BIOGRAPHIES OF WONDERFUL AND TERRIBLE AUTOMOBILES
THE EDSEL (1958-1959)
The Edsel stands boldly today as a perfect example of horrible timing, an almost classic flop. Although it was never the car the Ford Motor Company claimed it to be--"Looks right! Built right! Prices right!"--it was not the lemon it later became known as.
By 1954, Ford planners decided to enter the mid-priced car field, with a machine in the $2,400 to $3,600 range, above their lower-priced Fords and between their Mercurys and Lincolns. It was a sensible idea. The American economy was booming, and the automobile industry was selling nearly 7 million cars a year. Ford named its experimental concept "Edsel," or "E Car," after Henry Ford II's father. It ultimately managed to retain the original name, even after everyone from office boys to motivational analysts to hired poets had thought up over 6,000 possible names for it.
For a year prior to its introduction, no specific details about the car or clear pictures of it were released to the public. In the tons of advertisements which began flooding the country, the potential buyers saw only gauzy shadows or a fabric-covered shape, but never the car itself. All they were told was that it was something new--and from Ford! It was as if the company were trying to build some sort of secret weapon to capture the market, as the Model T had done 50 years before.
Even though it was constructed on a basic Mercury frame, the Edsel was intended to be a totally new car, but one filled with features Ford's product researchers had decided the typical 1950s buyer wanted: long, heavy, with a gull-winged tail, hundreds of pounds of chrome, push buttons and lights everywhere, and an overpowered engine. To make the car look truly different, the automatic transmission buttons (dubbed "Teletouch") were impractically mounted in a circle inside the steering wheel ring. The radiator grille, later to become infamous, was mounted vertically, with the letters E D S E L in gleaming aluminum in the middle.
Finally, 800 executives, 15,000 workers, 60 copywriters, and 1,160 brand-new dealers began pumping out advertisements and Edsels. A full month before the competition could show their new models, the first Edsels went on display.
The early introduction turned out to be but one of the many mistakes. Prices had been constantly rising during the 1950s, so the Edsel's announced coast appeared rather high to customers, since the competitors had not yet revealed their new prices. Discounted 1957 models of other cars, including Fords, seemed like a better deal. Nevertheless, a thrilled, enticed public, nursed on the teaser ads and the promise of something new, flocked to see the company's mystery car. They looked, nodded, and left--unsold.
As it turned out, the Edsels had become a victim of change. Planned during the boom years when money-laden Americans wanted their cars to resemble jet planes, they appeared just in time to bid hello to the deep recession of 1957-1958 and a general shifting of taste toward compact cars, led by a little beetle-shaped invader from Germany.