Monday, March 04, 2013

The guy who designed the Edsel has gone to the permanent parking lot

The guy who designed the Edsel has gone to the permanent parking lot

You're thinking, "The Edsel? That was about 60 years ago. That car was discontinued before most of us were born. How could the designer still have been alive?"

He was 96.

I didn't remember that the Edsel was a full line of cars. There were seven models. The top of the line was the 1958 Edsel Citation convertible, which had an immense 345 HP V-8 under the hood and a $3801 price tag (more than $30,000 in today's dollars).

You might be wondering why a company that already had Ford, Mercury and Lincoln felt it necessary to introduce a new brand. It's because their competitors had even more brands. GM had Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. Chrysler had Plymouth, Dodge, De Soto, Chrysler and Imperial. The Ford marketers felt that they needed to fill the gap between Ford and Mercury. Unfortunately, consumers didn't seem to think that so many offerings in those middle market segments were necessary. That entire group - not just Edsel, but also Mercury, Desoto, Dodge, Oldsmobile and Pontiac - really tanked in 1958. DeSoto sales fell an astronomical 58% in 1958, and the brand would be gone within three years. The others also fell hard that year: Dodge fell 47%, Pontiac 28%, Oldsmobile 18%, and Mercury 48% from 1957. In other words, the Edsel was introduced to compete in a market segment that was disappearing, and was already confusingly overcrowded. Edsel and DeSoto would disappear almost immediately, and only the Dodge brand has survived from that group.

By the way, the obscure 1960 Edsel featured a completely different look, without the distinctive Edsel grille, but there were so few of them manufactured that nobody really noticed. Production shut down after two months and only 2846 were produced, so some models are prized collectors' items. A genuine 1960 Edsel convertible will now fetch nearly $50,000 in mint condition because only 76 of them came off the line.

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