BLACKBOURN

EDSEL, SCHMEDSEL...

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS - ROB BLACKBOURN

THE SIGHT OF a gleam­ing Edsel sta­tion-wagon as I pulled into a servo at Bac­chus Marsh (Vic) re­cently prompted a bunch of Edsel mem­o­ries.

As a kid with a huge ap­petite for Amer­i­can car mag­a­zines I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by one bit of owner feed­back about Fo­moco’s then all-new Edsel. The guy mem­o­rably praised his new 1958 model for its 120mph high­way speed between home and work, while com­plain­ing about the ef­fort needed to lift his lunch­box over the high lip of the boot com­part­ment. The ar­ti­cle gave me two fresh new serves of info about Amer­i­can mo­torists – as well as driv­ing a lot faster than my dad, they ob­vi­ously ate a hell of a lot more for lunch.

While the Corvair caused GM heartache in the early-60s, Ford was ob­vi­ously badly wounded by its Edsel ex­pe­ri­ence in the late-50s.

Pro­moted as ‘an en­tirely new kind of car’ the Edsel was launched with much fan­fare in late-1957. No sur­prise then that it car­ried high ex­pec­ta­tions from Ford re­gard­ing its mar­ket po­ten­tial and from buy­ers ex­cited at the prospect of some­thing truly out of the box from Dear­born. The re­al­ity fell well short of mar­ket-place ex­pec­ta­tions for rea­sons in­clud­ing styling that wasn’t loved, the ob­vi­ous use of gar­den-va­ri­ety Ford plat­forms as its ba­sis and sig­nif­i­cant price and specs over­laps with stable­mate Mer­cury’s mod­els.

Its en­gi­neer­ing broke some new ground in brak­ing, in­stru­men­ta­tion, er­gonomics and the new Heron-head en­gines it shared with Mer­cury and Lin­coln. But that wasn’t enough.

While Ford man­aged to sell over 60,000 Ed­sels in 1958, de­mand soon faded – its swan­song model for 1960 sold less than 3000 units. Some es­ti­mates of Ford’s losses on the Edsel equate to over USD$3-bil­lion in to­day’s money.

But there was light at the end of the Blue Oval’s dark tun­nel. Whether you credit di­vine in­ter­ven­tion, luck or, more likely, the good old Amer­i­can ‘can do’ at­ti­tude, who knows? – but within months Lee Ia­cocca, freshly in­stalled in the big chair at the Ford Di­vi­sion, was pes­ter­ing the still-bruised Henry Ford II to ap­prove an­other new model. Again it would be based on an al­ready ex­ist­ing plat­form, but this time it would be dis­tinc­tively and unar­guably ‘an en­tirely new kind of car’, aimed at a spe­cific mar­ket seg­ment – as­pi­ra­tional baby boomers.

When ‘Hank the Deuce’ fi­nally re­lented he made it clear to Ia­cocca that he would be held re­spon­si­ble for the out­come. For­tu­nately there was to be no bruised butt for Ia­cocca, no sack-cloth and ashes – deal­ers took over 20,000 or­ders for the Mus­tang on Day 1. Sales con­tin­ued their up­ward tra­jec­tor y, sur­pass­ing Ford’s most op­ti­mistic pro­jec­tions. The one-mil­lionth Mus­tang rolled off the as­sem­bly line af­ter a mere 18 months. And they’re still rolling off…

Af­ter re­fu­el­ing I pulled over near the Edsel for a closer look, and to say G’day to the own­ers, the happy cou­ple busily en­gaged with giv­ing it an un­der-bon­net once-over. It was a ’59 Vil­lager four-door wagon and it was a beauty – ap­par­ently sel­dom started, let alone driven, since its full­resto 15 years pre­vi­ously. And it had been theirs for an hour.

A 10-kilo­me­tre drive from its farm-shed pre­vi­ous home was their total ex­pe­ri­ence with it so far. Be­fore head­ing home they were do­ing a pre­trip check of tyre pres­sures, f luid lev­els and belt ten­sions. So far, so good. My guess that they were off to Mel­bourne or some­where nearby in ru­ral Vic­to­ria was way out.

The Edsel’s shake­down cruise was to be a three­day drive to Queens­land’s Sun­shine Coast. I wished them happy trav­els as I left, hid­ing my fears that nu­mer­ous rudely awak­ened oil seals, hoses and fuel lines would be get­ting set to plague their jour­ney.

But then I re­mem­bered the power of a ‘can do’ at­ti­tude.

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