A 50s Design Disaster
Author: Sherril Steele-Carlin
everyone, young and old, remembers the Edsel, a
disaster of a car only produced in 1958, 1959,
and 1960. Was any one auto before or since the
Edsel so misunderstood, criticized, and
maligned? The Edsel is a monument to Detroit's
misjudgment of America and American tastes, but
today, the Edsel in all its forms is a car
collector's dream come true.
Named after Henry Ford's son, Edsel Ford, the Edsel debuted in late 1957 with the 1958 model.
Never had so much fanfare, press coverage and
hoopla centered on a new car design. Prior to
unveiling the design, magazine ads showed the
car in soft focus so readers could only imagine
what the finished car would look like. The Edsel
Company (a separate division of Ford, much like
the Saturn division of GM today), even bought a
hour of television airtime and pre-empted the Ed
Sullivan Show to hype the new car. The publicity
worked – an estimated 2.5 million Americans
rushed to showrooms to view the new car when it
arrived on what was dubbed "E-day," but few of
The Edsel's design team had incorporated some
nifty features in the car. It featured a
pushbutton transmission with the buttons located
in the center of the steering wheel. It also
boasted a combination rear-view
mirror/front-view spotlight, and a "floating"
speedometer that glowed when the driver reached
a pre-set speed. Some of these innovations were
flashy, but some of them simply were not high on
the list of 50s car buyers.
In addition to
design features that didn't thrill, the Edsel
was introduced when the U.S. had entered into a
recession, and many people blame the economy as
much as the design for the demise of the car.
Whatever the reason, Edsel's were only produced
during the 1958, 1959, and 1960 design years,
and then they disappeared from dealerships.
production, there were several different Edsel
models produced. Several models – the Ranger,
Pacer, Villager, Bermuda, and Roundup all had
361 cubic-inch, 303 horsepower V-8 engines. The
Villager and Bermuda were both station wagons.
The Citation and Corsair models were larger and
sported a 410 cubic-inch, 345 horsepower cast
iron engine. Unfortunately, all this power did
not equate to fast 0-60 cars. Since the cars
were so heavy, they still took a long time to
reach speed, as much as 10 seconds or more.
Why was the Edsel
such a dismal failure? Many believe the car was
too over-designed for Americans. While it
resembled other cars of the late 50s, and was
priced in about the same range, the features
were too "odd" for many, and models languished
in showrooms. Edsel had predicted sales of
200,000 units per year, but barely that number
sold in the three years the car was produced.
Today, all the
Edsel models are prized by collectors, and
many automotive experts have called it one of
the best cars of all time. Still, most people
see the design as more than a little quirky –
the miles of chrome, distinctive "horse-collar"
grill, and wide stance still require a second or
third glance. The Edsel still draws laughs from
some, but the car may really have the last
laugh. Ahead of its time, more than a few people
have even asked if it will ever be produced
again. Ford says no, but we all know, you can
never say never!
Steele-Carlin is a freelance writer and
researcher in Reno, Nevada. Her work has
appeared in numerous national publications
including American Profile, Highways, Pool &
Spa, and many more.