Eeek! The quiet and leafy suburbs of Adelaide are easily shocked: in this instance by this chunky 1958 Ford Edsel Citation convertible. The Edsel was produced between 1957 and 1960, and was by all accounts a bit of a flop. Its styling was judged to deliver less than it promised – and the entirely new production line intended to replace the Lincoln in the race against GM misjudged the market entirely. The addition of a dramatic vertical grill to an otherwise conventional lumpy body shape was insufficient to sustain production numbers, and the brand died. Now they’re rare. And especially in original unrestored condition like this example.
Why are collectors attracted to the last of the breed, to lemons, or to examples of 20th century design which disprove the ideology of modernity’s inexorable progress? It’s not just a matter of rarity, but also some sense of being just outside the norm, of (at last) making fun of another generation’s questionable taste and judgement. Thus this great shiny lump of steel, wide enough to seat three abreast, with huge V8 motor, which handles like the Queen Mary, even with enough gadgets to aspire to technological progress, inspires a special appreciation of conspicuous consumption and an aesthetic of excess among baby boomers.
The Ford Edsel is often cited by design historians as the archetypal instance of designers marketeers stylists getting it wrong. The timing was terrible, when the launch coincided with the onset of the 1957 recesssion. Established brands were being closed down in every direction. By the time it hit the market, there was no niche for the Edsel to fill, and so it died, at a reputed cost of $40m. Wiki claims the name itself may have contributed to its demise: “…in honor of Edsel Ford, former company president and son of Henry Ford. Marketing surveys later found the name was thought to sound like the name of a tractor (Edson) and therefore was unpopular with the public. Moreover, several consumer studies showed that people associated the name “Edsel” with “weasel” and “dead cell” (dead battery), drawing further unattractive comparisons.”
But of course we should treasure the remaining examples – especially those which have not been ruined by restoration! They teach us where we’ve been, and show us where not to go. Iconophilia thanks Tony and Olive for the photo-essay.