The Rise and Fall of the Edsel: A Tale of Two Model Years

Introduction: The Edsel’s Ambitious Beginnings

When the 1958 Edsel was introduced in September 1957, it was heralded with great excitement and high expectations. Promoted as the epitome of automotive luxury and innovation, Henry Ford II even declared it “the only truly new car on the American road.” Despite this fanfare, the Edsel quickly became one of the most infamous failures in automotive history.

1958 Edsel: Glamorous Beginnings

Ford Motor Company anticipated selling 200,000 units of the 1958 Edsel, but reality struck hard with only 63,000 cars sold. The Edsel’s ambitious design included four model lines (two based on Ford platforms and two on Mercury platforms) and a wide array of 18 different styles. Equipped with features like the unique drum speedometer and the Teletouch push-button shifter, the Edsel was meant to be a standout. However, these technical innovations proved troublesome, and the car’s flamboyant design failed to resonate with the public.

The 1959 Edsel: A Strategic Overhaul

Faced with mounting losses, Ford made a dramatic shift in October 1958. The 1959 Edsel was repositioned as a modest and practical family car. The emphasis shifted from luxury and innovation to affordability and simplicity. Now competing in the low-price range, the Edsel was stripped of its high-end features and offered in only two trim levels: Ranger and Corsair.

Simplified Design and Features

The 1959 model saw significant simplifications:

  • Chassis: A single Ford-based chassis with a 120-inch wheelbase.
  • Body Styles: Reduced from 18 to 10.
  • Engine Options: A selection of four engines, including an inline six and three V8s, with the largest being a 361 CID V8 producing 303 hp.
  • Technical Features: Gone were the drum speedometer and the Teletouch shifter. The dashboard was a restyled Ford component, and the shifter was now a traditional lever on the steering column.
  • Exterior Design: The Edsel’s bold vertical grille was retained, but the overall design was more conventional. The distinctive gull-wing tail fins were toned down, and the tail lamps featured six round lenses.

The Outcome: Continued Decline

Despite these changes, the 1959 Edsel could not reverse the brand’s fortunes. Sales dropped further to fewer than 45,000 units. Edsel dealers struggled, and the sales force was demoralized. The drastic redesign failed to capture the market, leading to the brand’s ultimate demise. The final blow came with the introduction of the 1960 Edsel, a mildly restyled Ford, which was discontinued just 34 days after its launch.

Conclusion: A Lesson in Corporate Overreach

The Edsel’s rapid decline illustrates a significant lesson in the automotive industry: even with extensive market research and careful planning, consumer acceptance is never guaranteed. The swift abandonment of the original vision for the Edsel underscores the challenges of predicting market trends and consumer preferences. The 1959 Edsel’s overhaul was a desperate attempt to save a sinking ship, but it was clear that the brand’s fate had been sealed long before its launch.


In retrospect, the Edsel serves as a cautionary tale of how quickly corporate confidence can wane and how a promising idea can turn into a monumental failure.

Source: macsmotorcitygarage


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