Edsel. Famous Henry Ford Son or Infamous Ford Car?

2-door Hardtop 1958 Edsel Pacer

2-door Hardtop 1958 Edsel Pacer

Edsel. A name some of you may have heard before, and others may not have the slightest clue. Until now. The Edsel was the name branded to a failed line of cars designed and produced by Ford Motor Company. Ford wanted to introduce a new line of vehicles and eventually, those became Edsels. Why name it Edsel? Because that was the name of the son of the great and powerful Henry Ford, and so to honor him Ford named their prized vehicle Edsel. In the end, however, it was hardly an honoring. Now the Ford Motor Company already owned three separate divisions: Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln. Edsel was to be introduced as a new division of Ford with its own models separate from the Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury lineup. Designed to fall between Ford and Mercury on the quality-and-price scale, it was intended to be an whale-of-a-deal car with plenty of options. Ford also promised it to be an inevitable success, but neither of those happened. But, I’m getting ahead of myself lets go back to the basics. Why did Ford want a new division? They wanted to stay competitive with Oldsmobile/Buick and thought in order to do so they needed a new medium price car. In order to do this, they had to make something new rather than making the same ol’ Fords. Indeed they did make something new. Something unforeseen. A car which wasn’t revealed to the public until the unveiling. Oops! Concerning the Edsel, hindsight won the battle over Ford. Deciding to not let the public know really anything about the car was big mistake and may have been the largest contribution to the failure of the Edsel. Since they would not reveal the design of the car, there was no outside feedback from the potential customers. Had there been feedback, maybe the Edsel would have had a more appealing visual design and one that could have been molded to be desired.

'58 Edsel Roundup

’58 Edsel Roundup

With a bold intro statement of “I will stand out” and a shortly followed “Crap! Maybe that was too much,” the Edsel has a very controversial front end. A brash two-piece bumper loosely wrapped to the front corners, headlights that arguably protrude too far from the boundaries of the sheet metal, and a toilet seat instead of a grille all contribute to the Edsel lineup having aesthetic issues. Now if you aren’t one for the average stroll in the park, maybe you’d take a fancy to the teletouch automatic transmission built into the Edsel’s steering column. Yup that’s right, the car is shifted using buttons at the end of the steering column right where the horn normally is. Cool right!? Well yes and no. Although the new idea seemed nice it was confusing because of the whole previously mentioned horn location thing. People would go to honk and instead end up shifting gears. Yeah, you could say it was  problematic. Other Ford-declared intuitive features include electronic key operated trunk, self-adjusting brakes, child-proof rear door locks, and assorted dashboard displayed warning lights.

Edsel Pacer Convertible

Edsel Pacer Convertible

You can see from the picture below that the backside of the car suffers from a serious case of overstretching and I still am not sure why there is what appears to be an inverted scoop obscuring the center of the trunk. And of course the wheel wells covering the top quarter of the wheel is always an oddity. The car stayed really the same for the first two years and then in 1960 there was a makeover. The front end lost its toilet seat and split bumper. The headlights and the grille both were changed along with the rear bumper and taillights, but overall the car kept its outlandish design.

Rear View of the Edsel Pacer

Rear View of the Edsel Pacer

Now you might be saying “But John, I really like this car, why are you bashing it?” And of course I would reply “I agree it is a neat late 50s car with strangely attracting features and, in fact I am not bashing it but rather pointing out aesthetic features that may have contributed to its failure.” This car is a beauty by today’s standards and I, myself, would love to own one! The thing is you have to put yourself in the time that it was released. Yes I know this is impossible, but this was a time when cars were starting to move towards smaller more fuel-efficient compact cars. The Edsel doesn’t meet any of those criteria. It’s a lumbering tank with lots of get-up-and-go, which is obviously bad for mpg.

Edsel Ranger 1960

Edsel Ranger 1960

During the first year of production, Edsel had four models to choose from: larger Citation and Corsair models and the smaller Pacer and Ranger models. The Citation and Pacer were both offered in two-door, four-door and convertible options, while the Corsair and Ranger didn’t come with a convertible option. The Ranger also had 3 wagon models, the Villager and Bermuda, which came in four-door models, and the Roundup, which was the exclusive two-door wagon. Keeping the same general body for the 1959 model year, Edsel dropped all but the Ranger and Corsair. The corsair remained as a convertible option while the Ranger no longer had a convertible choice. In 1960 only the Ranger was produced in what was really a feeble effort to not give up. Knowing it was all but over, Ford finally cut the cord in November of 1959. The 1960 body style change only affected about 2,800 Edsel, which was all of the cars produced for 1960. This was a miserable number and marked the death of the Edsel. Producing less models over the course of the entire three years than Ford projected for sales in the first year, you can imagine why it didn’t last longer. With a projection of  200,000 total sales for the first year, Ford produced barely over 30% of that projection during the first year. Total their sales only reached to 115,000 vehicles which wasn’t anywhere near Ford’s break-even point. A complete failure and a loss of nearly $3 billion by todays market, make the Edsel one of the not-so-proud moments of Ford’s long and glorious history. There are many speculated reasons as to why the Edsel was such a failure. None can really be proven, so it is left up to the individual to determine what they think. Maybe you don’t want to agree with me that the most likely cause was the poor designing team that allowed no public feedback. Maybe you have another reason….and I say that is great! I encourage you to go out and research it more as I have only scratched the surface, and come up with your own explanation for the Ford Failure.

I found this video very entertaining to watch I hope you all do too! Enjoy!


4 thoughts on “Edsel. Famous Henry Ford Son or Infamous Ford Car?

  1. I’ve also read that Henry Ford was so controlling that he wanted his son Edsel to fail. I’ve read several stories about Henry that weren’t at all flattering and that he didn’t care about losing money as much as he did making a point.

    • I have not actually heard that. Very interesting possibility there though I would enjoy looking more into that! Henry II I believe it was that actually was very opposed to them naming it Edsel. He pushed for it to be named something, anything else but in the end Ford couldn’t come up with a better name so they just hung on to Edsel. haha kinda funny really

  2. Here’s a link to some funny political cartoons about the Edsel.
    And an opinion I found: Obamacare is more like the Ford Edsel. The car debuted in 1957 after Ford invested some $400 million to bring it to market (the equivalent of $3.3 billion in 2013 dollars). But the auto giant found that Americans weren’t buying it. So, by 1960, the Edsel was taken off the market. And that is why Obamacare will be long remembered as a Big Fail.

    • Those comics are quite funny! Sorry for my delay in responding, I wished i had went through those earlier. Appreciated the Vice President Ford one talking about Lincoln and Edsel! I’m not up to date on the whole Obamacare thing but from what I hear it’s not exactly favorable. Thanks for sharing these!

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