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Showtime - and game of the name

2013-10-14 09:08

BLUNDER CAR? The 1958 Ford Edsel may not have been the disaster the world was led to believe. Ford had complete faith in the radically designed Edsel Citation. Image: DAVE FALL

DAVE FALL

55 years ago things were good in America. Petrol was cheap, the economy was booming and jobs were plentiful. Every 12 months or so creative American car manufacturers showcased models that became even more ostentatious, longer and more outrageous as the Fifties rolled by.

Boom times indeed. Elsewhere in the world we’d never had it so good – at least according to Harold MacMillan, the then British prime minister. The Hovercraft had just been invented by Christopher Cockerell; Mike Hawthorn became the first British motor-racing World champion and if you turned on your wireless (radio) you’d have most likely heard American crooner Perry Como belting out Magic Moments to gently remind you, just in case you’d forgotten...

PLENTY SALES

Back in Detroit – now there’s the stuff of dreams – the mighty Ford Motor Company had just released the 1958 Edsel. It survived for only two years but in truth it sold well enough in its home market and may just have been a victim of its time.

The problem wasn’t lack of sales: during the first 12 months 63 100 Edsels were sold (over at Studebaker they only managed to sell 45 000 cars; Chrysler 63 000, DeSoto only 50 000 sales).

The Edsel wasn’t just a single model, either. There were two standard chassis/drivetrains on offer that took care of four models: Citation, Corsair, Ranger and Pacer spread over 18 derivatives! But what probably accelerated the demise of the Edsel was the butt-ugly “horse-halter” front grille that forced the designers to fit a massive, two-piece front bumper that really looked out of place.

On looks alone the chips were down for this Ford newcomer – well that and the fact that in among the stable of cars that Ford owned was the pedigree Mercury brand – which made arguably prettier models – while Ford was asking much the same money for its Edsel. Alas, as the model year came to a close, a deep recession was starting to bite.

UTOPIAN TURTLE TOP?

Rumour has it that Henry Ford was very much against the name Edsel, in memory of his late son, but the advertising agency that Ford had enlisted to come up with a name for their new creation should have been instantly dismissed. Among those discarded were Utopian Turtletop and Mongoose Civique, apparently. Only at the very last minute was Edsel chosen.

The rest of the car was quite acceptable to most. There were some ultra-modern touches such as the Tele-touch gear-change buttons in the steering wheel boss to shift up and down the three-speed automatic gearbox. There was a lusty V8. Top speed was potentially 180km/h, while the 0-100 km/h traffic light grand prix would take you around nine seconds –not too shabby for its time.

Generally, the Edsel wasn’t such a bad set of wheels. The styling may not have been everyone’s cup of tea but it did attempt to be different in a truly American way. Look at the picture that accompanies this article and decide for yourself.
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