The Ford Motor Company is known for launching successful car brands and on the 19th of November 1956, it floated the Edsel car brand – but unlike other times, this didn’t end well. The move was an audacious attempt to wrest control of the market from General Motors and Chrysler while also reducing the gains that the former had made over Ford in the American domestic market.
The Edsel was defunct on the 19th of November 1959, meaning it had exactly three functional years as a business. Aside from its highly publicized failure, Edsel had some notable events in its history that are probably fuzzy to the public, therefore, this write-up addresses 10 things you didn't know about Edsel.
10 EDSEL’S CONCEPTION
In 1955, the Ford Motor Company observed an apparent gap between it and the other top American car manufacturers like General Motors and Chrysler; therefore, in a bid to address the gap, the Edsel was born.
Ford claimed to have performed superior market research and product development in planning and designing the new car with the code name “E car” meaning “experimental car” – a name that was later dropped for the more accepted “Edsel”. Various programs were planned to draw publicity for the car, culminating in Edsel's introduction on a day tagged “E Day.”
9 THE NAME “EDSEL”
Ford Motor Company was traded publicly in 1956, enabling the general public to acquire shares. With the company not entirely owned by the Ford Family anymore, new management was set up to run its affairs.
Having decided to start a new line of cars, the company chose to name the car after the company founder’s son, Edsel Ford. The then president of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford II, who is Edsel Ford’s first son, objected to the name citing personal reasons – but the name stood anyway.
8 ON FINDING VALUE WITH COLLECTORS
With a total of 118,287 Edsels built and approximately 116,000 sold for three years before it went defunct, there is a relative abundance of Edsels for collectors and enthusiasts alike.
Although some models might be harder to find than others for collectors, as they were made in such little numbers, real Edsel lovers will always find a way to acquire the car they love. One of those Edsel enthusiasts is Joe Niedzielski, who was reported to have collected at least 20 Edsels as of 1997.
7 EDSEL HAD ITS OWN TV SHOW
There’s no doubt there was a lot of research and preparation that culminated in the design, production, and launch of the Edsel car, but to further increase its publicity, Ford introduced The Edsel Show. Launched on the 13th of October, 1957, the show was among a series of programs pre-planned by the Ford Motor Company to promote the new Edsel cars.
Written by Bill Morrow, the one hour show was directed by Seymour Berns and featured Bing Crosby, among various other stars. The Edsel Show took home the ‘Look’ magazine Award and was also nominated for an Emmy.
6 EDSEL’S PIONEERING INNOVATIONS
The Edsel, despite its unfortunate failure in the automobile sphere, came with quite a handful of unique and pioneering innovations. Edsel’s speedometer, called the rolling-dome speedometer, is quite innovative with its unique dome shape. Edsel also pioneered warning lights for critical conditions, including an engaged parking brake, overheating, and low oil level.
Edsel had a push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system mounted in the middle of the steering wheel and seatbelts which were considered advanced features were available optionally. Its rear doors had child-proof locks that can only be unlocked with a key.
5 THE EDSEL SUSPENSE
If there was anything the Ford Motor Company was completely sure of, then it has to be the success of the Edsel. This confidence probably led Ford to do little market research from its buyers and even based its marketing plan for the Edsel on making it a total mystery to its buyers.
For this to be effectively done, Ford did not release any images of the car on commercials and publicity materials. To heighten the suspense, Ford shipped Edsels to the dealership completely wrapped up and they had to be kept so until they were bought.
On November 19, 1959, after three years of production, Ford unceremoniously announced an end to the Edsel project. Through these three years, a total of 118,287 Edsels were built, while approximately 116,000 units were lucky to have made it out of the dealership into the hands of their new owners.
The announcement by Ford to stop production greatly affected the resale of used Edsels, as the value greatly dropped while in the possession of their displeased owners. By share power of time and increased value through rarity, these cars are worth a fortune at auctions today.
3 THE SPECTACULAR LOSS
The Ford Motor Company didn’t hold back on Edsel. Why would they? Their market research gave the company enough reasons to believe this project was going to be successful. The car’s design was like nothing ever seen before and so many innovative technologies came with it that even the staunchest of pessimists wouldn’t have foreseen failure for the brand.
With the positive signals and approval from the board, Ford Motor Company opened its vault and splashed big on the Edsel project. The research, design, and production set the company back in the tune of $350 million ($2.4 billion 2018 dollars).
2 EDSEL TRIED A COMEBACK
With first-hand knowledge of what happened the first time, Roy Brown - who was responsible for Edsel’s design - still reserved some hope. This personal attachment to the project meant Brown wished the project was revived to celebrate the Edsel anniversary.
With the help of Larry Shinoda, Brown presented a newer sporty coupe design that he thought might sell better than some of the new cars available at the time. However, Edsel Ford II was met with resistance from the vice president of Ford, who believed it was best to not try a comeback since it didn’t work the first time.
1 EDSEL DIDN’T FAIL
Contrary to the popular belief, the Edsel brand didn’t fail – yes, you read that correctly. On the contrary, the economy failed. Edsel released its first car in 1958, coinciding with the Eisenhower Recession. This period was marked with a sharp worldwide economic downturn with its impact felt even beyond the United States.
Edsel was a victim of harsh economic times that also led to the demise of various other big brands like the DeSoto, Hudson, Nash, and Packard, as buyers inevitably went for economy cars.