DFHC 11/12/2011

Ask Cool Daddy’s E-Car Blues

Dear Cool Daddy: After all this time, does anybody really know why the 1958 Edsel was so gosh-awful butt-ugly?  …from Diamond Jim, in Little Rock

Dear D-Jim: In a word, no. Now I certainly haven’t read all the books and articles written about the Edsel, but I’ve read quite a few, and there is no definitive explanation. However several points ought to be made.

First…If you were to look thru an illustrated book on 1950s cars, you would find many other models that were at the time, and are still today, considered examples of extremely poor styling. Even restricting it to 1958 models, the Packard, and especial the “wide-mouth-bass” Packard Hawk (above), were pretty atrocious. But then compared to the sleek Chrysler Corporation offerings, all of the GM lines were pretty clunky…those from Ford less so, but overall it wasn’t a stellar year for automotive design.

Second…Unlike some of the other ugly ducklings from that era, the Edsel, especially the “lemon-sucking” 1958 model are extremely popular today, and I hardly think it’s because people delight in driving a laughing stock on wheels. In retrospect, the awkward “horse-collar” grill is seen as interesting, unusual, even daring. And of course for 3 decades, every car had a vertical grill…it was all in the execution of it. Alfa-Romeo made it their trade-mark…Pontiac would be supremely successful with the motif…and don’t forget the fancy-shmancy Facel Vega of the period that movie stars drove…(above, right.)

Opinion today is that too much attention was paid to engineering innovations, at the expense of styling, besides the whole project being rushed. Ironically, the Edsel was named after Henry Ford’s only son…who when he became head of the company, had a sense of style his father lacked…which is why the Model A looked so much better than the Model T.

Third…And the fact is, not everyone, even at the time, thought the Edsel was “ugly.” After all, it sold 63,110 in the 1958 model year…that’s 14,000 more than DeSoto…17,000 more than Lincoln…20,000 more than Studebaker…almost 4 times as many as Imperial… and almost 25 times as many as Packard. The Edsel sold only 571 fewer than the Chrysler…and even Dodge sold only about twice what Edsel did. Even more surprising, Edsel sold twice as many cars in 1958 as the 4-seater Thunderbird, the first model year for the iconic “Squarebird.”

Well, OK, the other side of the story was, the T-Bird doubled its sales from 1957, so that was one thing…based on the money invested, Edsel had to sell 100,000 to break even, so that was another thing…and industry leader Chevrolet did outsell the Edsel 20 to 1.

Still, you have to ask yourself: if the Edsel really was so terrible, why did another 43,000 people buy the 1959 model (above, right)? Sure, the ungainly styling had been straightened out a bit, but not that much. I mean,  after all that fuss, the 1959 Edsel could have very easily sold…well, zero units, right? True, the Comet, originally planned as Edsel’s compact model, sold more in 6 months than Edsel did in 2 years…but I think you can see that sales weren’t nearly as dismal as history would lead you to believe…just not enough to justify the outlay.

and Fourth…I know it’s small consolation, but based on these sketches and styling exercises, it could have been worse…a lot worse….


shameless plugs…plug-ugly…and loving it!…

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com  and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Deep Fried Hoods Cups Daily Blog:    https://deepfriedhoodsiecups.wordpress.com/

Other Daily Blog at http://stolf.wordpress.com  (the legendary Stolf’s Blog)

More bloggage at  http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com  and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com/p/resume.html

Audio samples at  http://stolfspots.podbean.com

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