Image Gallery: Concept Cars
Image Gallery: Concept Cars

Image Gallery: Concept Cars The unappealing vertical grille is already apparent in this early Edsel sketch from 1953. See more concept car pictures.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

You can't ignore lead times if you want to understand why some cars succeed and others fail. Consider Edsel, arguably the biggest automotive flop of all time, whose 1950s and 1960s Edsel concept cars came too late to save the brand.

Edsel was conceived in heady 1953-1954 by a Ford Motor Company then bounding back strongly from near collapse in the late 1940s. Led by board chairman Ernest R. Breech, optimistic Dearborn managers laid expansionist plans to match General Motors model-for-model with a GM-style five-make hierarchy involving a separate new Continental Division and a second middle-class brand to bolster Mercury.

The latter made appealing sense at a time when the medium-price field was booming. In record-setting 1955, for example, Pontiac, Buick, and Dodge built nearly two million cars combined.

But with the three-year development cycles then customary in Detroit, Edsel didn't arrive until late 1957 -- by which time the entire market was depressed and the medium segment had shriveled from 25 to some 18 percent. Though hoping to sell 100,000 of its debut 1958 models, Edsel Division built only a little more than 63,000, which was actually fair going for a new line in a recession year.

This clay model from August 1955 is very close to what the first production Edsel would look like when it hit showrooms in late 1957 as a 1958 model.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But from there it was all downhill. After just under 45,000 for 1959 and a mere 3,000 for 1960, Edsel was canned on November 18, 1959 as a colossal blunder and object lesson in the limitations of "motivational research."

Edsel's here-today gone-tomorrow existence might imply that Ford gave up too easily, but it isn't so. Before the end, Dearborn planners contemplated many ideas for 1959-1960, one of which was actually a great success -- as the Mercury Comet.

Learn about Edsel offerings by continuing to the next page.

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out: