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DEARBORN - Ford Motor Company discontinued its Edsel car line on Nov. 19, 1959, ending production of one of the most divisive car lines in the company’s history.
Bigger was better in 1952, when Henry Ford II named a committee to develop a new, mid-priced car line with a daring design. However, by the time the first Edsels rolled off the line in 1957, America was in the grip of a recession that would dampen hopes for the success of the much-anticipated new car line.
Back on Aug. 27, 1957, Ford Motor Company announced to the media, “THIS IS THE EDSEL!” and eight days later the car line was introduced to the public in dealer showrooms. The Edsel was a medium priced car line with four series – Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation – and 18 models. Of the technological advances in the Edsel were the push-button transmission controls mounted in the middle of the steering wheel hub that remained stationary when the wheel was turned and the single-dial heater-defroster-ventilator control. Unfortunately, after 26 months of lackluster sales (a quarter of the planned sales), the Edsel car line was discontinued only to become a collector’s item.
Named for Edsel Ford, the only son of Henry and Clara Ford, company officials were optimistic about the car's prospects. One company executive confidently predicted that 200,000 Edsels would be sold the first year. The '58 Edsel arrived with great fanfare in September 1957. More than 3 million people streamed into dealerships to see new car during the first week.
Style and Features
The Edsel was offered originally in four series - Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation - and 18 models. Ranger and Pacer shared a 118.04-inch wheelbase, while Corsair and Citation had a 124.05-inch wheelbase. The series were available as two- and four-door sedans, hardtops and the station wagons. Pacer and Citation also came as convertibles. Edsel's design featured a "horse collar" grille reminiscent of the classic Packard. Two powerful V-8 engines were offered, a 361 cubic inch for Ranger, Pacer and the station wagons, and a 410 cubic inch for Corsair and Citation. Despite a modest starting price of $2,484, Edsel was equipped with many luxurious touches aimed at competing with the likes of Buick, Oldsmobile and the Chrysler New Yorker. The "Teletouch" automatic transmission was controlled by push buttons on the steering wheel hub.
By January 1958, disappointing sales led Ford to merge the Edsel Division with Mercury and Lincoln, and reduce the number of models. The 1959 lineup was smaller, with 16 models. The company added an optional six-cylinder engine and altered the car's styling. Yet, even with these changes and an 80 percent increase in dealers, sales continued to drop. Fewer than 45,000 Edsels were sold that year. Plans were made to totally redesign Edsel's look for 1960. The signature "horse collar" grille was dropped, replaced by an hourglass-shaped center.
Even as the 1960 Edsels were rolling down the assembly line, a decision was made to discontinue the line. The last Edsel was assembled Nov. 19, 1959. In the end, only 110,847 Edsels were produced during its three model years. Production had ended, but the Edsel story was far from over. Eight years later, in 1968, fans of the car formed the Edsel Owners Club. Today, Edsel endures as a much-beloved collector's item.
Edsel Quick Facts
Production Model Years: 1958 to 1960
Total Produced: 110,847
Introductory Price: $2,484
Claim to Fame: Named for Edsel Ford, Henry and Clara Ford's only son, introduced with great fanfare and discontinued after just three years