The Edsel brand was ultimately a huge disappointment for Ford. But before the brand folded in 1960, and before Ford found instant success with the new 1960 Falcon compact, Ford had been working on the 1960 Edsel Comet concept car. It was to have resutled in a slightly larger, plusher version of the Falcon.
Whether it would have replaced or merely supplemented the standard-size models is unclear. What is clear is the rationale behind it: Edsel was going nowhere along with other medium-price cars while smaller economy models were selling like crazy, so perhaps Edsel might still have a future with a compact.
Sound thinking except for one thing. Though "Edsel" honored the only son of old Henry Ford and the artistic force behind great Classics including the first Lincoln Continental, few people had really liked the name -- and they liked it even less once Edsels earned their reputation as poorly built, gimmick-laden, slow-selling gas guzzlers.
Mercury, on the other hand, came through the recession battered but with its honor intact, so it made far more marketing sense to put that name on the new "grownup" compact. Which is how the erstwhile small Edsel came to bow on March 17, 1960 as the Mercury Comet.
Its one real styling change was a full-width two-tier grille instead of a modest vertical schnoz with horizontal sub-grilles. Even the slanted oval "cat's eye" taillamps were retained-a visual remnant of Edsel's 1960 standards.
How Comet would have fared as an Edsel is anyone's guess, but it was a huge success as a "Mercury" (though it didn't bear that nameplate until 1961). Despite an abbreviated season, Comet racked up 116,331 sales in its debut 1960 model year, about 5,000 more than Edsel had managed over three years.
That should put the lie to the old saw about Edsel losing some $250 million, which was actually what it had cost just to launch the make and was more than offset by high early Comet sales. Then too, Ford wouldn't have been able to build so many Comets or Falcons had it not been for Edsel plants, which were quickly retooled once Edsel was dropped to the benefit of compact sales.
Comet wasn't the only car in the works when Edsel folded. To learn about the Corsair convertible planned for 1960, continue to the next page.