Saturday, November 28, 2009
The New Edsel for 1958
The Edsel was the original Yugo. It was the colossal failure to which all future failures would be compared.
But the car wasn’t just a lemon. It was also a catastrophe of marketing. “Despite several features that were not necessarily innovations — a vertical grille, self-adjusting brakes, Teletouch transmission buttons on the steering wheel and a floating speedometer that glowed when a preset speed was reached — the Edsel was panned by the public,” wrote Dave Kinney in The New York Times two years ago.
“Among other things, it was derided for having a grille that looked like a toilet seat. Time magazine popularized the wisecrack that it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.” That distinguishing feature was more affectionately known as the horse collar grille.
The Edsel was introduced on Sept. 4, 1957, or E-Day. Based on the standard Ford body, the Edsel was a big car that could seat six people in comfort and guzzle gas with similar ease. The Edsel was styled to portray more of an upscale look. “They’ll know you’ve arrived when you drive up in a 1958 Edsel,” declared the narrator in the first Edsel television commercial. Yes, there was truth to that advertising.
Ford originally intended to create a standalone Edsel division with 1,300 independent dealers, and the company promoted the car with a television special, “The Edsel Show,” hosted by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
The problem, according to historians, was that the United States was entering a recession, and the public’s appetite for conspicuous luxury was on the wane. The Edsel was a failure from the start, and Ford knew it. After the first year, the automaker drastically reduced its marketing budget for the car. By 1959, the Edsel was on its last legs. Ford made fewer than 3,000 1960 models, including about 70 convertibles, before the final Edsel came off the assembly line in November.