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      Car History: Car History Year 1958
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 00:20:16 UTC by Cars
      Cars The banner headline in the Detroit Free Press read "Reds claim their missile can reach the whole world" as America was smarting after the Sputniks demonstrated the Soviet lead in the space race, but the main picture on the newspaper's front page was of an Edsel. However, the economy was in recession and car sales in '58 dropped by about 20 compared with the three previous boom years.

    In automotive terms, the Edsel name has become associated with spectacular failure - almost since it was launched in September 1957. Yet the surprise is, the Edsel disaster happened not by chance, but following years of solid market research and meticulous planning by the Ford Motor Company. At the start of the 1950s, it seemed to Ford that it didn't offer enough models to cover the entire market and was losing out in certain sectors, particularly the middle price bracket. Back then, if an owner was happy with a car they would buy a replacement from the same manufacturer. And if they had become more prosperous (or just wanted to give the neighbors the impression that they had - keeping up with the Joneses was quite an obsession that the dealers happily exploited), they traded up to a more expensive, and therefore more prestigious, make from the same corporation. According to a company executive: "Ford was actually growing future prospects for the competition." In order to fill the hole, a Special Products Division was set up to develop a new mid-range to augment the offerings of Mercury. The code name given to this project was the "E-Car." This led to press speculation that the new car would be called the Edsel. Ford strenuously denied this, saying the E was for "Experimental" and not Edsel! But, no matter how large the company, making a 100 new car is unlikely to make economic sense so the E-Car was planned as a hybrid of existing Ford and Mercury major components with its own front and rear end sheet metal, its own engine, interior and dash panels. The one thing the E-Car wouldn't share would be the Ford or Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, it would have its very own sales network. A vast recruiting campaign was organized and dealers were signed up from the competitors across the country. The pressure was now on to give the car a name. Over six thousand suggestions were considered from all sorts of sources -including poet Marianne Moore who came up with humdingers like "Mongoose Civique" and "Utopian Turtletop!" Four names that got a more favorable reaction were: Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation. Although these were eventually chosen as the model names, Ford chairman Ernest Breech didn't like them or any of the alternatives and, early in 1956, he made the decision to call the car the Edsel - named after Henry Ford's son who had died in 1942. Initially the Ford family were against the suggestion, but Breech managed to persuade them. This choice of name was the first mistake. Outside Detroit's inner circle, the word Edsel had no significance. While certainly no worse than Buick, that General Motors marque had, by then, been in existence for over fifty years and was well established in people's minds.
    Then came the second mistake. The Edsel had probably the biggest new car build-up in history. The publicity was so widespread that the public were expecting a miracle machine to appear, not just yet another new car. The third problem with the Edsel was timing, and this would prove to be crucial. The plan was to launch the 1958 Edsels in June 1957, thereby pre-empting the competition - traditionally cars were launched between September and November. But Edsel production didn't start until July and the launch was put back until September to ensure that dealers would have cars on display for the big day. This three-month delay was a huge setback. After strong early 1957 model sales, the market suddenly slowed up in midsummer and dealers had to offer discounts to clear stocks and make way for the new '58 models. The US economy went into recession and the demand for middle-to upper-priced cars evaporated in favor of smaller, cheaper models. So, at the very time the Edsel burst on the scene, the market went into a severe decline. In other words, the goal posts had been moved! Despite these three problems, the Edsel could still have succeeded. And Ford's need for the car was still valid. But the final blow was the controversial styling. The most famous feature is the "horse collar" grille. Although many European marques had a vertical grille for many years -Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes - somehow the Edsel didn't have the same effect. When an automobile is successful, people clamor to associate themselves with it. In the case of the Edsel, practically everyone who worked at the Ford Design Center denies any involvement with it. The man responsible was Roy A. Brown, promoted to chief designer of the E-Car project following his successful work on the Lincoln Futura show car. He recruited Bob Jones, Dick Steiger and Bert Holmes as his assistants. The team decided to go away from the horizontal grille with a wide opening used by most of the other marques and opted for the vertical look. Enthusiastic approval for the concept was given by a gathering of top Ford executives in August 1955 and, from then on, the die was cast. On launch day, it seemed the EdseS was a winner as 2.5 million people crowded to see the new car. After a few days, the first alarm bells rang - everybody came to look, but nobody was buying. After predictions of over a quarter of a million sales in the first year, only 63,110 were ever produced. The Edsel was discontinued in November 1959, after two years, two months and fifteen days. It was estimated to have cost Ford over 350 million dollars. Henry Ford II typically took it on the chin and said afterwards: "Hell, we headed right into a recession, and everything went kaput... A lot of people didn't like the styling of the Edsel. We had a very weak dealer organization...we couldn't sell them, we were losing money, so we made a decision, 'Let's quit' which was the right decision, I'm sure. I'd rather admit the mistake, chop it off, and don't throw good money after bad." Since the demise of the Edsel, people have suggested bizarre reasons for its failure. A few years ago, one psychologist even went so far as to claim that the real reason for the Edsel catastrophe was that the horse collar grille represented the female sex organ, while all the other automobiles were masculine! The real reason for the failure of the Edsel is simple. The combination of recession, too much hype, a poor choice of name and peculiar styling proved insurmountable. However, had Ford seen it through those initial dark days and kept it going until the market swung back in favor of bigger, more expensive cars in the Sixties - who knows? We might still have been able to buy an Edsel today. What was the Edsel really like as a car? In truth it was no better, no worse than its contemporaries. And that probably just about says it all. Specification FORD EDSEL PACER Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 361 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.05x3.5 ins. Horsepower 303 Body styles Sedan; Hardtop coupe; Hardtop sedan; Convertible coupe; 6 seater station wagon; 9 seater station wagon No. of seats 5-9 Weight (lbs) 3,773 Ibs-3,919Ibs Price $2,735 - $3,247 Produced 21,292     Specification CHEVROLET CORVETTE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 238.0 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.88x3.00 ins. Horsepower 230 Body styles Convertible roadster No. of seats 2-5 Weight (lbs) 2,793 Ibs Price $3,631 Produced 9,168     Specification DE SOTO ADVENTURER Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 351 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.13x3.38 ins. Horsepower 345 Body styles Convertible coupe No. of seats 5-6 Weight (lbs) 4,000 Ibs Price $4,071 -$4,180 Produced 430  
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