With the introduction of the Edsel to the public on September 4, 1957, people within the division and throughout the corporation were highly optimistic, supported by a press that had been enthusiastic all along.
The much-anticipated debut of the Edsel turned
out to be a disappointment for Ford.
Turnout in showrooms on introduction day was estimated at 2.5 million people, but advance sales were way off. The first 10 days turned out to be a complete disaster. Things just went from bad to worse.
McNamara's immediate reaction was, "I told you so," ridiculing everything from the car's unorthodox front end to the unique tail treatment. He didn't like the instrument panel, the pushbutton transmission, and other Edsel peculiarities, all the while pointing out to his subordinates that the 1957 Ford was a better car for less money (It did cost less money; it wasn't a better car.)
In October of 1957, McNamara went on a personal tour of plants where Edsels were being built and returned having made a complete about-face in his conclusions about the car's problems. He no longer blamed its styling or gimmicky features. He totally denied any production problems existed despite increasing flak from dealers. Instead, McNamara concluded that the real problem was promotion and advertising.
Had all gone according to plan, the 1959 Edsel would have been little different from the 1958. However, the unexpected turn of events within the first few weeks after introduction called for some fast rethinking.
In order to cut losses, the Mercury-based models were dropped from the 1959 lineup. Only the Ranger and Corsair lines remained, and these were more closely tied to the Ford than before, both being built on a 120-inch variant of Ford's 118-inch-wheelbase chassis.
The instrument panel was now shared with Ford. The pushbutton transmission controls were eliminated in favor of a conventional steering column-mounted lever.
This Edsel Corsair shows off the modified front end.
The distinctive Edsel front end was greatly subdued, and rooflines were shared with Ford Fairlanes and four-door station wagons. The 292-cid Ford V-8 became the standard Ranger engine and the 332-cid V-8, also from Ford, was made standard in the Corsair. While there were substantial production cost savings and enormous improvements in quality control, sales continued to drop.
Aside from the dismal sales figures and and hurried product revisions, there were other ominous developments, not just for the Edsel, but for the very plan Reith had laid out so convincingly for the Ford directors in 1955.
The separation of Lincoln and Mercury turned out to be brief. They were reunited under one roof in the last days of August 1957. On January 15, 1958, the badly wounded Edsel Division was brought into the same fold, creating a new Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln Division, a move that greatly pleased McNamara.
In April 1959, Foote, Cone & Belding resigned the advertising account. The job of hawking Edsels fell to Kenyon & Eckardt, the agency that handled Lincoln and Mercury advertising.
The design for the 1960 Edsel was intended to be a departure that would improve the car's sluggish sales. For more on the design, continue on to the next page.
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