Heavy Turnout to see Edsels

Tribune Photo published September 5, 1957



A crowd estimated at some 10,000 people turned out Wednesday to view the unveiling of the completely new Edsel automobile at Larry Peterson Edsel Sales here... The viewers consumed 45 gallons of coffee and 54 dozen doughnuts during the day, Peterson said.  A factory representative said the showing here had the largest attendance of any in which he took part Tuesday.

Above, advertisement from September 3, 1957

NEW EDSEL IS OFFICIALLY UNVEILED TODAY - The Edsel, Ford Motor Company's new entry in the medium and upper-medium price field, was unveiled officially for the first time today.  The car, subject of much speculation for the last few months, will be publicly introduced in dealer showrooms Sept. 4.  Larry Peterson Edsel Sales, 363 South Duff, will be the dealer for the Ames area.

The car has been under development since July, 1954.  Prototype models have been driven more than 1.5 million miles during the testing program.  The Edsel will be available in 18 models in four series: Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation.  The line includes two convertibles, three sedans, eight two-and four-door hardtops and five station wagons.

Dual headlights, self-adjusting brakes, safety rim wheels and four barrel carburetion are standard in all Edsels.  Two engines are produced for the Edsel.  The E-400 engine, used in the Ranger and Pacer series and the station wagon models, develops 400 foot pounds of torque and 303 horsepower from 361 cubic inches displacement.  Only the automatic transmission is available in these series.  Other features of the Edsel include a foot-operated parking brake, a 20-gallon fuel tank and a 12-volt electrical system.

click to enlarge

Peterson is shown at right pointing out some of the features of a convertible model.

Advertisement from September 3, 1957

Ford Motor Company's research and development for a new intermediate-sized line had begun in 1955 under the name "E car", which stood for experimental.   The name Edsel was eventually decided upon to honor Edsel B. Ford, son of the company's founder, Henry Ford.  This represented a new division of the firm alongside that of Ford itself and the Lincoln-Mercury division, whose cars at the time shared the same bodies.

The Edsel was introduced amid considerable publicity on "E Day" "” September 4, 1957.  The prerelease advertising campaign touted the car as having "more YOU ideas", and the teaser advertisements in magazines only revealed glimpses of the car through a highly blurred lens or wrapped in paper or under tarps.  Edsels were shipped to the dealerships under cover and remained wrapped on the dealer lots.  It was also promoted by a top-rated television special, The Edsel Show on October 13, but the promotional effort was not enough to counter the adverse initial public reaction to the car's styling and conventional build.  For months,  Ford had been circulating rumors that led people to expect an entirely new kind of car, when in reality, the Edsel shared its engineering and bodywork with other Ford models.  It did offer many new features, such as self-adjusting rear brakes and automatic lubrication.  While consumer focus groups had indicated that these and other features would make the "E" car attractive to them as car buyers, the Edsel's selling prices exceeded what buyers were willing to pay.  Upon seeing the price for a base model, many potential buyers simply left the dealerships. Other buyers were frightened by the price for a fully equipped top-of-the-line model.

(Photo by Nancy Burton)

The instrument panel was futuristic, and the "Teletouch" push button transmission controls were located in the steering wheel hub.  The speedometer was a revolving drum type.  The heater, defroster and ventilator were operated by a single control, eliminating knobs and levers.

(Photo by Christer Johansson)

The Edsel is best remembered for its trademark "horsecollar" or "toilet seat" grille, which was quite distinct from other cars of the period. According to a popular joke at the time, the Edsel resembled an "Oldsmobile sucking a lemon".  The Edsel's front-end ensemble as it eventually appeared bore little resemblance, if any, to the original concept.  Roy Brown, the original chief designer on the Edsel project, had envisioned a slender, almost delicate opening in the center. Engineers, fearing engine cooling problems, vetoed the intended design, which led to the now-infamous "horsecollar." The vertical grille theme, while improved for the 1959 models, was discontinued for the 1960 models, which were similar to Ford models of the same year.   Coincidentally, the new front-end design bore resemblance to that of the 1959 Pontiac.

Ford announced the end of the Edsel program on Thursday, November 19, 1959. However, production continued until late in November, with the final tally at 2,846 1960 models. Total sales were approximately 84,000, less than half the company's projected break-even point. The company lost $350 million on the venture.

While the front-end design was considered ugly fifty years ago, many other car manufacturers, such as Pontiac, Jaguar Cars, BMW, Subaru, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, have employed similar vertical grilles successfully in their car designs. Many of the Edsel's features, such as transmission lock on ignition, self-adjusting brakes, gear selection by steering wheel buttons, etc., which were considered too impractical in the late 1950s, are now standard features of sports cars.  And now, years after its spectacular failure, the Edsel has become a highly collectible item among vintage car hobbyists.  Fewer than 10,000 Edsels survive and are considered collectors’ items.  Mint 1958 Citation convertibles sometimes sell for over $100,000, while rare models, like the 1960 convertibles, may bring up to $200,000.