A Post editor tells of a cross-country jaunt in one of motordom’s best-kept automotive secrets — Ford’s long-awaited new Edsel — on view this week.
by Arthur W Baum
The event of this week is the introduction of the first entirely new American motorcar of Big Three parentage in approximately a generation. The newcomer is the Edsel, a well-known if not particularly euphonious family name from the Ford tree. Commercially the Edsel is a competitor for General Motors’ Buick. It raises the Ford volume lines of cars to four, thus closing a long-standing medium-to-upper-medium price gap in the Ford Motor Company’s market position.
I first met the Edsel in early May a few steps off Oakwood Boulevard in Dearborn, Michigan, behind a protective wall of masonry and security guards. The debutante car was disreputably dressed, for a purpose. As far as was practical, its newness had been concealed or somewhat altered. The car was then officially unborn, although actually three secret years old. We were to go for a spin, furtively and by the worst routes, deep into the Western states. There were three automobiles — a green Edsel, a black Edsel and a workhorse Ford station wagon carrying engineering equipment, extra Edsel parts, suitcases, coveralls and potato chips. We made a convoy, two of us in a disguised or blacked-out condition, and we were hooked together by radio-telephone and a comradeship of semi-secrecy.
Our function was to evaluate the behavior of the young Edsel under conditions that might apply to a careless and not-too-bright tourist suffering from bad advice on routes. Although the basic engineering of the new car had been thoroughly honed on guarded proving grounds, it was still necessary to subject the nearly finished product to the experience of assorted public highways on the plains, over the mountains and through the deserts. The trip had to be somewhat sneaky. We had to avoid too-close and too-frequent public inspection. We dared not offer anyone a chance to take pictures which might be published prematurely or delivered to competitive manufacturers, thus making an anticlimax of this week’s debut.
Such concealment is normal in road trials of annual models by every member of Detroit’s cloak-and-dagger auto industry. For a brand-new line of automobiles it is twice as important. And yet there is a delicate limit to the camouflage. A blackout complete enough to breed no talk, rumors or anticipation would be painful. A new car, ideally, should be heard about but not seen. It was quite all right for us to pique curiosity, wrong to satisfy it.
If this car looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before, you’re right. It’s the Ford Motor Company’s new baby — the Edsel — until this week a carefully guarded secret.
From the standpoint of style, the Edsel’s most striking feature is the vertical treatment of it’s front-end design, balanced by the horizontal lines of the air-duct grilles and a massive “interrupted” bumper.
High-school students in Kingman, Arizona, surrounded the Edsel on its cross-country test run and identified it immediately despite its disguised features.
The big question: How many Americans will drive home 1958 Edsels? Ford officials plan the new car to compete in the price class of General Motors’ Buick.
Near Mexican Hat, Utah, the Edsel swept by a Navajo and his squaw on a barren road. To maintain secrecy, drivers followed seldom-traveled routes in the camouflaged cars.