary Phil Remington, to construct a tubular frame chassis using four-inch chrome/molybdenum tubing similar to methods used in European sports cars.
To flesh out the chassis of the new car, the team resorted to American-made components from a variety of unlikely sources. Studebaker components were used to piece together the four-wheel independent suspension and the drum brakes. A Ford three-speed gearbox was attached to an Eddie Meyer tuned 154 cubic inch Ford V8/60 with a twin carburetor intake manifold and high compression heads that produced 120 horsepower. Nash instrumentation was used for the cockpit cluster, and after the aluminum body was fashioned and placed on the chassis, the interior was finished in leather by Runyon of Hollywood.
Thanks to the money and talent lavished on the project, the resulting racer was a sophisticated and original design unlike any other American car then in existence. It was a true dual-purpose sports car that could be used for both the open road and competition racing. The car literally tore up the California racing calendar in 1950, winning races at Palm Springs, Buchanan Field, Santa Ana and Pebble Beach — an unprecedented feat for a scratch-built racer.
He then went on to build a successor race car to the R26, and attempted to create a line of luxury production sports cars based upon the idea, but the costs were prohibitive and only five Edwards-America cars were built.