Edsel

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

October 13, 1957 – The Edsel Show Broadcast

Louis Armstrong; Frank Sinatra; Rosemary Clooney; Bing Crosby. Photo: CBS

On October 13, 1957, CBS aired a live (on the East Coast) broadcast of The Edsel Show, essentially a one hour “infomercial” promoting the recently released-but-doomed new Ford Motor Company brand.  The broadcast is now primarily famous not for the car, and not for the impressive list of musical talent involved, but for the fact that it is the oldest surviving television show on videotape (made for the three-hour air delay on the West Coast).

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra hosted the star-studded evening which included musical performances by Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, “mystery guest” Bob Hope, and the Norman Luboff Choir.  The Edsel Show, a one-time special, replaced CBS’s usual Sunday night powerhouse, The Ed Sullivan Show.  “Edsel: The Show”, as opposed to “Edsel: The Car”, was ironically one of the year’s most successful and popular broadcasts.  The show served as Bing Crosby’s television breakthrough, after which he signed a two-special-a-year, highly-compensated contract with ABC.

The real star – the car! Photo: CBS

Rosemary Clooney reported in her autobiography, Girl Singer, an amusing (or embarrassing) moment on the day of the show.  “The only Edsel I ever saw was one they gave me to drive while I was rehearsing.  I came out of the CBS Building, up those little steps to the street where my purple Edsel was waiting, like the Normandie in drydock.  Mr. Ford was right behind me, heading for his Edsel.  I opened the door of my car and the handle came off.  I turned to him, holding it out to him.  “About your car . . . .”