Edsel History (1958-1960)
Article by Mark Trotta
In 1958, a new line of cars was introduced by Ford Motor Company. The Edsel division was to be an intermediate car between low-priced Ford and upper-end Mercury.
Edsel Division Of Cars
Named after Henry Ford's son, Edsel Bryant Ford (1893-1943), the new marque's chassis, drivetrain, and body shell were shared with other models, but had it's own unique styling. Although they were marketed as it's own division, Edsel cars did not have their own factories. They were built in either Ford or Mercury factories.
Production started in July of 1957, and by September the new cars were available to the public. 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.
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.
Among the new car's many features 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.
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.
Distinguishable from any angle is what the designers had hoped for. The intended "jet grille design" looked more like a horse-collar and was not popular.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For 1958, 63,110 Edsels 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.
For the second year of production, the front grille was toned down slightly. The bigger Edsels 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 475 motor was also discontinued; the 400 V8 was now the highest performance engine.
The 1959 model year ended with 44,891 Edsels sold in the US, and 2,505 sold in Canada.
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 Edsels 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 seems radical today, but at the time was merely "distinctive". It's failure, and it's ultimate bad reputation, was the result of bad marketing.
Today, all Edsel cars are prized collector vehicles, with reports showing about 10,000 Edsels 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.
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