Was The Edsel A Bad Car?
Article by Mark Trotta
After years of research and development, Ford Motor Company introduced a new line of cars in the fall of 1957. The Edsel division was to be an intermediate brand priced between low-end Ford and upper-end Mercury.
Edsel Division Of Cars
Gathering up and then abandoning marketing surveys and suggestions from employees, the new car division was ultimately named after Henry Ford's son, Edsel Bryant Ford (1893-1943). Within the company and to the general public, the name was not well liked.
Although they were marketed as their own division, Edsel cars did not have their own factories. They were built on either Ford or Mercury assembly lines. The new marque's chassis, drivetrain, and body shell were shared with other models, but with own unique styling.
Designers strived for an entirely different looking car, but concessions had to be made to accommodate cooling, ventilation, and most importantly, production costs. The version produced was not the one envisioned.
One example of this is the front grille. Engineers argued that the proposed grille wouldn't allow enough air for cooling the radiator, so it was enlarged. To many folks, the intended "jet grille design" looked more like a horse-collar and was not popular.
In addition to their existing 10,000+ dealerships, Ford successfully signed up over a thousand Edsel-only dealers to help sell the new line of cars.
Before the first Edsel was even produced, Ford Motor Company began running massive promotional campaigns, calling it "the car of the future" and an "entirely new kind of car". In magazine ads, they announced the coming of "E-Day" - September 4, 1957.
With production starting in July of 1957, the new cars were available to the public on September 4 as promised. Ford's marketing did a good job of getting people into the showroom. Unfortunately, reactions to the new car were lukewarm.
The 1958 lineup consisted of 18 models, built in four series and six body styles. Many of these models were competing against its own sister divisions in sales.
- The 1958 Ranger and Pacer rode on Ford's 118" wheelbase.
- The 1958 Citation and Corsair rode on Mercury's 124" wheelbase.
- The long-wheelbase models were built alongside Mercury products.
- The short-wheelbase models were built alongside Ford products.
Traditionally, Automakers advertise engines by displacement or horsepower. The two Edsel V8 engines were named after their torque ratings. Both required premium fuel.
400 and 475 Engines
A 361ci V8 was standard for Ranger, Pacer, Villager, Bermuda, and Roundup models, and produced 303 horsepower and 400 lb/ft of torque. The larger 410ci engine was the offered in the Citation and Corsair models only, and was rated at 345 horsepower and 475 lb/ft of torque.
Available optional equipment on Edsel models included power steering, power brakes, tinted glass, whitewall tires, heater, two-tone paint, undercoating, compass, windshield washers, backup lights, and a push-button radio.
Several innovative features were introduced on the Edsel. Among them was the "Teletouch" shifter, which had the shifter select buttons in the center of the steering wheel.
Also innovative was a rotating drum speedometer that changed color as vehicle speed increased. Other features included climate control, self-adjusting brakes and a remote-operated trunk opening.
Distinguishable from any angle is what the designers had hoped for.
The taillights on Edsel station wagons resembled boomerangs facing outwards. From a distance, they appeared as arrows pointed in the opposite direction of the turn being made. They were subsequently redesigned.
A mild recession occurred at the end of 1957, effecting the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 1958, total car sales dropped 31% from the prior year. However, by year's end, the economy picked up, and automotive production was soon back in full swing.
After nearly two years of hype, sales expectations were high.
For 1958, 63,110 units were sold in the United States, and 4,935 were sold in Canada. Although this was below expectations, it was impressive for a brand-new marque.
Issues And Complaints
First-year models had several minor issues. The new Teletouch shifter was complex and difficult to repair. There were complaints that when drivers tried to honk the horn, they accidentally hit the shift buttons. Other customer complaints included leaky trunks and power steering failure.
For the second year of production, the front grille was toned down slightly. The larger models were dropped from the 1959 line, and the Ranger and the new top-line Corsair now shared the same wheelbase.
Originally planned to be an option on 1959 models, the Teletouch shifter option was discontinued. The powerful 475ci motor was also discontinued; the 400ci V8 was now the highest performance engine.
The 1959 model year ended with 44,891 units sold in the US, and 2,505 sold in Canada.
Another reason for poor sales was not only competition from other car makers, but competition from within the company. The mid-priced Ford Fairlane, introduced in 1956, sold for less than the Edsel, and many consumers saw the Fairlane as a better value.
Now sharing the body shell and underpinnings with the 1960 Ford Fairlane, a complete exterior restyle featured a more conservative grille. Model choices were reduced to Ranger sedan, hardtop, and convertible, and the Villager station wagon. Power was supplied by a 292ci V-8 producing 185-horsepower. Optional was 352ci V8 producing 300 horsepower.
Following poor sales reports for the 1958-1959 Edsel line, Ford decided to pull the plug shortly after the start of it's third year of production. Produced between October 15 and November 19, 1959, sales for the abbreviated 1960 model year were 2,846 vehicles.
To help compensate and make amends to consumers who purchased 1960 models and leftover 1959 models, Ford offered coupons toward the purchase of another new Ford product.
The company also issued credits to dealers for unsold stock. The few remaining Edsel-only dealerships either terminated their status or became dual franchises with Lincoln/Mercury.
At the same time Ford canceled the Edsel, they also introduced the all-new compact Falcon model, and sales quickly exceeded expectations.
Total Edsel Production
Approximately 116,000 total cars were built and sold for the 1958-60 model years. Total sales were less than half the projected break-even point, and Ford reportedly lost 350 million dollars.
Was The Edsel Really A Bad Car?
Aside from minor first-year model complaints, there were no major mechanical issues with the Edsel. The body styling may seem radical today, but at the time was merely "distinctive". It's failure, and it's ultimate bad reputation, was the mostly result of bad marketing.
No single reason was the cause for the brand's quick demise.
Today, all Edsel cars are prized collector vehicles, with reports showing about 10,000 still registered. One of the rarest models is the 1960 Ranger convertible; only 76 were built. Approximately 25 survive today.
Because of their value, fake 1960 Edsel convertibles have appeared on the market. This is fairly easy to do by taking the hood and rear deck lid from a 1960 Edsel sedan and modifying a 1960 Ford Sunliner.
The Edsel car division is remembered as a major commercial failure. With less than 85,000 cars sold in three years, Ford lost millions of dollars it had invested in the car's research and development, forever marking it as one of America's most notorious marketing disasters.