Beginning of the Edsel Owners Club
It’s Summer, 1967 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Summer Of Love! Over in Oakland, Edsel Henry Ford was thinking it’s the Summer of Edsels! He had been noticing the growth in clubs for “orphan cars”, Packard, Kaiser, Studebaker….all had clubs. “Someone should start an Edsel Owners Club”, he kept telling his wife, Hazel. After hearing this so many times , she said ” well, why don’t you?” So Edsel started placing ads in the newspapers around the Bay Area, looking for other folks that really liked their Edsels…then just a cheap used car, but many original owners, including Edsel, were still driving and pampering them. These ads caught the attention of several newspaper columnists in Oakland and San Francisco……and they found it humorous that someone would be interested in saving and collecting Edsels of all things. A modest response to these ads gave Edsel some hope. One of those who read about Edsel and his project was an 18 year old car nut, just out of high school……..yours truly.
I found out where Edsel lived, and one evening, drove to his home and introduced myself. I asked if he knew of anyone wanting to sell an Edsel, and did he need help getting his club off the ground? Well , that started an almost Father-Son relationship that lasted until Edsels passing in 2013. He said sure, need all the help I can get, so we started a list of those who had contacted him, and had a form printed up about the new club that we would leave under the windshield wiper of Edsels we would see on the street. On Dec. 8, 1967, 7 Edsel owners met at Edsels home for the first meeting of the Edsel Owners Club. At the 2nd meeting in Feb. 1968, we had 20 people in attendance, and had learned of a fellow in Illinois, Perry Piper, who was starting the Edsel Auto Club! The two men got together, and with that magic name of Edsel Henry Ford, the two groups became the Edsel Owners Club! The club grew rapidly, and Edsels name always was good for publicity in print, radio and TV stories .
By 1969, plans were underway for our 1st convention, held in August 1969 at the Indianapolis 500 Speedway! This event was thoroughly covered by the First Tuesday TV news show, and Charles Kuralts “On the Road” segment on CBS as well!
Here we are , 50 years later getting ready to celebrate a half century of Edsel fun, and life long family friendships that have been formed because of this club and the Edsel…….indeed, there will be people attending the 50th Annual Convention in Keizer, OR that attended that first meet at Indy! For many of us this is truly a family reunion, and the family members all own Edsels!
As we start our second half century, we look back at all of our dear friends no longer with us, and when we gather we still talk fondly of them, and in many cases their children and grandchildren still own Edsels and attend our meets!
Dave Sinclair, Founder
The Beginning to End of Ford Motor Company’s Edsel
The name Edsel has become synonymous with disaster and failure based on the short three model year run that nearly bankrupted Ford Motor Company in the late ’50s. Ford invested approximately $250 million (in 1958 dollars) in the development of the Edsel. Ford also pioneered several business practices with the Edsel that are now commonplace: Market Segmentation; Market Research; Virtual Manufacturing; and, Quality Metrics. These are among the business practices pioneered by Edsel.
The target market for Edsel were identified as “young professionals on their way up”. These were the folks deemed most likely to “outgrow” a Ford but not feel prosperous enough to buy a Mercury, or be too rich for a Mercury but not quite rich enough for a Lincoln. Through salary growth and career advancement these customers could eventually be Mercury and Lincoln owners if only Ford could keep them from trading their Ford or Mercury on a Chrysler Corporation, Studebaker, Packard, or GM car. What is unclear in retrospect is how one brand, Edsel, could “sandwich” another brand, Mercury, and be properly positioned and advertised in the market to catch both the Ford and Mercury “trade up” market. After all if you could afford to trade up from a Mercury, why would you want to buy a car that looked virtually identical to the car someone who couldn’t quite afford a Mercury would own? That’s a challenge the Marketing group at Edsel never did overcome.
Once the target was identified, groups of “young professionals” were asked what they were looking for in their trade up vehicles and the feedback was used to guide the design. The young professionals were looking for a car that was identifiable from any angle (even looking down from their high rise office buildings). They asked for a car with a pronounced “classic” hood and grille reminiscent of the pre-war Packards and LaSalles. Being the mid 50’s when the research was being conducted, the target groups also asked for jet age aviation style interior and controls, and powerful engines. What the Market Research missed in its early days was the importance of focus group feedback on the outcome of the creative process before building and launching the product. They never went back to members of the target market and asked “Would you trade up to this car?”
There were no Edsel assembly plants. All Edsels were built in Ford or Mercury plants – the dawn of outsourcing and virtual manufacturing. This may well have led to many of the quality issues as ’57 Fords and Mercurys were being assembled on the same line at the same time as ’58 Edsels. This was a very challenging manufacturing environment to switch back & forth between different wiring, options, engines, and trim on every 8th or 10th car. The UAW was no fan of Edsel Ford the person, in his lifetime, and many union members were sure this virtual manufacturing concept was a ploy to cheat them out of additional jobs in memory of Edsel Ford.
Every Edsel was tested, measured, and assigned a quality score as it came off the line. If the average score for the day passed, then all Edsels built that day shipped to dealers. Even cars with missing parts were reportedly received by dealers with notes explaining what needed to be put together by the dealership! In retrospect it may have been better to keep the low scoring cars back for repairs rather than let them out to the public to start and fuel the poor quality reputation that dogged the Edsel.
The Edsel was introduced for sale on September 4, 1957 as a 1958 model, 6 to 10 weeks before all other makes of ’58 models hit the showroom. There were two market segments Ford Motor Company believed they were missing, a gap between Ford and Mercury and a perceived gap between Mercury and Lincoln. The Citation and Corsair models were built on a Mercury chassis in select US Mercury assembly plants. They were priced and equipped to sell between Mercury and Lincoln. All other models were on Ford chassis’ and assembled in several Ford assembly plants in the US and Canada. The Ford based Edsels were aimed at the market segment between Ford and Mercury. Combined first year sales were expected to be over 200,000 units and increase with each subsequent model year. Actual 1958 model sales were less than 69,000 cars across US & Canada.
The ‘radical’ interior and exterior styling was toned down for ’59 in an attempt to stop the sales slide. The ‘Tele-touch’ pushbutton transmission was dropped. The upscale market between Mercury and Lincoln was abandoned by Edsel. Edsel, Mercury, and Lincoln were merged into the Mercury Edsel Lincoln division (MEL). Only Ford chassis were used for ’59 Edsels, although the wheelbase was stretched 1″by the use of longer rear springs and driveshaft. More Ford parts rather than Edsel exclusive parts were used to lower production costs. The Citation, Pacer, Bermuda, and Roundup models were discontinued for ’59. Sadly, none of these changes helped and sales for ’59 Edsels ended even lower than for the ’58 model year.
1960 Edsels were assembled through November 19, 1959. Only the Ranger & Villager models were produced for the 1960 model year. They share many styling cues with 1960 Fords although the 1″ wheelbase stretch was retained. Just over 2,800 ’60 Edsels were built. All 1959 and 1960 Edsels were built at the Ford assembly plant in Louisville, KY. That plant is still in operation assembling the Ford Escape and Lincoln Corsair. For many years it assembled Ford light trucks, including the Ranger pickup. When Ford introduced the compact Falcon in 1960, Edsel was to have introduced the Comet based on a 5″ stretch of the Falcon designed by the Edsel stylists. The Edsel badges were quickly deleted and the Comet was sold at Lincoln Mercury dealerships beginning in the Spring of 1960, although the name Mercury appears nowhere on the Comet until the 1962 model year…