Optional at extra cost

The ongoing woes in Detroit for some reason got me thinking about the Edsel, which debuted for the 1958 model year and which was gone after 1960. It wasn’t entirely Ford’s fault — there was a recession in ’58, knocking car sales down by nearly a third from ’57 — but even then, there was such a thing as Too Many Brands, and there wasn’t enough room between Ford and Lincoln for Mercury, let alone for both Mercury and Edsel. (You’re right: nothing’s changed.)

Still, Dearborn dressed up its (400-)million-dollar baby, and a glance through some Edsel brochures revealed some stuff that’s still at least semi-neat. On the ’58 dash, for instance, you might find this little gizmo:

This speed warning light is a valuable safety accessory. It casts a red glow over the speedometer if you exceed your pre-set miles-per-hour limit. Installed at a nominal price on any Edsel, the speed warning light may be set by turning a simple calibrated dial just below the speedometer.

What makes this nifty is the fact that the ’58 had a drum-type speedo, the numbers passing in front of you along a horizontal axis, so when the thing suddenly turned red, you’d have a Roger Corman special effect right in front of you, and you’d wonder just when the reactor was going to melt down.

The calibration of the “simple calibrated dial” seems to end around 75, making it ideal for those nimrods who think no one should ever drive faster than that.

The ’58 Edsel also could be had with a low-fuel light, which was supposed to come on when you were down to your last four gallons, worth about a buck in those days. And seat belts were optional; Ford had been offering seat belts since ’55, but there hadn’t been all that many takers.

Then there’s this:

Edsel Dial-temp

This was the climate control, which included, if you ponied up the extra cash, actual air conditioning. I don’t claim to understand it, but then I can barely comprehend the climate control in my own car, and it’s one of those set-and-forget jobs.

The big knock on the Edsel, though, was its exterior appearance, especially the weird vertical grille that would have scared Eve Ensler. By 1960, they’d cleaned up the look so much that it wasn’t distinctive anymore. (The new split grille was pure Pontiac, and by all accounts pure coincidence.)

And the one thing I dearly love about the Edsel, apart from its lost-cause aura — to which I instinctively relate — is this: almost all of its series names reappeared on later vehicles, including some equally doomed. The top-line Edsel was the Citation, a name you saw on a Chevrolet front-drive compact, born 1980, died 1985; second from the bottom was the Pacer, later the AMC fishbowl on wheels (1975-80). Edsel’s price leader was the Ranger, later a Ford truck; Edsel also offered a Villager wagon, a name seen on subsequent Mercury wagons and ultimately on a Nissan minivan rebadged as a Mercury.

1 comment

  1. John Owen Butler »

    6 December 2008 · 5:54 pm

    In ’72 I had the opportunity to buy an Edsel Villager wagon for $300. I’d still be kicking myself if my arthritis weren’t so bad these days.

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