Originally aimed at a supposed gap in the product lineup of Ford/Mercury/Lincoln, the Edsel was nine years in gestation, and 18,000 names were suggested before Edsel was chosen (it wasn’t on the list).
Design Roy Brown’s target was to come up with a car that looked nothing like anything else on the market, and in that he was successful. Acceptance would be another matter. The Ford family agreed to name the car after Henry’s son Edsel and the top four names on the list: Citation, Corsair, Pacer and Ranger were selected for the models. The car was launched on September 4, 1957, with 18 models in four lines, including five station wagons. Ford even established a separate Edsel Division.
The price-leading Ranger and Pacer twins were based on Ford’s 118-inch Fairlane chassis, while the up-market Corsair and luxury Citation were based on the 124-inch Mercury frame. Mechanically the cars were straightforward, though a few gadgets were to prove troublesome in the 1958 models (the Teletouch pushbutton gearshift in the center of the steering wheel, and the “floating compass” speedometer, in particular). The engines used in the Ranger, Pacer, and the station wagons were Ford’s 361-cid, 303-hp V-8, while the Corsair and Citation used the 345-hp, 410-cid Mercury V-8.
It was the looks that troubled the buyers. While cars were getting lower and wider, the Edsel’s “horse collar” grille was nothing like the grilles used by any other manufacturer, and it seemed out of place. Critics also noted the car’s vertical/horizontal transitions and the “batwing” rear taillights. Buyer response was initially favorable, but quality control issues soon surfaced and sales slumped amidst a national recession. By year’s end, only 63,000 cars had been sold, versus the projected 200,000 units.
Emergency measures were put into effect. The Edsel lineup was drastically slashed to 10 models, and production concentrated at the Louisville plant. The Pacer and Citation were ditched and Edsel’s target market limited to the lowest level, with just the Ranger and Corsair. The car’s controversial horse collar was incorporated in a full-width grille and the rear taillights came from a Lincoln Continental. Engines were cut to the Ford 292-cid V-8 in the Ranger series, and the 332-cid V-8 in the Corsair and Villager wagon. Optional were a 223-cid six-cylinder and a 352-cid V-8. Despite the adjustmants, sales skidded to 45,000.
The 1960 Edsels were easily recognizable as Fords and there were only seven models: five Rangers and two Villager wagons. The cars lost their horse collar and now carried a bifurcated grilles, and vertical taillights were superimposed on horizontal planes. The 1960 season was abruptly terminated on November 19, 1959 after only 2,846 cars had been built. Happily for Ford, the compact 1960 Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet would be huge successes.
Edsels have some of the most dedicated followers around. As a result, many nice cars survive and many more are restorable. The 1959 models are easiest to find and much simpler than the 1958s. Edsels from the 1960 model year are very rare and there are a number of Ford-based fakes, so proceed with caution.
Edsels represent a quirky part of the Leave it to Beaver 1950s, with their bright colors and splashy trim. The Bermuda, and Villager wagons are particularly fun, with tri-color paint options and wood sides. The convertibles can be quite expensive, especially the 1958 Pacer and Citation.