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1959 Edsel Citation Convertible
The Citation convertible was big, bold and brash - qualities most US consumers obviously did not find appealing...

Edsels being delivered
Little did the dealer know how much trouble he would have finding homes for the newly delivered Edsels...

The Edsel Show
The Edsel show would air in October 1957, but would fail to capture the imagination of US buyers...

Edsel Pacer
The 2 door Edsel Pacer, not as ugly as many suggest, and now a highly prized and collectable link to US automotive history...

1960 Edsel
The 1960 Edsel was a shadow of its former self, now very much a mildly made-over Ford...

The US automotive industry was so large that manufacturers not only had a plethora of models from which to choose, but also divisions. Research had revealed the Lincoln was not competing with Cadillac as intended, but consumers were instead comparing it to the Oldsmobile of the day.

Ford was committed to ensuring the Lincoln stayed as the flagship make, and so a decision was made to introduce a suitable competitor for the Oldsmobile. Dubbed the “E Car” (experimental car), the new division set about creating an advanced and highly desirable car that would be readily identifiable and individualistic.

Given that Mercury were already sharing the bodies and many components from the Lincoln range, it was important that the E-Car be new from the ground up, rather than be a concoction of parts cobbled together from existing Ford models.

E-Day would occur on September 4, 1957, the hype surrounding the event unparalleled for the time. In just over a month a top rating television special would air on TV, the Edsel Show, however by then many motoring journalists were openly condemning the  radical (for the day) styling of the Edsel.

Some protagonists knew the new car did indeed share much of its bodywork with other Ford models, even though the manufacturer had gone to great lengths to convince people otherwise.

From November 1956 until January 1958 the Edsel was sold via its own newly created division, but with sales failing to reach anywhere near expectation they would soon find themselves in the showrooms of Mercury Lincoln, creating the new Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division.

Now Edsel had a network of 1,500 dealers across the continental US, the management of Edsel confident this would turn around the fortunes of the car.

For 1958 Edsel had four models, including the larger Mercury-based Citation and Corsair, and the smaller, more affordable Ford-based Pacer and Ranger.

The Citation was available as a two or four-door hardtop or two-door convertible, the Corsair came in two or four-door hardtop versions, while the Pacer came in two and four-door hardtops, a four-door sedan and two-door convertible. The Ranger came in two-door and four-door hardtop or sedan versions.

The four-door Bermuda and Villager wagons, and the two-door Roundup wagon were based on the 116" wheelbase Ford station wagon platform and shared the trim and features of the Ranger and Pacer models.

Mildly innovative, this latter model featured a "rolling dome" speedometer and Teletouch transmission shifting system located on the centre of the steering wheel. Other, arguably more effective design innovations included ergonomically-designed controls for the driver and self-adjusting brakes.

Some 63,110 Edsel's sold the first year, well below expectation and forcing the bean counters to do the math on having such a broad model line-up. Naturally enough the decision was made to jettison the lowest selling performers.

Only the Ranger and the Corsair would survive to 1959, although the latter was in actuality a relabeled Pacer – the larger iterations being dropped. The new Corsair came in both two and four-door hardtops, a four-door sedan and two-door convertible.

The Ranger came in two and four-door hardtops, two and four-door sedans, and the Villager station wagon – however despite focusing on a smaller model lineup only 44,891 would sell. Most knew the writing was on the wall.

In one last roll of the dice, Edsel would continue production into 1960 with the Ranger and Villager models. Now looking very much like a Ford, only the grille, tail light treatment and now customary Edsel side sweep spears making them identifiable over the more mundane Ford iterations.

Ford had quietly announced the end of the Edsel program on the 19th November, 1959, and when the press got hold of the news it sent resale values of existing Edsel’s through the floor.

If they didn’t already know by now, the dealers realised the 1960 Edsel’s would be a white elephant. Dealers tried to cancel pre-booked advertising, and Ford even offered rebates of between $300 and $400 to purchasers of the 1960 models who had been unlucky enough to allow the ink to dry on the contract of sale prior to Ford’s November ’59 announcement.

Exactly why Edsel failed, and failed so dramatically, remains a point of conjecture to this day. The reasons put forward include poor workmanship, radical but unpopular styling, poor marketing, poor corporate support from within Ford, and most of all a poorly researched pricing structure.

For the new division to gain acceptance, many believed it needed to be priced more competitively, but instead some models were more expensive that the well established Mercury, a division that had been around for decades, and had built customer loyalty and a stellar reputation.

In effect, Ford divisions were competing with each other rather than the opposition. That the Edsel fell well short of the hype surrounding its introduction didn’t help much either.

But there is a more simple explanation that many believe to be more accurate, that the Edsel was simply too big for the time – as other manufacturers made their cars more compact the Edsel harked back to the early 1950’s era of bigger is best. It wasn’t.
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