The Ford Edsel is widely known to be the biggest failure in the history of the car industry.
After initially forecasting trade figures of over 200,000 units per year, everything soon went catastrophically wrong for the previously untouchable car manufacturer.
The Edsel arrived back in 1957 after arguably the most elaborate pre-release marketing campaign America had ever seen, but within a short couple of years it was shelved costing the Ford Motor Company at least $250 million – nearly $2 billion in today’s money. Despite the ensuing sixty years, the memory of the infamous Edsel still haunts the Ford Motor Company to this day.
Much to the chagrin of an organisation that is widely credited with crafting the modern automobile, the Edsel turned Ford into a worldwide laughing stock and one of the most cutting jokes from the period went as follows:
‘What does the ultimate loser look like? Answer: Richard Nixon driving an Edsel’.
Despite the resurgence of Ford’s genius in the creation of the Mustang, the GT40 and the Bronco; the Edsel remains an enduring icon of failure that Ford can’t seem to shake off.
Whereas some cars can fall foul of the marketplace as a result of simple factors, the Edsel is something of a rarity in that it suffered from a catalogue of disastrous attributes. It’s looks for start, were heavily criticised to such an extent that the now notorious grille was compared to a toilet seat and more famously – a woman’s unfurled private parts. Some journalists at the time also remarked that the Ford Edsel resembled an elderly person ‘sucking on a lemon.’
Whilst the disappointed majority didn’t look beyond the car’s controversial aesthetics, those that did found themselves even more disappointed. The Edsel under the bonnet was nothing more than a bog standard Ford/Mercury and offered no tangible improvement on acceleration, speed or handling. Whilst this type of repurposing is common practice today, with such an aggressive marketing campaign, expectations were understandably high and as a result not met.
To add further confusion, potential customers were also bewildered by the Ford product portfolio and where the Edsel sat within it. Due to its early launch date which was an attempt to dominate the interest of new car buyers, the Ford Edsel landed on the forecourt carrying 1958 model-year prices. These prices were noticeably higher than end of ’57 price tags and sales were dramatically stunted as a result. To compound matters further, America was also slipping into a recession and many old school car manufacturers that didn’t modernise soon fell by the wayside.
The final nail in the Edsel’s coffin however, was its name. After literally thousands of names were suggested, they eventually settled on Edsel, the first name of Henry Ford’s son. Urban legend states that the other names considered included ‘The Mongoose Civique’, ‘Pluma Piluma’ and ‘Pastelogram’. When writing to the poet Marianna Moore, who was unofficially enlisted to help with brand name development (although her suggestion of ‘Utopian Turtletop’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue), a Ford executive scribed, ‘Our name, dear Miss Moore, is – Edsel. I know you will share your sympathies with us.’
The public didn’t really understand this bizarrely-styled, badly-named, poorly-conceived car and in hindsight it would appear that the car was doomed from the start. Ford had a wealth of smart executives working on the project at the time but with too many cooks on board the project had no direction.
It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s most successful cars namely: the Model T, the Beetle and the Mini among others, were all conceived by individuals or small teams of experts. The enduring rule seems to be, the more people you have working on a car, the more its intent and purpose tends to get muddied.
Ford would rather the world forgot about the Edsel but we think it should be preserved as a warning to others about the pitfalls of overpromising and under-delivering – something we would never do here at The W1nners’ Club because nobody would ever believe us!