In Edsel’s Defense!

There has been quite a bit of discussion regarding a Time magazine article naming the “The 50 Worst Cars”. Chat boards, emails and water coolers already have hosted scorching debates on this piece… and you can bet that after I meet some looming deadlines on other projects, I’ll produce my own Speaker’s Corner soapbox soliloquy with the tone and content you’ve come to expect from The Four Wheel Drift.

(In other words, buckets of fire and brimstone coupled with more than enough automotive statistics and history to make a Gartner industry analyst look like he’s been working off Cliff’s Notes. )  

Until I have time to write such an article, there was something specific about this debate I had to address immediately…

I listened intently to the Bob Rivers morning show on KZOK FM radio in Seattle as they discussed the now infamous Time article. Bob and his co-host Spike had listeners owning cars on the list call in.

A woman with a 1958 Edsel Citation was put through.  She mentioned the car was undergoing restoration, but it had been a really nice driving and comfortable car not worthy of inclusion on the list.  Unfortunately, she admitted she didn’t know enough statistics about the car to counter much of the article’s gripes.

At that point, one of the DJs said twice “UNDERPOWERED.”

I almost choked.

Now, every single time that a list of worst cars appears, the Edsel is on there. There’s always the same regurgitated rationale for inclusion, such as “synonymous with failure” and locker room jabs about its front grill.

But saying the Edsel was underpowered is like saying Dick Cheney is too affable. 

Edsel misconceptions are all too common, so here are some interesting statistics that might clear up this one aired on KZOK, as well as a few others:


There were four models within the Edsel brand in 1958. The Ranger and Pacer utilized the 303-horsepower 361-cubic inch V8. The $3,346 base Corsair and $ 3,535 Citation came standard with a 410-ci V8 producing 345-hp. For reference, the 1958 Chevrolet Impala’s top engine was the tripower 348 ci V8 with just 315 hp. The Pontiac Bonneville’s 370-ci V8 delivered either 300 from fuel injection or 310 from tripower. The top Cadillac was the 365-ci 335-hp V8 standard in the Eldorado. Even the Corvette’s top 283-ci V8 with fuel injection was just 290 hp.

So what were the only mass-produced American cars available in ’58 with more horsepower? Ford’s $3,631 halo model the Thunderbird came standard with a 300-hp 352-ci V8, but production records reference an optional 430-ci V8 with 350 hp – although it is not certain if any were actually so equipped.

Chrysler’s 392-ci Baby Hemi made 380 hp (or 390 ponies with dual four barrel carbs) in the $5,173 base priced 300D. DeSoto’s Adventurer had a 361-ci version of the Hemi producing 355 horses with the optional dual quads.

It was Edsel’s corporate brother Mercury that held the performance engine title in 1958 with all models available with a 430-ci V8 producing 360 hp (standard equipment in the $3,944 Park Lane) or the optional big-daddy 400 horse version.


In terms of sales, 63,110 Edsels were sold in 1958. This ranked as 12th in brand sales, only 571 cars behind Chrysler. Brands with worse sales in 1958 included DeSoto (49,445), Studebaker (44,759), Lincoln (17,134), and Imperial (16,133).


Edsel made up 5.1 percent of FoMoCo’s total volume of 1,234,010 units from five brands in 1958. To put this into perspective, based on the recently released figures, General Motors sold 388,168 total domestic unit sales of all nine brands for August, 2007.  Of this, 5% (19,481) were Cadillacs, only 4.9% were from Buick (19,324 units), 1.1% (5,677) were courtesy of Hummer, and Saab chipped-in just 3,011 units – or 7/10ths of one percent of overall GM sales for the month. Even though Saturn finished the month with a 5.4-percent (21,117) monthly share,  it hovers at an Edsel-like 5.2% for 2007 calendar year contribution.

The Four Wheel Drift probably doesn’t have enough readership to save the Edsel from future “worst car” lists, but hopefully a little statistical analysis will make enthusiasts second guess what they read or hear.


6 Responses to In Edsel’s Defense!

  1. Barry Mihailov says:

    The 58 Edsel was a great car and anything but underpowered. We raced a 58 Pacer 2dr at monroe in the early 70’s. It was a very strong car and took some really hard hits.

  2. Mike Barer says:

    I’m not a big Bob Rivers fan. He would be OK if he had music between his bits, he gives opinions for the sake of giving opinions and think everyone should have that opinion.

  3. Rob Rudolph says:

    When introduced, Edsels were criticised in the press as being “overpowered”. Mixing up the concepts of overpowered and underpowered is an easy journalisitic mistake to make – for a bozo.

  4. Jim Peeler says:

    Thanks for your defense of the Edsel! Just ran across it on the internet over a year late.

    I own a ’58 Pacer myself.

  5. Mylan Miller says:

    One thing that most people don’t know about the Edsel was Ford spent Maga bucks promoting it . When the car came to market the car never lived up to the hipe that was created by the media. Remember Macnamara Was the leader at ford . He Axed the baby bird because It never sold in large enough volume . There were more brake through things that were first on the Edsel than any other model. Last and most important the reason the Mustang was and still is after 45 years the most sigcesful car on Automotive history is because the Edsel was a flop

  6. John Smith says:

    The 58 Edsel sales came in at 1/3 Ford’s expectations, due in part to a recession at the time, and to the fact that most buyers wanted smaller cars. Sales of Ramblers and Studebakers were up while sales of larger cars were down. Most people recoiled at the sight of the “horse collar” grille, and preferred the conventional horizontal front and vertical taillights of the other cars. The best way to divide a front grille is probably well represented in the design of the 62 Pontiac, where the division is below a straight hood line, and above the front bumper. With an oversized, irrelevant, vertical, nearly oval grille Edsel appeared homely, not “elegant”, as Ford had promoted it.

    As for performance, as stated above, engines were large and torque was high in the Edsel, 400 lbs. of torque for the 361 c.i. and 475 for the 410 c.i. What made the Edsel fall into the class of Worst Cars was early glitches that caused bad publicity, along with the comedic jokes about its looks. One glitch was that the earliest 58s relay boxes got wet and the transmission buttons in the hub of the steering wheel became inoperable due to shorting out. Ford corrected this by putting a cover on the relay box, but by then the word was out that Edsel was a lemon. Also the plastic insert in the hood ornament would often fly off at speeds exceeding 70 m.p.h.

    Finally, the Soviets, having launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, in October 57, made it look as if the communists were winning the space race, while Americans were squandering their engineering talents on gimmicks such as Teletouch transmission.

    The one feature that would have sold me on an Edsel was that it was the only (I think) car whose hood had to be unlatched from inside the car. Also, like Studebaker, it had self-adjusting brakes, by backing up and applying the brakes a couple of times.

    The reason sales declined in 59 noticeably, and drastically declined in 60 is because the Edsel was only the Wonder Kid for a short time, and when its reputation fell to that of Village Idiot, there was no way to restore the name. Edsel had become synonymous with failure.

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