While General Motors gets some well-deserved mockery today for the hilariously Cavalier-like Cadillac Cimarron and hideous Pontiak Aztek, no debacle of the American car industry will ever approach the notoriety achieved by Edsel. Edsel was a new brand developed according to the most cutting-edge market research the Ford Motor Company could buy, but it proved to be an immediate and humiliating failure in the showroom. Still, more than 100,000 Edsels were built during the 1958 through 1960 model years, and I’ve found this first-year example in a self-service yard just south of Denver.
Ford wished to emulate GM’s “Ladder of Success” sales model, in which a new driver’s first car purchase would be a Chevrolet, after which he’d move up through Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick as he became more prosperous, finally reaching the top of the prestige ziggurat with a new Cadillac. The idea with Edsel was that Lincoln and Mercury would be pushed upmarket, while the new Edsel marque would slide in between Ford and Mercury.
The Edsel name was taken from the given name of Henry Ford’s only son. Edsel Ford was instrumental in designing the exterior of the iconic Ford Model A, as well as creating the Mercury Division and the Continental. An automotive legend, of course, but perhaps not the best choice of name for a futuristic new car model.
The build tag tells us that this car was built at Wayne Stamping and Assembly in Michigan, and that it’s a Citation hardtop with the big 410-cubic-inch V8 engine and steering-wheel-shifter-equipped automatic transmission.
It has been sitting outdoors for many decades.
The original radio is still present, showing its nuke-attack CONELRAD frequency markers.
The interior is well-roasted, but plenty of good parts remain.
The Citation was the top trim level for the 1958 Edsel line (GM would use the Citation name on an ill-fated Chevrolet model, 22 years later). The MSRP on this car started at $3,580, or about $34,432 in 2023 dollars. That was more than the price tags on most Mercury models that year, which made it unclear where this car stood on the Ford Ladder of Success.
Most car shoppers at the time felt that the Edsel’s vertical grille and generally over-ornate styling looked unpleasant, kicking Edsel sales in the teeth. Making matters worse, a nasty recession hit in the fall of 1957 and lingered through most of the following year. American car shoppers began looking at smaller, less flashy vehicles as never before, giving a sales boost to both Volkswagen and American Motors.
The final model year for the significantly restyled Edsel line was 1960, and just under 3,000 Edsels were sold that year. Not coincidentally, 1960 was the first model year for the compact Ford Falcon, a car that sold in vast numbers and spawned the Mustang a few years later. Some Edsel fanatics now claim that future Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara personally killed the Edsel while he was president of Ford in order to replace it with the smaller Falcon, but it’s hard to argue that the Edsel would have been a success if production had continued.