The dubious legacy of the Edsel

Even if you don’t know jack about cars, you know the Edsel is synonymous with disaster.

The Edsel was developed by Ford and only lasted three years. With the Edsel, Ford was trying to compete with GM and Chrysler, but the car lost a ton of money, and was off the market within several years. The Simpsons even goofed on it when Homer’s uncle Herb made a car inspired by Homer that put him out of business, much like the Edsel was a very expensive flop for Ford. 

Interestingly, the Edsel’s been in the news again because its designer, Roy Brown Jr., passed away at the age of 96. In the reports of Brown’s passing, the story of the Edsel has been retold, and having known anything about its story other than its disasterous reputation, it’s been fascinating to learn about one of the greatest mis-steps in auto history. (Brown also designed the 1955 Lincoln Futura, which the 1966 Batmobile was based on).

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Edsel was announced in 1957, and Ford was convinced it would sell 200,000 models a year. But not only did the car come out to bad press, but there was also a recession at the time that hurt cars that were mid-priced. (Edsels went for $2,400 to $3,800.) A little over 100,000 Edsels were sold during the three years it was available, and when Ford stopped production, the company lost a reported $250 million. 

Time Magazine called it, “the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time,” and Brown called it, “Ford’s most successful failure.” The Wall Street Journal also tells us there are loyal Edsel car collectors, and an Edsel in good condition can fetch  $100,000. As the owner of Edsel World, a company in Florida that sells the car and parts for the model, told the Journal, “The Edsel got a bad rap. It’s a beautiful car.” 

And as Brown himself was quoted in the New York Times, “I’m proud of the car,” adding, “If you are unprejudiced and look at the car, it’s beautiful. The young people who have never heard of it look at it and think it’s beautiful.” 

As the film Tucker: The Man and His Dream has proven, the story behind a car can be fascinating, and the story of the Edsel, even in these broad strokes, is also an interesting tale. Failure often makes more interesting stories than success, and like the saying goes, without failure there is no success. 

There’s also a great lesson to be learned from how Brown shrugged off the car’s failure, and just kept going ahead. Brown bounced back with the Cortina model, but he never ran from the fact that he designed what’s considered the biggest disaster in auto manufacturing history. He was clearly very proud of his creation, much like a misfit kid you love unconditionally.