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Ford Edsel: See all 18 models of the 1950s car that failed disastrously & lost more than a quarter billion dollars

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1958 Vintage Ford Edsel cars

Introducing the Ford Edsel (1957)

More than a new make of car… is a 1/4 billion dollar measure of a company’s faith in the American Economy

The Edsel is the first new make of car among major automakers in 19 years. In our time, the introduction of a new line of automobiles has become incredibly expensive. The new Edsel represents an investment of $250,000,000. [Editor’s note: That’s about $2.2 billion in 2019 dollars,]

The decision to make this extraordinary investment was a momentous one. It was based on a boundless faith in the strength of the American economy . . . and something more. It was based on what we knew, guessed, felt, believed, suspected — about you. You are the reason behind the Edsel.

Aug 25, 1958 Edsel Ford cars

Matching cars to people is our business.

That is why we automobile men are so intensely interested in you. We have to be. To us, YOU — as an individual — are the big difference between failure and success.

And no one knows better than we how individualistic you can be! When you buy a car, you don’t follow precedent, you don’t follow trends. You ask your neighbor’s advice and often forget all about it. You ask your wife’s opinion, nod your head, and maybe forget that, too. You read the ads, look at the cars, and finally, you make up your mind. Every purchase of a car is a wonderful adventure. An adventure for you, and for us.

The continuing challenge of trying to keep up with you is what keeps men young in this business. Just remember that every hour of every day, we are called upon to make decisions based on our opinion of your opinion. A new line to the rear deck, for instance. How will it look to You? A new kind of transmission control? How will it appeal to You?

Not long ago, we made one of the most momentous business decisions of our careers. We decided to bring out a new make of car. An automobile more distinctive than anything on the American Road. This is the Edsel.

Aug 11, 1958 - Dramatic Edsel styling from Ford

Why did we decide to bring out the Edsel? Again, there is a one-word answer. YOU.

We believed You would be pleased to pick your next new car from a larger choice than you had when you bought your last one. We believed that You would enjoy sharing, with us, some of the adventure of a totally new automobile. We believed You would be pleasantly startled at the distinctive styling and the advanced engineering of the Edsel.

And, speaking quite frankly as businessmen, we believed that the addition of this remarkable new make would give us an added opportunity to bring you into (or keep you in) the Ford Family of Fine Cars.

Happily, our judgment has been confirmed. Not in a great many years has an automobile caused so much excitement. Everyone who has seen it knows — with us — that the Edsel is a success.

[Editor’s note: Scroll down to find out why this car ended up being a huge failure.]

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Introducing the Ford Edsel - October 1957


Ford Edsel test drive: I rode Detroit’s mystery car

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, Saturday Evening Post – August 31, 1957

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.

Jun 30, 1958 Edsel cars

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.

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Looking at the Edsel in action (1957)

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.

Vintage Ford Edsel car test drive in 1957 (4)

From the standpoint of style, the Edsel’s most striking feature is the vertical treatment of its front-end design, balanced by the horizontal lines of the air-duct grilles and a massive “interrupted” bumper.

Vintage Ford Edsel car test drive in 1957 (1)

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.

Vintage Ford Edsel car test drive in 1957 (2)

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.

Vintage Ford Edsel car test drive in 1957 (3)


They’ll know you’ve arrived when you drive up in an Edsel (1958)

When you drive up in a Ford Edsel - Vintage ad from 1958


Edsel: The most beautiful thing that ever happened to horsepower

It steals the show wherever you go — the long, clean, powerful 1958 Edsel

When you see an Edsel some up from the distance, with the road all to itself, you begin to get the idea. And when you’re the man behind the wheel, with the highway rolling out under that long, straight Edsel hood, you know: This is the most beautiful thing that ever happened to horsepower.

You can guess a lot from the Edsel’s clean, road-ready look — and the 345 horsepower rating of the most advanced V-8s on the road. But the only way to really know the usable power and elegant poise of the Edsel —and the value of such famous Edsel advances as Teletouch Drive and Edsel Air Suspension — is to drive this car and compare it. Car for car, Edsel gives you most — and is priced the lowest — of all medium-priced cars. See your Edsel Dealer soon.

Of all medium-priced cars, the one that’s really new is the lowest-priced, too!

Vintage Edsel in blue

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Dramatic Edsel styling leads the way

Worth more now and in the years ahead

This is the fresh new beauty that broke away from the humdrum, look-alike crowd to offer real styling distinction. A distinction that’s worth more when you buy it, worth more when you finally trade it in. That’s why you’ve been seeing a steady increase in new Edsels on the road lately!

This magnificent new car stands out for its advanced new features, too — exclusive Teletouch Drive that puts the shift buttons on the steering-wheel hub — right in front of you; high-economy new V-8 engines (up to 345 hp); self-adjusting brakes: and contour seats that give you luxurious driving comfort.

Why settle for less? Especially when there isn’t even fifty dollars difference between Edsel and the Low-Priced Three! See your Edsel Dealer this week.

The Ford Edsel - Vintage car ad with red auto from 1958


See all 18 1958 Ford Edsel models (debuted in 1957)

Vintage Edsel four-door hardtops from 1957-1958

See the Citation, Corsair, Pacer & Ranger

Vintage Ford Edsel four-door hardtops from 1957-1958
Vintage Ford Edsel station wagons

See the Bermuda 9-passenger & 6-passenger, the Villager 9-passenger & 6-passenger, and the Roundup 6-passengerVintage Ford Edsel station wagons
Two-door hardtops

See the Citation, Corsair, Pacer & Ranger
58 Ford Edsel cars - Two-door hardtops
Ford Edsel convertibles

Edsel Pacer & Edsel Citation

Ford Edsel convertibles (1)

Ford Edsel convertibles (2)
Two & four-door Ford Edsels for 1958

Edsel Ranger & Edsel Pacer
Classic cars - Ford Edsels for 1958

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What went wrong? Why was the Edsel a flop?

Looking back: Ford’s Edsel was the wrong car at the wrong time

By Liz Walpole, Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York) June 21, 1974

It was the biggest commercial failure in history.

That is how Glenn Orshaw of Elmira, a member of the New York State Electric and Gas Corp. Speakers Club, described the rise and fall of the Ford Edsel.

Addressing the Waverly Rotary Club Thursday, Orshaw said Ford and its dealers lost approximately $1.5 billion in the Edsel venture in the late 1950s.

“The Edsel’s famous oval grill design was-ridiculed by jokesters throughout the land,” Orshaw said.

“Bob Hope referred to it as an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon. It was called a toilet seat and a sex symbol, and many other things, including an egg,” he said.

LIFE Jun 16, 1958 Edsel cars

But it was not merely the innovative design or the name which caused the Edsel to fail, as some people claim.

Orshaw said he gives most credence to the theory that it was just the wrong car at the wrong time.

In 1955, when Ford was well into designing and retooling for the Edsel, big, flashy, push-button cars, were being demanded by the public. But by 1957, when the Edsel was first released, the public taste had changed to small, economical cars, he said.

“In 1955, the economy was booming. In July 1957, two months before the Edsel was introduced, the stock market took a real nose dive, and the 1958 recession started.

“All car dealers were left with huge stocks of last year’s model, which they had to get rid of by discount prices and high-pressure selling,” he said.

Orshaw said that when Henry Ford II took over his father’s empire in 1946, the Ford company was losing $10 million a month. Eight years later, Ford was the hottest-selling car on the market.

The Edsel was conceived to get into the middle-class market which in the early 1950s was held by Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac, Orshaw said.

“A new agency was created, called the special products division. This group was given the task of putting Ford in the medium-priced market. They also were given $250 million,” he said.

Orshaw detailed the elaborate efforts Ford went through to come up with an innovative design for its new car, and the exhaustive search that was made to find just the night name for it.

Opinion surveys were taken, marketing studies made and name contests held. A well-known poet, Mary Ann Moore, was even hired to find it a name. She submitted such poetic but unacceptable names as Intelligent Bullet, Utopian Turtle Top and Bullet Cousinne.

“At last, the job was done. The choice was made. The car would be called Corsair,” Orshaw said.

But when an executive meeting was called, Ernest Breech, executive vice president, decided he didn’t like the final name choice.

“He started looking over other lists of names and finally said, ‘Let’s call it Edsel.'”

Orshaw added, “Almost a million dollars had been spent (on the name hunt), and a vice president now decided to call it ‘The Edsel.'”

November 1958 ad for 1959 Ford Edsel car

The advertising promotion before its unveiling was phenomenal. More than 1,100 dealers were signed up to sell and promote the car, ads were taken in major magazines, a three-day press preview was held with 250 reporters from all over the country, all at Ford’s expense.

On the big E-Day in Cambridge, a band led a motorcade of Edsels. In California, a helicopter towed a giant EDSEL sign above the San Francisco Bay.

In Philadelphia, an Edsel was stolen. It was later remarked that that was probably the high water mark of public acceptance of the Edsel,”‘ Orshaw said.

The rest is history.

Orshaw said Ford needed sales of 200,000 cars to break even. The first year they sold only 34,000. Two years later, the model was discontinued.

“Millions of people came to look, but only a few bought,” he said.

Ford later regained its losses by bringing out the reliable Falcon and Mustang lines.

“As for the Edsel, it’s now a collectors’ item.”

Popular Mechanics Mar 1958 Ford Edsel dashboard

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News report: Ford officially kills the Edsel (1959)

From Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) November 19, 1959

Ford will stop making Edsel autos at once – Sales have lagged, consumers prefer new compact cars

DETROIT (AP) — The Edsel today became the first casualty of the new automotive battle of the compact cars. Ford announced it will abandon the medium-price car immediately.

Introduced only two years ago, the Edsel never captured a market. Slightly more than 100.000 were sold. Fewer than 100 have been Dduiit in the last two weeks as Ford diverted scarce steel to its other lines.

SALES LAG

In an official statement, Ford said sales of the 1960 Edsel model, which looks strikingly like the 1959 Pontiac, “have been particularly disappointing,” while response to all other company lines has been good.

“In view of this high consumer preference for the other company lines, and the severe decline in the demand for Edsel cars, the continued production of the Edsel is not justified, especially in view of the shortage of steel,” Ford said in its formal announcement.

Edsel for 1960 - Vintage Ford cars

STATEMENT FORCED

The Edsel statement obviously was forced by today’s official decision by the Ford Foundation to sell another two million shares of Ford Motor Co. stock to the public. In the preliminary stock prospectus, the company is described as building only three lines of cars — Fords, including Falcons and Thunderbirds; Mercury; and Lincoln, including Continental — with no reference to the Edsel.

On another page in the prospectus giving company production figures, a footnote to Edsel states “introduced in September 1957 and discontinued in November 1959.”

Total 1960 model production of the Edsel has been approximately 2,800 cars. In all of 1959, only about 30,000 of the cars have been built.

Ford claimed sales of its other car lines during the first 10 days of November jumped 40 percent above sales of the same cars during the similar period last year.

The Edsel has been assembled at Ford’s Louisville, Ky. plant. This plant will continue to build Ford trucks. The Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division will become the Lincoln-Mercury division of the company.

Only last week Ford shifted all M-E-L assembly plants and purchasing into its Big Ford division, a move which industry observers suggested heralded a complete merger of Ford operations.

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