1960 Edsel


One of the most intricate, yet obscure, stories in American automotive history is that of the creation of the Edsel. The 1960 Edsel, the brief final act in the tragicomedy that was Ford Motor Company's attempt to break into the lower medium-price market and more closely compete with General Motors.

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The 1960 Edsel Ranger line sold only 2,571 cars.
The 1960 Edsel Ranger line sold only 2,571 cars.
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That the 1960 Edsel existed at all was due to Henry Ford II, who felt a sense of obligation to the dealers who sold the car that bore his father's name. That it was so short-lived can be attributed to then-Ford Vice President Robert S. McNamara.

A number of factors have traditionally been cited in the demise of the Edsel: an unanticipated downturn in the U.S. economy at the time of its introduction; a dramatic turn to small European imports; the realization that, despite its breathless build-up, the Edsel was a curiously styled but otherwise conventional car.

However, a strong argument can be made that none of these events really played as much of a role as did McNamara's firm conviction to scuttle the Edsel from the outset. At the car's press preview in late August 1957, McNamara casually told Fairfax Cone of Foote, Cone & Belding, the agency handling Edsel advertising, "We have plans for phasing it out."

Even before the Edsel was the Edsel, it was already a political football at Ford. In 1952, John R. Davis, the company's vice president for sales (and an ally of Edsel Ford in creating the Mercury in the 1930s), was charged with making a study of Ford's product positioning vis-a-vis its competitors. Study recommendations included the creation of a new top-end Continental Division and a new upper-medium-price nameplate.

Since medium-price at Ford meant Mercury, the Lincoln-Mercury Division was handed the study for review, a task that fell to Assistant General Manager Richard Krafve. The Krafve team's 1954 report suggested a new medium-priced make that could be produced by Lincoln-Mercury and sold through its existing dealers.

But this didn't sit well with Lewis Crusoe, who was promoted from general manager of the Ford Division to group vice president of car and truck operations in January 1955. He had long envisioned a division-to-division competition with General Motors. To make a case for his grand plan, Crusoe enlisted Francis "Jack" Reith to work up a presentation to support such a corporate organization.

Reith, like McNamara, one of the 10 professorial "Whiz Kids" hired by Henry Ford II in 1946 to help him revive the doddering company, made his pitch to Ford directors on April 15, 1955.

They wholeheartedly embraced the plan, which, among other things, called for separate Lincoln and upwardly mobile Mercury divisions and the creation of a Special Products Division. Special Products was given the task of creating a new medium-priced "E" car; Krafve -- ironically -- was named general manager for the new division.

The "E" car had one influential opponent, however. McNamara, who succeeded Crusoe as head of Ford Division, was quietly appalled that the corporation would budget hundreds of millions of dollars to bring out a car, indeed a division, to compete head-on with General Motors. He was convinced the car would not turn a profit for three years or more.

Many will argue that McNamara not only saw the cheaper range of Edsels as a threat to his Ford Division, but that he had a pathological compulsion to destroy it. There's more to it than that. McNamara had a sixth sense for what the company could and could not market profitably in the 1950s. While his methods and ambition may have rubbed some at Ford the wrong way, McNamara almost never made a wrong decision, armed as he always was with mountains of information and analysis.

One of the main factors that caused the 1960 Edsel to fail was internal strife at Ford.
One of the main factors that caused the 1960 Edsel
to fail was internal strife at Ford.

One of the first steps McNamara took to put a stumbling block in the Edsel's path was to prevent Special Products (later the Edsel Division) from recruiting the best talent within the company, especially from within his own division, the performance of which he always stressed as critical to the health of the entire corporation.

In this and other decisions, McNamara had strong support from Ernest R. Breech, chairman of the Executive Committee, and others in top management at the Ford corporate level. In the end, half of the personnel in the new division came from outside the company.

Another problem for the Edsel was where to build it. It was decided to build all Edsels, and nothing but Edsels, in one plant at Louisville, Kentucky. Then, very late in 1956, a decision was made to assemble Edsel Rangers and Pacers in Ford plants and Corsairs and Citations in Mercury plants.

As a result, it was virtually impossible for Edsel management to maintain an acceptable degree of quality control on the Ford and Mercury assembly lines. And McNamara, who, upon Crusoe's retirement, became group vice president of all vehicle operations in May 1957, was not inclined to put his imprimatur on Krafve's request to allow Edsel inspectors into the other divisions' plants.

Frankly, this was a time when all Ford products, save Lincoln, were at a low point in quality control. (The 1957 Ford arguably was the poorest-assembled Ford of all time.) The problems were only magnified when one to three Edsel Rangers and Pacers were added to the nearly 60 Fords coming down the lines every working hour. Further problems with suppliers likewise bedeviled both makes. It really wasn't until the 1959 model year that Ford began to get its quality control in order.

Continue to the next page to learn about the introduction of the Edsel in 1957.

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Introduction of the Edsel

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.
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.
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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1960 Edsel Design

Even before the 1958 Edsel was introduced, serious work had started on a 1960 Edsel design that would have been radically different from the one that was eventually produced.

The 1960 Edsel Ranger boasted a new design but was still plagued by low sales.
The 1960 Edsel Ranger boasted a new design
but was still plagued by low sales.

The 1960 that might have been was the work of Roy Brown, who had designed the original Edsel. It got as far as a full-sized fiberglass model. Brown does not remember the exact dates, but says that in those days final design work was usually finished 24 months ahead of introduction, so his work on the 1960 model must have been completed just about the time the 1958 was introduced.
But the Edsel's underwhelming sales performance and the retrenchment that followed put an end to Brown's proposal. He was promoted to Chief of Design for Ford of Great Britain; in April 1958, the Executive Committee approved McNamara's plan to make the 1960 Edsel a Ford with an Edsel badge, a decision that meant Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln could let go of even more Edsel people than ever, especially designers and engineers.

The 1960 Ford began life as a design done in the Ford advanced design studio by designers who had no idea that their brainchild would come to be shared with Edsel. Dubbed the "Quicksilver," it was done on an entirely new chassis and was created for the purpose of exploring an all-new lower style of car.

When Henry Ford II saw it, he wanted to produce it, but on what was essentially the 1959 Ford chassis with a wheelbase stretched one inch to 119 inches. The results were less than satisfactory.

"There were horrendous problems as they had to raise the whole car about two inches, the side, the belt moldings, the peak, and so on, and when you do that you change the car," said Joe Oros, head of the Ford design studio at the time. "It is never the same and that is what happened to that car."

With Roy Brown dispatched to England, the task of creating a new 1960 Edsel as economically as possible fell to the late I.B. "Bud" Kaufman. Kaufman was an honored detail man and had worked closely with Brown on many of the feature and trim items for the 1958 and 1959 Edsels. To this day Brown and his family declare the two men were the best of friends.

With a couple of hundred thousand dollars at his disposal, Kaufman was to take the designs for the 1960 Ford Fairlane, Starliner, Sunliner, and Country Sedan station wagon and transform them into Edsels. Kaufman had a genius for giving cars a maximum of new looks with a minimum of cash outlay. Only one major piece of unique sheetmetal was necessary for the 1960 Edsel, the hood. Two smaller panels were created for the upper rear quarter panels.

Due to his friendship with Brown, Kaufman tried to keep the original front end styling theme alive by using a bold, yet simple, vertical chrome impact bar running up into the hood to bisect the twin-grille arrangement he had selected.

However, this thematic feature was scrapped in favor of a centerpiece design that resembled a chrome-plated hourglass and gave the front a look somewhat reminiscent of the 1959 Pontiac.

In the center was placed a small green shield referred to in Edsel parlance as the "pickle." Diecast trim was featured in the egg-crate grilles and outwardly mounted round turn/parking light nacelles.

From the rear, the 1960 Edsel Ranger was similar to other 1960 Ford models.
From the rear, the 1960 Edsel Ranger was similar
to other 1960 Ford models.

At the rear, the car's 1960 Ford heritage was visible even though the Edsel's taillights were large ovals set on end, and mounted in heavy chrome diecast bezels, as opposed to the Ford's "setting sun" semicircles set in the rear panel.

From the rear, all of Kaufman's 1960 Edsels were to have shared the same sheetmetal and bright trim. On the sides, though, the Ranger and Corsair series proposals differed in trim applications.

The Ranger used a single spear of stainless steel that started mid-fender just behind the front fender wheel opening and slowly arced down to the lower leading tip of the rear bumper.

To differentiate the bodysides of the proposed 1960 Corsair series, Kaufman created a second spear extending from the top of the rear bumper and moving forward to join with the tip of a trim piece like that on the Ranger. Vertically lined anodized aluminum panels filled the area in between.

The fancier trim design went for naught.

"In July of 1959, [Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln General Manager] Ben Mills declared that the 1960 Edsel would be marketed only in the Ranger series and with two station wagons, the Villagers," said Leo Beebe, who headed up Edsel public relations beginning in October 1957. "It was a last-minute decision to delete the Corsair series at that time."

As a result, the model line included a hardtop sedan, two- and four-door sedans, a hardtop coupe, and, for the first time, a Ranger convertible. The Villager wagons were six- and nine-passenger models. All rode 120-inch wheelbases.

Special contoured seats and upgraded interior door panels had already been ordered for installation in Corsairs. In an effort to recoup the investment, they were packaged as a deluxe interior option for Ranger closed cars.

For more on the 1960 Edsel, continue on to the next page.

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1960 Edsel

The standard 1960 Edsel engine was the tried and true Y-block 292-cid V-8. This "Ranger V-8" generated 185 bhp at 4,200 rpm and 292 pound-feet of torque at 2,200 rpm with its two-barrel carburetor and 8.8:1 compression ratio.

The Edsel Corsair was deleted from the 1960 Edsel lineup.
The Edsel Corsair was deleted from the
1960 Edsel lineup.

Offered as an $83.70 credit option for all models except the convertible was the 223-cid "Econ-O-Six." Equipped with a single-throat carb and an 8.4:1 compression ratio, it made 145 bhp at 4,000 rpm and a peak 206 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 revs.

For an extra $58, any Edsel could be ordered with the "Super Express V-8," a 352-cid unit with four-barrel carburetion and a 9.6:1 squeeze. Its tops of 300 bhp and 380 pound-feet of torque came at 4,600 and 2,800 rpm, respectively.

All three powerplants were identical to engines used in the 1960 Ford, except that the valve covers did not carry FORD lettering, and air cleaners were painted in different colors.

To shift the 1960 Edsel, a three-speed manual unit was standard in all models with all engines. For an additional $189.60 one could order the two-speed aluminum-cased Mile-O-Matic automatic with any power unit. Also, the three-speed Dual-Power automatic transmission was available for $230.80, but only when paired with the optional V-8.

While an overdrive transmission was offered on 1960 Fords, one was not listed on the option list for the Edsel. However, the 1960 Edsel Maintenance Manual devotes an entire chapter to this feature. While the economy unit was not officially offered by Edsel in 1959 either, several original cars have been found with them installed, but to date, no 1960s have ever been recorded with factory-installed overdrive.

Throughout 1959 there continued to be great turmoil at Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln surrounding the Edsel. McNamara was gathering support for discontinuing the car at the end of the model year. It was Henry Ford II who championed a 1960 model because he was committed to the dealers. More than once he had promised them that a 1960 Edsel would be produced, and Henry II was not a man to go back on his word.

Primary focus at the division was on the compact Comet, scheduled for introduction as a 1960 model. Rumors abounded that the 1960 Edsel might be a compact, and indeed such an Edsel might have had a fighting chance.

This 1960 Edsel ragtop carried Buttercup Yellow exterior paint.
This 1960 Edsel ragtop carried Buttercup
Yellow exterior paint.

But Ben D. Mills, head of Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln, assured dealers and the public that the 1960 Edsel would remain a full-sized car. Pilot model assemblies began at Louisville on August 7, 1959; regular production commenced there on September 15.

Throughout 1959, as in 1958, independent Edsel dealers, many of whom had been GM or Chrysler dealers, were abandoning ship, and existing Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers took on the Edsel marque.

On October 15, 1959, the 1960 Edsel finally arrived for public introduction. By this time there were 1,468 Edsel franchises, but fewer than 2,400 cars had been built. This meant that there were fewer than two Edsels per dealer.

To get an idea of the disastrous effect this had on Edsel sales, continue to the next page.

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1960 Edsel Sales

Dealers were not at all receptive to selling the Edsel, resulting in shockingly low 1960 Edsel sales. When they first saw it, presumably a month or so before introduction, they simply did not order the cars.

1960 Edsel model-year production didn't even last into the 1960 calendar year.
1960 Edsel model-year production didn't even
last into the 1960 calendar year.

This got Henry Ford II off the hook. If the dealers wouldn't accept the Edsel, then he no longer had to honor his commitment to produce it. The last 1960 Edsel, the 2,846th built, rolled off the Louisville line in November 1959. Total 1960 Edsel production was not even one day's production for Ford.

Some will argue that a 1960 Edsel could have sold in sufficient numbers to be profitable. Dealer support -- or lack of it -- does not uphold that thesis. Others will say an Edsel continued into 1961 and 1962 might have recovered earlier losses.

But where would the market have been? In 1961 and 1962, both the Ford and Mercury shared the same body. Ford could hardly have sold three different makes based on the same body shell.

McNamara knew what would sell and what wouldn't, and he was usually right. Although often criticized for not being a "car guy" (it has been suggested he actually disliked the auto business), McNamara made some monumentally correct decisions while at Ford.

The fancier Fairlanes he put up in 1957 helped Ford outsell Chevrolet; the 1958 four-seater Thunderbird nearly doubled annual sales compared to the two-place Thunderbird it replaced; the straight-laced 1959 Ford outsold the batwing Chevrolet; and the conservative 1960 Falcon compact, the kind of no-frills vehicle McNamara preferred, was Ford's biggest success since the Model T.

The 1960 Edsel shared the same body shell as other 1960 Fords.
The 1960 Edsel shared the same body shell
as other 1960 Fords.

It has been written time and again that McNamara Fords looked like the man himself, wearing granny glasses and with their hair parted down the middle. But Joe Oros has pointed out that McNamara flourished at Ford because he made decisions that made the Ford Motor Company millions and millions of dollars.

If you go along with Oros's thesis that McNamara made the right marketing decisions for Ford, then you have to conclude that his opposition to the Edsel was correct. He loathed losers, and he spotted the Edsel as one from the get-go.

Who were the winners and losers in the Edsel saga? In some cases, the answer is clear-cut; in others, it is more obscure. In any case, 1960 marked the end for the Edsel. For more, continue to the next page.

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End of the Edsel

The immediate problem for dealers at the end of the Edsel's run was trying to unload the now-orphan make. The factory issued discounts and rebates to dealers with Edsels still in stock. A flat $300 was given for each 1960 on the lot, and up to $400 for unsold 1959 models still on hand.

During its short run, the Edsel lost up to $250 million for Ford.
During its short run, the Edsel lost up to
$250 million for Ford.

In an attempt to control damage, factory agents went to each dealer to negotiate settlements for their stock of cars, parts, and even the lighted Edsel signs. One factor that helped soften the death blow was that there were only two dealerships left that still sold the Edsel exclusively.

Any Edsel customer who had bought a 1960 model prior to the announcement of the car's cancellation was issued a coupon offering a $300 discount on the future purchase of another new "domestically produced" Ford Motor Company passenger car. Each coupon was serially numbered and included no expiration date. At last count, about 150 of these coupons were outstanding, and would be honored today.

Once in England, Roy Brown headed styling projects for the Ford Anglia Estate, the Zephyr Zodiac III, and the Cortina, a car that made more money for Ford than the reported $250 million the Edsel lost it.

The end of the Edsel snuffed out the last ember of the so-called Reith Program that had looked so promising on that spring day in 1955. Jack Reith was given the reins to the newly independent Mercury Division, but when it was put back with Lincoln in 1957, he suddenly found himself "awaiting reassignment." Before long, he would be gone from the Ford Motor Company; before the 1950s were out, he would be dead of a shotgun blast that may or may not have been accidental.

Today, the 1960 Edsel is a unique collectible auto.
Today, the 1960 Edsel is a unique collectible auto.

On November 9, 1960, Robert Strange McNamara was announced as the new president of the Ford Motor Company. That same morning, a young Massachusetts Senator awoke to learn that he had narrowly out-polled the Vice President of the United States in voting for the nation's presidency.

Soon John F. Kennedy would seek out McNamara to serve as Secretary of Defense. In the first days of 1961, McNamara resigned from Ford and headed to Washington, where he became a lightning rod for controversy in a far deadlier struggle than the contest for medium-priced car sales.

As for the Edsel, it quickly attached itself to the English language as a synonym for abject failure. But it did win on one count: It became an instant collector's item and remains one of the icons of its time.

For models, prices, and production numbers of the 1960 Edsel, see the next page.

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1960 Edsel Specifications

As if it wasn't enough that the Edsel had to do battle with established competitors and a recession-wracked U.S. economy in the late 1950s, the car also faced opposition from powerful forces within the Ford Motor Company. It was a combination that proved impossible to overcome. Here are the specifications for the 1960 Edsel:

The 1960 Edsel Villager was one of the final Edsels produced.
The 1960 Edsel Villager was one of the
final Edsels produced.

1960 Edsel Ranger Models, Prices, Production

Model
Weight
Price
Production
64A 2-door sedan
3,601
$2,643
777*
58A 4-door sedan
3,700
2,697
1,126
58B 4-door sedan with deluxe trim
3,705
2,737
162
63A hardtop coupe
3,641
2,704
243
63B hardtop coupe with deluxe trim
3,646
2,744
52
57A hardtop sedan
3,718
2,770
104
57B hardtop sedan with deluxe trim
3,723
2,810
31
76B convertible coupe
3,836
3,000
76
Total 1960 Edsel Ranger


2,571

1960 Edsel Villager Models, Prices, Production

Model
Weight
Price
Production
71F 4-door station wagon, 6-passenger
4,029
$2,988
216
71E 4-door station wagon, 9-passenger
4,046
3,072
59
Total 1960 Edsel Villager


275
Total 1960 Edsel


2,846

*Although no production figures have been recorded for two-door sedans with the deluxe interior, a number of such models have been found with data plates that indicate factory installation of the equipment.

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