What is it?

What is it?

Last week’s photo showed a true icon of Detroit’s past. Has it really been more than 55 years since the 1958 Edsel debuted – and promptly made history in the worst of ways?


For a better photo of the infamous car and an article about its designer, read this week’s story about the life and career of Roy Brown.

Most readers correctly guessed the 1958 Edsel, although a few were off by a year – or nine – and a number hazarded guesses of Chevrolets or Cadillacs.

Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name of Robert L. Holbert, of Louisville, Ga., who wrote:

“The car in question is a 1958 Edsel, one of the worst cars ever produced. Named for Edsel Ford, it was noted for the ‘sour lemon look’ grille. Production ceased within three years.”

Other readers correctly identifying the vehicle were:

AIKEN: Howard Jones said it was introduced Sept. 4, 1957, on the birthday of Henry Ford II.

AUGUSTA: Chuck Lane knew the car because he used to have classic-car dealerships in Atlanta and Augusta.

Lowell Fritsche said his stepbrother in Nebraska had a 1958 Edsel Pacer.

“The neat thing about those is that in the center of the steering wheel is the push-button drive control. Edsel got a lot of bad press but they were not that bad a car. My stepbrother drove it for parades and it was very workable up till the time he died.”

John Hayes said: “I think today’s auto is a 1958 Edsel Citation. It was the ‘upscale’ model of the line.”

Gary Fuller guessed the 1958 Edsel and said: “I know that because I just bought one, and I’ve got a 1959 Edsel.”

Jerry W. Murphy wrote: “This is the 1958, first-year model of the illustrious Ford Edsel. To me, it actually looked better than the Ford Fairlanes. A neighbor, Mr. Homer Carter, owned one in our old Albion Acres neighborhood. It was brown and white … loved its long horizontal taillights. Fond memories of a neighbor, his classic car and our neighborhood.”

Lee Casey wrote: “I think this a 1958 Ford Edsel. Probably one of Ford’s biggest mistakes. Not a candidate for ‘Have you driven a Ford lately?’ ”

Also: Bob Wilkes and Debra Scott

CANTON, GA.: David Anderson wrote: “Without exception, any automotive failure list will include the Edsel at or near the top of that list. In fact, it was such a failure that Edsel is used interchangeably with Titanic when one wishes to emphasize the magnitude of any failure. But why did it fail?

“With its separate headlight pod, the teaser shot shows us the introductory 1958 model year, a year that with few exceptions was seeing a significant sales downturn for nearly all auto brands. Along with the economic downturn of the day, the buying public was beginning a move to smaller, more economical cars, and here we have the Edsel offered in size Big with a 361-cubic-inch V-8 or Bigger with a 410-cubic-inch V-8.

“Ford did not help its cause any with the positioning of this new brand. Envisioned as a step up from Ford on the way to guiding a customer on into a Mercury, it missed the mark miserably in both quality of materials and pricing.

“Some Edsel models were priced higher than the comparable Mercury models, while the overall interior materials were below that of those same Mercurys. For instance, not all Edsels came standard with carpeting.

“And then there is the problem of inconsistent build quality. To save costs, Edsels were built on the same assembly lines as Fords and Mercurys. The assembly line would have to switch not only parts bins but also tools when an Edsel came along. Inevitably, many Edsels were assembled with the wrong part or, worse, parts were simply left off altogether.

“It was not uncommon for Edsels to ship to the dealers with missing parts in the trunk that they then had to install. Understandably, the dealers balked at having to complete assembly of the cars at the dealership, and some of those parts never found their way onto the car. Some sources say that supplier issues were the root cause of some of those missing parts.

“I have not even touched on the controversial styling – that horse-collar grille, because in fact the Edsel’s fate was sealed long before the public was left aghast by that massive grille.

“With a development cost of around $400 million, Ford had a break-even production goal of 200,000 cars for the first year. Actual sales were around 60,000-plus, and the entire three-year run for the brand was fewer than 120,000 units. The fiscal bleeding was stopped just as the 1960 model year was gearing up, with around 2,500 units built.

“As a final ‘ain’t life strange’ factoid, the chief designer of the Edsel is the same one that gave us the beautiful Lincoln Futura show car which went on to have a second life as the Adam West-Burt Ward 1966 Batmobile!”

EVANS: Barbara Wilke wrote: “The photo does not show the infamous ‘horse collar’ grille. The Edsel was the brunt of many jokes because of it. One comedian said the Edsel looks like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon. Ford produced Edsels for three years, and they really were wrong cars for the wrong time.”

Jerry Paul wrote: “Most people thought it was one of the ugliest cars of the ’50s, but I thought it was exciting and unique. I would like to own one now.”

Larry Heath wrote: “This was the first year of this new model introduced by Ford. It was not that different from the Ford or Mercury autos of that time and used shared engines, transmissions, etc. It had some unique features such as push button transmission selector in the middle of the steering wheel and a rotary speedometer. The economy was not doing well at that time and the car never sold very well.

“I do remember there were a few 1960 model Edsels made but production was stopped before the year end.

“Now the car has a cult following and some pristine models can sell in the six figure range.”

Sally Ecklund wrote: “I believe (with a little help from my husband) that this week’s ‘What is it?’ is a 1958 Ford Edsel.”

Bill Harding wrote: “Wow! Is it Halloween already? That frightening proboscis belongs to the one and only Edsel. I believe the picture shows one from the vehicle’s first model year, 1958, and it might be a top-of-the-line Citation. Critics of the day had a ball with the Edsel, comparing its ‘horse-collar’ grille to an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.

“Ford spent millions in 1957 dollars designing and promoting the Edsel, only to have it tank miserably. Its pricing was perilously close to Fords on the low end and Mercurys on the high end, essentially dooming the car to failure based on price structure alone.

“There was more bad news: Edsel was considered ugly and troublesome. Its push-button automatic transmission controls were in the steering wheel hub – right where the horn was supposed to be. The Edsel was mercifully put out of its misery in November 1959 after production of the 1960 car reached a sad total of 2,846 cars.”

Also: PJ Rodgers and Jim Williamson

FRANKLIN, N.C.: Dale Sanford wrote: “The Ranger and Pacer models were built by Ford, and the Citation and Corsair models in Mercury plants. The car was not widely received by the public and had reputations of poor quality, and the name Edsel was always associated with ‘poorly constructed’ cars while I was growing up.

“It had many innovations and was, I believe, the first car to offer seat belts as standard equipment. It had a push-button transmission selector on the steering wheel, if memory serves me right. It is said to have been the wrong car at the wrong time, for sales never really took off and Edsel ended production in 1960.

“It was named for Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford even though Henry Ford II was against the name choice.”

HARLEM: Jonathan Cox said a friend bought an Edsel not long ago.

HEPHZIBAH: Eddie Cleaves said: “The light gave it away.” He first thought it was a Plymouth or other Chrysler product, but narrowed it down to Edsel.

Also: Leo Bennett

KEYSVILLE, GA.: Glenn Widner wrote: “Named after Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, it came along at the wrong time for a radically new styled car, with a horse collar-styled grille. In September 1957, the country was in a recession, and all automakers saw sales reductions from the previous, record-setting year. The car, and Edsel himself, died at a young age.”

MARTINEZ: Jim Muraski wrote: “  ‘They’re the industry’s newest – and the best’ – so said the 1958 Edsel’s advertising promotion. Edsels came with stout 361 and 410 cubic inch V-8s that could put out 400 pound-feet of torque – as the E400 signified on their valve covers. The all-new Edsel’s were unique with their boomerang-shape taillights, their Teletouch gear selector centrally mounted in the steering wheel, and their ‘horse-collar’ center grille.

“If that’s not odd enough for you, the Edsel nameplate was selected from over 6,000 choices, some of which were Mongoose, Turcotinga and my favorite, Utopian Turtletop.”

Christopher C. March Sr. wrote: “The vehicle this week is a 1958 Edsel. Some would say it was a flop for Ford. This vehicle line lasted only for three years, 1958-60.”

Also: Fred Elser

NORTH AUGUSTA: Wayne Leslie, Bob Shimp, and Cherry and George Young

PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson

SHAWANO, WIS.: Karen McKenna

WATKINSVILLE, GA.: Joe Arp wrote: “The What is it? for this week is a 1958 Edsel … a real ‘blast from the past.’  ”