Cars

September 1957 – The Edsel

1958 Edsel 2-door Citation Convertible

In September, 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel.  Named for founder Henry Ford’s son, Edsel B. Ford, the Edsel started life as the E-car, which stood for “experimental car”.  The Edsel, placed between the Ford and Mercury brands, was intended to compete with intermediate General Motors lines, such as the Oldsmobile, while the company took the Lincoln brand upmarket.  But it was not to be.  The Edsel, after years of development, was manufactured for only three years, never appealed to the buying and driving public, lost millions of dollars for Ford Motors, and has since become a catchword for failure.

Edsels were produced for the 1958, 1959, and 1960 model years.  The 1958 models introduced in September 1957 included the Citation and Corsair, based on Mercury designs and manufactured in Mercury plants, and the smaller, Ford-based Pacer and Ranger models, manufactured in Ford plants.  All models were available as two-door or four-door hardtops.  The Citation and the Pacer also had two-door convertible versions.  Edsel innovations included its “rolling dome” speedometer and center-of-the-steering-wheel, Push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system.  Ergonomically-designed driver controls and self-adjusting brakes (earlier pioneered by Studebaker) were other special features.

1958 Edsel Pacer 2-door Hardtop

The first model year for Edsel sold 63,110 cars in the United States; the second-year sales topped out at 44,891; for the 1960 model year only 2,846 units were produced.

Why did the Edsel fail?  Speculators cite primary problems with marketing philosophy and strategy, quality control, design appeal, and competition within a car market heading into recession.  Marketing failed to sufficiently research and place the Edsel within the Ford Motor product line for the buying public; switching from Ford or Mercury to Edsel (and back) on the same assembly lines led to manufacturing mistakes; the “horsecollar” (or toilet seat!) grille and confusing rear taillights and steering wheel buttons were unattractive to buyers; and increasing consumer interest in fuel-efficient vehicles also added to Edsel’s demise.  Robert McNamara, part of upper-level management at Ford in 1957 and later the first non-Ford family member to serve as company president until President John F. Kennedy recruited him to be Secretary of Defense, never liked having separate brands within the Ford line.  He progressively reduced and then eliminated the Edsel advertising budget and finally convinced fellow managers to shut down production in the fall of 1959.

Image Credit: Carpedia

September 17, 1957 – Kansas State Fairgrounds Hosts Sprint Car Races

Dale Reed, Heat #2 Winner

On September 17, 1957, the historic half-mile racetrack at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas, hosted six sprint car races contested by nineteen excited drivers and crew.  Five thousand fans were in attendance for three qualifying heats of seven laps, a fast car dash of four laps, a six-lap consolation race, and the featured final race of fifteen laps.  Drivers from nine states – Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, California, and Minnesota – gathered for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) event.  Winners of the qualifying heats were Pete Folse of Tampa, Florida, Dale Reed of Wichita, Kansas, and Al “Cotton” Farmer of Ft. Worth, Texas.  Farmer also came in first in the fast car dash and featured final race; Johnny Pouelson of Gardena, California won the consolation event.

Sprint cars are small, powerful race cars with high power-to-weight ratios designed to run on short oval or circular tracks.  Sprint car racing began shortly after World War I, and by the ’50s some sprint cars racers were using larger flathead V8 Ford or Mercury engines, rather than the pre-World War II vintage 4-cylinders of the ’40s.  Featured race champion Farmer was driving a Les Vaughn Offy, #24.  Les Vaughn owned many frontrunning midget, sprint, and stock racecars from 1948 to 1960.  Young A.J. Foyt got his big break in an Offy, winning his first sprint car race in Minot, North Dakota in 1956.

Final-winning racer Al “Cotton” Farmer was 29 on this warm, sunny day in Hutchinson.  His nickname came from the full white head of hair he sported from boyhood until his death in 2004 in his hometown of Ft. Worth.  He was an automobile chemical salesman, active in local professional and charitable organizations throughout his life, the father of four and grandfather of ten.

Image Credit: L.A.Wood/”Big Car Thunder” by Bob Mays/Kansas Racing History website

On The Road – 1957 Flxible Starliner

1957 Flxible Starliner: Photo Source Hemmings

1957 Flxible Starliner

I think I’m in love. Road trip!

The beauty on wheels above is a 1957 Flxible Starliner, gloriously restored on the outside and fully updated on the inside for modern-day glamping.

The Flxible Company cornered the market on excitement from its very beginning. Chartered in 1914 at the Flexible Sidecar Company, the Loudonville, Ohio assembly line began turning out motorcycle-sidecar combinations for civilian and military use in World War I. Flexible jettisoned the “e” in 1919 in order to copyright their brand. Bigger changes were necessary in the early 1920s when Henry Ford began cranking out inexpensive Roadsters, undercutting the motorcycle-sidecar market. Flxible adapted by flexing into custom bus, hearse, and ambulance manufacturing. Touring companies’ investments in Flxible buses paid off when they were able to comfortably carry sightseeing parties in style over long distances. One quality-built coach racked up over 275,000 miles from 1925 to 1928.

Flxible developed the Clipper, a 29-passenger bus, in the late 1930s. Cities, airports, National Parks, resorts, and movie studios maintained fleets of dependable, economical Clippers. During World War II, Flxible retooled their factories to make tank, fighter plane, and ship parts for the war effort. Touring coach production returned in 1946 with the introduction of a redesigned Clipper, displaying a trademarked front “smiley face”. In 1950, the Flxible fleet expanded with the addition of Visicoach – a Clipper-based model with extra head- and engine-room.

The Starliner was introduced in 1957. It featured a new and innovative suspension system including torsion bars, which savvy 1950s Mad Men named the Flxilastic suspension system. Early Starliners sported eyebrow windows on the roof and under-floor storage bays. A total of only 276 Starliners were manufactured between 1957 and 1967, when Clipper-based model production was discontinued. Many surviving vintage Starliners – similar to the better-known vintage Airstream trailers – have been revamped and converted into motor homes. An immaculately restored Starliner motorhome is currently on the market for – drum roll, please – $399,900.

Image Credit: Hemmings

Vintage 1957 – The Ford Ranchero

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced the Ranchero, classified as a utility coupe and proclaimed to be “More than a car!  More than a truck!”  Based on a new, full-size platform, the Ranchero had an open, reinforced bed, unique rear window, and integrated cab and cargo box.  It was offered with two trim levels: a basic model marketed to traditional pickup buyers such as farmers; and the Custom model which sported many of the popular Fairlane’s options and accessories.  These included stainless steel bodyside mouldings, two -tone paint, and even a stylized longhorn symbol on the tailgate.

The Ranchero was a big hit with the buying public.  It drove and rode like a car, but could haul loads like a pickup.  Engine options were either a 223-cubic-inch 6 cylinder, 292-cubic-inch 2 barrel, or a 312-cubic-inch 4 barrel Thunderbird Special. Ford’s new vehicle was so successful that General Motors created the Chevrolet El Camino to compete with the Ranchero, starting with the 1959 model year.

Ford Ranchero Ad

Image Credits: Barrett-Jackson Auction Company; americanmusclecarmuseum.com; wheelsage.org; Ford Motor Company

July 4, 1957 – An American Family Visits the Pennsylvania Gettysburg Monument

On July 4, 1957, American father Walter Reed took his family to visit Gettysburg, where occurred from July 1-3, 1863 one of the most significant battles of the Civil War.  More soldiers died at Gettysburg than at any other Civil War battle, and the Union victory there signaled a turning point in our nation’s conflict.  Reed’s photo captures the Pennsylvania Monument, the largest of many monuments gracing the site. The granite pavilion commemorates the state which provided the most troops, the Union army commander, and the battlefield itself.

A little over four months later, on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg with a short speech that has come to stand with the Declaration of Independence as a founding document for our nation.  On July 4th, Walter Reed and his family celebrated our independence at Gettysburg; perhaps they also read the Gettysburg Address together:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But in a larger sense we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate –  we can not hallow this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, or long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.

“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, so far, so nobly carried on.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining here before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Reed took a number of photos that day, some of which were later published in The Open Road: The Way We Were, by Dorothy Youngblood. His photo of the Pennsylvania Monument includes his beautiful turquoise and white 1955 Ford Fairlane Town Sedan.

Image Credit: Leon Reed/flickr

June 25, 1957 – Last Day of Production for the Hudson Hornet

Hudson Hornet

1957 Hudson Hornet Coupe with “Hollywood” hardtop

On June 25, 1957, the last Hudson Hornet rolled off the production line.  First introduced in 1951, the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet” dominated stock car racing in the mid-50s.  Competition from Cadillac, Plymouth, Chevy, Ford, and Mercury resulted in languishing sales for the sleek, stylish, low-slung record holder.  Newly formed American Motors took over production of the Hornet in 1955 and in 1956 a total redesign changed the classic Hornet look.  Tri-tone paint combinations and “V-line styling” based on the traditional Hudson triangle unfortunately didn’t resonate with the buying public.  The Hornet’s integrated body and frame and step down feature (the floor pan was recessed on the frame: when one entered the Hornet, they “stepped down”) made the car handle well with a “sumptuous ride”, but it also made the Hornet expensive to retool for model-year updates.  Available over the years as a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, or convertible, in its final year the Hornet offered a sedan and a coupe with a “Hollywood” hardtop – both with egg-crate grilles, oodles of chrome, and five different tri-color combinations.

Even with the redesign and price reductions, the Hornet fell out of favor.  When the last Hudson Hornet rolled off the assembly line AMC dropped the Hudson brand and switched its fleet to the Rambler name.

Image Credit: The Hagerty Group

1957 Boomer Baby

Born in 1957 LimaLimaLtdWere you born in 1957?

If so, we are kindred spirits.

How did entering the world in 1957 affect your life? What are you grateful you experienced? What did you miss? What do you wish you’d missed?

Here’s my list:

I’m grateful I experienced –

  • Great TV shows like Leave it to Beaver, Gilligan’s Island, and Perry Mason
  • The freedom to wander on my own around my Portland neighborhood
  • Scholastic book orders in grade school, which delivered a fresh stack of books to read every month
  • The relief when it was clear that my friends would not go to Vietnam
  • Girls sports teams in high school, after Title 9 took effect
  • Star Wars on opening night in my local theater. Remember the knock-you-back-in-your-seat trumpet fanfare during the opening credits? The stomach-dropping sensation of rollercoastering over the dunes of Tatooine?

I missed –

  • The beginning of the Beatles and the hippie Summer of Love thing
  • Laugh-In, which my parents thought was obscene
  • Owning a Chevy Bel Air before they became an expensive classic

I wish I’d missed –

  • The disco generation! I’m still embarrassed . . . really embarrassed

 

How about you? Please leave me a comment and share.

One more question, Class of 1975: was this The Slow Dance at your senior prom, too?

 

Image Credit: LiraLira Ltd.