The good, the bad, the car with a name which will live in infamy: The Edsel.
You should never judge a car by it’s cover or buy stocks from someone named Madoff—or Ponzi for that matter.
But what if you were one of the big three automakers trying to re-establish yourself in the post WWII market place. You do the research, add the features, give it a nifty secret name: “E Car,” create an ad campaign something on the order of a 1957 “Blair Witch Project”, never test market the goods, which are ahead of their time, because you know from investing with Bernie Madoff that past performance guarantees future results.
Then you name it after the founder’s only child, Edsel Bryant Ford, president of FOMOCO (Ford Motor Company) until his death in 1943. Edsel’s oldest child and then president of the company, Henry Ford II, argued against the name; he got out maneuvered. Darn that faulty steering column and other missing parts.
EDSEL released in 1958. Sold through 1960. Production of 116,000 cars. The public confused, they didn’t know what to do with the darn thing. People compared the prominent grill to a horseshoe or some unmentionable part of the female anatomy. (Ahem.) The car priced well beyond the average everyday person’s pocket book. . .the country in a bit of a recession at that time. The top models lauding high marks with consumer—economy cars. FUEL. FUEL. FUEL. Baby. Sound familiar?
Fast forward several decades: The name symbolizes failure on an extravagant level. Overall sales of the car less than half the break even point. The company lost $350 million by 1960, so in reciprocal terms to 2015 dollars that’s $2,800,000,000. That’s a lot of bacon. But don’t worry darlings, the car makes a comeback.
There are approximately 10,000 Ford Edsel’s still in existence and they are now worth about $100,000 each. Woohoo!
But what of the car’s namesake?
Henry Ford groomed his son, Edsel, to take over the company. Edsel pushed for fancier body styling and other innovations, becoming the leading force for the introduction of the model A.
Edsel owned the first ever “hot-rod”, created by Ford’s first designer E.T. Gregorie. A prototype, it is considered one of the most valuable cars in the world.
Edsel sponsored Admiral Richard Byrd’s historic flight over the North Pole—Santa’s first airspace competitor that wasn’t the other kind of bird. And sponsored Byrd’s antarctic expedition, getting a mountain range named after him. He was the most influential art benefactor in Detroit’s history, and a section of Detroit’s Interstate 94 is named after him. Not to mention 3 high schools in the state.
Edsel was instrumental in the war effort. Arming the US “Arsenal of Democracy”, he set a goal for Ford—producing one B-24 bomber per hour at Ford’s Willow Run manufacturing complex. The stress of the project caused him to develop stomach cancer. Surgery revealed the spreading cancer. At the tender age of 49 Edsel Ford died.
Edsel Ford created a legacy—including donating his non-voting stock shares to the Ford Foundation.
Not bad for a guy who’s name, unfortunately, will forever be attached to one of the largest failures in automotive history.