In the spring of 1957, Americans were initiated into one of the most hyper advertising campaigns up to that time. On television, radio, and print media, the promise of a radically new and pioneering automobile was coming to grace the highways. Not only was the car supposed to be fantastic beyond all imagination, an entire corporate division was formed to build and market the new line of cars.
The new cars were shipped and brought to dealer showrooms under complete secrecy. They were kept under dropcloths to hide the style and mystique of the brand new concept cars. If a dealer dared to reveal the car to anyone before the official release date, they would be fined or even lose their dealership franchise. So, everybody waited on pins and needles for the arrival of “E-Day”.
Ford Motor Company said they had performed superior research and development work in the planning and design of their new wundercar. Ford told the automotive press that their new line was better than its targeted rival brands, Oldsmobile and Buick. They lionized about the styling which had come about through market analysis. Also more R&D indicated the car was more or less guaranteed to completely wow the buying public.
Finally, E-Day, September 4, 1957 had arrived. Record numbers of consumers and the curious swarmed the dealers to witness the unveiling of the incredible, fabulous motor vehicle. The showroom doors were opened. The dropcloths were whisked away to reveal none other than:
The 1958 Edsels.
To say that most everyone was underwhelmed would be too kind. The millions came, they looked, they did not buy. What they saw didn’t even come close to the inflated expectations that the advertising campaign had created. E-Day was an enormous flop.
Instead of a radically new kind of automobile, the people saw a car that looked like a Ford/Mercury with too much gingerbread trim, an ugly, controversial grill that reminded many of a horse collar and a gas-guzzling selection of large V-8 engines. Overall, the car was laughably clunky.
The car was the wrong car for its day. The late 1950s was a time of severe economic recession, so the public was buying cars that were slightly smaller and more economical. General Motors and Chrysler were rolling out more economical vehicles. The Edsel sported an expensive sticker price, the fuel economy was non-existant, and the styling was complicated and overdone. Besides that, the name “Edsel” didn’t evoke exotic visions of speed and innovation.
Aside from the ugly appearance of the car’s body style, the name killed the car. In honor of the corporate founder, the marketing staff decided to name the vehicle after the eldest child of Henry and Clara Ford. Edsel’s son, Henry II, himself, advised against naming a car after Edsel Bryant Ford. While the name, Edsel, is perfectly fine and dignified for a human being, it’s a wimpy name for a powerful, mid-priced car.
Because Ford Motors desired for Edsel to be a separate division, the company took great pains to make sure nothing connected the car to Ford. The word Ford was nowhere to be seen anyplace on the vehicles. This may also have been a vital mistake. There was no way for the new marque to ride on the coattails of a popular, established brand name.
Because the cars were built in regular Ford factories, worker morale about building “someone else’s” cars dipped. Quality control was not prioritized, so many Edsels were shipped with defects and missing certain parts.
Despite the clumsy appearance of the car and lemony defects, there were some innovations of note. Technically, the car featured self-adjusting brakes. There were the ergonomically designed driver controls. The so-called, “rolling dome” speedometer was a plus. The idea of a push-button transmission gear selector “Teletouch Transmission” on the hub of the steering wheel was interesting.
Unfortunately for Edsels, the very new-fangled Ford mechanicals and state of the art gadgetry collided with the poor workmanship on the factory floor. The most ornerous problem that plagued the car was the “Teletouch Transmission”. Because the buttons were located on the steering wheel hub, a complex design and system were required to enable a rotating control center to communicate with the transmission. Most mechanics had no clue as to how to repair such a gadget. If a car has a poorly designed transmission, drivers will categorize the car as a lemon.
Edsel only survived three model years. The final run of Edsels were the 1960 models built in 1959. The factory had only 2,846 cars built. The cars shared the same body as the 1960 Ford Galaxy/Fairlane full-sized cars. The size was slightly longer, the gingerbread trim and bumpers were also unique to the Edsels.
The last Edsel rolled off the assembly line in late November of 1959. Total sales for the three years of production, were 116,000 or less than half of the company’s break-even point. Ford Motor Company lost $350,000,000 in 1960 value. By today’s dollar valuation, that would be an equivalant of $2,756,449,772.
As so often happens with limited production cars and infamous histories, the surviving examples of Edsels have become highly collectable. There are fewer than 10,000 survivors. A showroom condition Edsel convertable might fetch as much as $100,000 these days.
The Blue Jay of Happiness knows that some lessons learned from the Edsel fiasco, are that we should not promise too much nor be braggarts.