Tripped across an Edsel

0
493

About 15 years ago I saw a blue Edsel in a workshop on Sukhumvit Road. I went back a week later and it had gone. Last week I was traveling along the (dirt) road at the back of the dark side, and there was an Edsel in a small panel shop. With the small number of Edsels built, it has to be the same one.

Edsel was a classic example of building what you think the public wants, without checking first. It was a horrendous flop. The American public didn’t like its looks at all.

The Edsel’s most memorable design feature was its trademark “horse collar” or toilet seat grille, which was quite distinct from other cars of the period. According to a popular joke at the time, the Edsel “resembled an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon”.

Edsel.

The Edsel’s front-end ensemble as it eventually appeared bore little resemblance, if any, to the original concept. Roy Brown, the original chief designer on the Edsel project, had envisioned a slender, almost delicate opening in the center. Engineers, fearing engine cooling problems, vetoed the intended design, which led to the now-infamous “horse collar.”

The Teletouch pushbutton automatic transmission selector was an extremely complex feature. It proved problematic in part because the steering wheel hub, where the pushbuttons were located, was the traditional location of the horn button. Some drivers inadvertently shifted gears when they intended to sound the horn. While the Edsel was fast, the location of the transmission pushbuttons was not conducive to street racing. There were also jokes among stoplight drag racers about the buttons: D for Drag, L for Leap, and R for Race (instead of Drive, Low and Reverse). The control wires for Teletouch were also routed too close to the exhaust manifold, which often caused unpredictable movement of the selector mechanism and, in some cases, complete failure. The electrical design required drivers to shift from Park to Reverse to Neutral to Drive, in that order, to avoid overloading the Teletouch motor. The motor was also not powerful enough to bring the car out of Park while on a hill, so dealerships would instruct drivers to set the parking brake before pushing the Park button.

Complaints also surfaced about the taillights on 1958-model Edsel station wagons. The lenses were boomerang-shaped and placed in a reverse fashion. At a distance, they appeared as arrows pointed in the opposite direction of the turn being made. When the left turn signal flashed, its arrow shape pointed right, and vice versa. However, there was little that could be done to give the Ford-based station wagons a unique appearance from the rear, because corporate management had insisted that no sheet metal could be changed. Only the taillights and trim could be touched. There was room for separate turn signals in addition to the boomerangs, but the U.S. industry had never supplied them up to that point, and they were probably never seriously considered.

Mechanics of the time were wary of the 410 cubic inch Edsel E-475 engine because its perfectly flat cylinder heads lacked distinct combustion chambers. The heads were set at an angle, with “roof” pistons forming both a squish zone on one side and a combustion chamber on the other. Combustion thus took place entirely within the cylinder bore. This design was similar to Chevrolet’s 348 cubic inch “W” engine, which was also introduced in 1958. While the design reduced the cost of manufacture and may also have helped minimize carbon build up, it was also unfamiliar to many mechanics.

It was said in the American auto circles that the Edsel was the wrong car at the wrong time. However, they are now collector’s items and a good one is worth around US$100,000.