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
Ford models, even though the manufacturer had gone
to great lengths to convince people otherwise.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
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.