The legendary Ford Edsel, which was only produced between 1958 and 1960, was a visionary vehicle that never really got off the ground with the American car buying public at the time. It was such a spectacular failure that it nearly drove the legendary car maker into total bankruptcy. Today, however, there are less than ten thousand of them around and one can easily fetch more than $100,000 and are highly valued by collectors.
The car was named for Henry Ford’s son Edsel, a truly gifted engineer and designer. The major factor was the enormous cost to develop and produce the Edsel. Ford ended up spending nearly $250 million to produce and advertise the car. In 1958, that was a ridiculous amount of money and did, indeed, nearly bankrupt the automaker.
Cars back then were big and muscular and the Edsel came in four different designs with huge V8 engines to them. There were the Corsair, the Citation, the Ranger, and the Pacer and their wheelbases ranged from 118 inches all the way to 124 inches. Ford had done a huge amount of research and development on the vehicle and their marketing guru’s pretty much assured them that the buying public would buy the Edsel by the thousands. As a child I remember seeing these models being displayed at KG Used Cars of Salt Lake.
The car was launched and looked very much like many of Ford’s other models to the public. The price tag was far more than anyone really wanted to pay. The car was launched on an official Edsel Day and was heavily promoted with a television show called The Edsel Show. The additional challenges the Edsel faced was an economic recession that hit the country in 1957 as well as the car being a disaster on the assembly line at Ford manufacturing plants.
The vehicle was assembled online with other Ford and Mercury vehicles and line workers constantly had to shift parts and procedures to make the car. As a result, the craftsmanship was less than great, to say the least. Constantly moving between making different vehicles, the workers ended up try to figure out parts, wiring and design features as they went along. In addition, the completed Edsel’s often had extra parts because workers could not figure out exactly where they went. As a consequence, many new Edsel’s arrive at Ford dealership showrooms with those extra parts loaded into the trunks. The dealership mechanics were expected to complete the assembly of the car.
Despite the total rejection of the car by the American public, the Edsel is still a treasured collectible in classic car circles. All in all, Ford sold less than 100,000 of them and lost $350 million on the failed venture. In today’s money, that $350 million is equivalent to over two billion dollars.