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The Ill-Fated Ford Edsel Debuted 63 Years Ago Today

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Ford hasn’t suffered too many major miscalculations over the years, as least not in terms of the models it’s produced. But without a doubt, the Ford Edsel still ranks as its biggest failure. Today, August 27th, 2020, marks 63 years to the day when Ford unveiled the Edsel to the world in 1957. It was supposed to be the beginning of something massive. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a major flop and huge financial mistake instead.

The Ford Edsel was such a failure, in fact, that it’s become a popular case study on how not to develop and launch a product. Ford was so confident in the car, named after Henry Ford’s son, that it invested $250 million into development, only to lose an estimated $350 million ($2.3 billion in today’s money).

Ford purported that  it was using a slew of public polls to develop a car that people wanted. Regardless, those involved with the project seemingly ignored much of that feedback, including what to name the car. Likewise, designers paid little attention to customer’s styling preferences, instead developing what is universally considered one of the ugliest vehicles ever conceived.

When the Edsel debuted in 1957, American car buyers had very few models to choose from. Regardless, Ford tried to buck that trend by offering a whopping 18 different variations of the Edsel at launch. It simply attempted to market the Edsel as a car for everyone, and instead built a car for no one.

Another problem with the Edsel was that it faced impossible expectations. Prior to its launch, Ford ran a teaser campaign promising that the forthcoming model was going to be a complete and utter revelation. The Blue Oval never even imagined that the car would fail, and even created an entire Edsel division, marketed it without the Ford name, and pre-sold them to dealers before the model was finished. Upon its launch, those cars just collected dust on dealer lots.

Ultimately, those mistakes added up. The Ford Edsel was too expensive, unattractive, and universally panned by the press, not to mention launched in the middle of an economic recession. Ford redesigned the car for the 1959 model year, but it was too little, too late. The automaker pulled the plug in 1960, but it had a lasting effect on Ford’s finances, as the company’s net income per share plummeted from $5.40 in 1957 to $2.12 in 1958.

We’ll have more interesting footnotes of Ford history to share soon, so be sure and subscribe to Ford Authority for non-stop Ford news coverage.

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Brett's lost track of all the Fords he's owned over the years and how much he's spent modifying them, but his current money pits include an S550 Mustang and 13th gen F-150.

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Comments

  1. philip tilley

    I think the Edsel is a lovely car, but it would have to be the Station Wagon for me, 1958.

    Reply
  2. Roy Chiles

    Look like it’s going the same way of Lincoln today.Had FORD change the grill what a world of a difference it might have made. One model being discontinued after the other, the Saga continues

    Reply
    1. John

      By the 1960 model Edsel had toned down the grille, but by then it was too late.

      Reply
  3. Jason

    The Edsel development started LONG before 1955… Also an article about the Press Debut anniversary for the Edsel (which that is what today’s Anniversary is) I would think would include at least ONE photo from that— they are all over the web.

    If you all are serious about covering Edsel history on this page by all means enlist me to help… EDSEL Quarterly on FACEBOOK is our page.

    Reply
  4. Richard Klima

    There were also many quality control issues that Ford did not fix at the factory. Instead, the dealers were told to fix them.

    Reply
  5. Mark L Bedel

    Well, the old adage applies here also…we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

    Reply
  6. Larry

    I recall my father getting a wagon, (Citation?)because I had 5 bothers and had to have room. One of his friends when he saw first time remarked, “that grill looks sort of like part of a woman’s anatomy”. My father cracked up laughing… but they were still friends for a long time. He did have issues with the car, but being a mechanic, fixed them unless it had to have parts then the dealer fixed it.

    Reply
    1. John

      I’ll bet it wasn’t an accident that you called your brothers “bothers.”

      Reply
  7. Jim Coleman

    I never minded the look of the cars.
    Pontiac toned down the horse collar look and succeeded very well.
    The ’60 Edsel was the best looking.
    Wish I had one!
    -jc

    Reply
  8. Glen Tavares

    I have a 59 Edsel corsair after 61 years it’s still on the road can’t be that bad of a car

    Reply
  9. Chris Kares

    Every car,truck and vehicle from the 50’s,60’s,70’s and maybe the 80’s are true artistic pieces of art.Wake up and buy one.It”s better than driving these plastic,ugly clones.The little clone wantabes that create today couldn’t sketch a car on a piece of paper.

    Reply
  10. Willism

    Edsel was its own division. Like Oldsmobile, Pontiac ect, So saying, oh look. Theres a Ford Edsel would be wrong. That’s like saying. Oh look. Theres a Buick Chevy. The line up was Ford, Edsel, Mercury ,Lincoln. Edsel I thought the Edsel was a beautuful car. The choices of color combinations for interrior and exterior were endless. There aim was right but the target moved. A recession in 1958 didnt help.

    Reply
  11. Lurch

    I’ve noticed a tendency for people in the past to say “Ford Mercury” or even “Ford Lincoln.” Just such an identity issue with Ford: what’s a “GM,” after all? The problem with long lead times in auto manufacturing is just as you said: the target moved. We’d have gotten the Falcon even early if executives had been able to change their minds more quickly.

    Reply
  12. Ford500guy

    They actually pulled the plug on the Edsel in November of 59 and Consumer Guide named the Edsel one of the best buys for 1960. That’s what happens when Ford jumped the gun on the Edsel, given time it would have made a come back after the Citation was to be reintroduced in the spring of 60… In fact the Comet was going to be the Edsel Comet and was a stand alone make until 1962 when it officially became the Mercury Comet…

    Reply

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