By on June 8, 2011

Editor’s note: Ladies and gentlemen, for one night only, it’s the return of Curbside Classics to TTAC. You can catch Paul Niedermeyer’s work (along with contributions from an ever expanding crew of TTAC commenters and more) on a regular basis at the new Curbside Classics site. But this piece? It just had to be on TTAC.

There’s a big difference between creating and re-creating. The proto-hot rodders of yore scoured the junk yards for new solutions, not to replicate. The competition was as much in creativity as it was pure speed. Much of that has given way to endless replication, whether it’s a perfect restoration or a 1000 hp resto-mod. But creative juices are irrepressible, and they were certainly at work here. Want a daily driver Edsel, but not its 1950′s fuel-gulping ways? The solution was just a $200 junkyard engine away. But it had to be imagined first. Now that’s creativity, and a harbinger of the future. Which is exactly what the old car hobby needs: a new model, like this “Eco-Boost” Edsel.


If there was room for a third CC logomobile at the top of our homepage, this would be it. But not just because it’s an Edsel, although daily drivers of that brand are hardly common even here in Havana, Oregon. It’s because this car actually manages to bridge the two extremes the two cars at the top of our page embody: The 1950 hot-rod Caddy represents the glorious past, but it’s hardly the thing for a run to The Laughing Planet cafe, where I found the Edsel. The 1980 Datsun 210 is a highly-practical daily driver, but a mundane living cockroach.


This Edsel is some of both, in a brilliant and refreshingly unlikely combination. In a reversal of the traditional engine swapping protocol, its heavy inefficient V8 was tossed overboard like the proverbial anchor it is, and a 1988 Ford 2.3 liter turbo four has taken up residence behind the distinctive anatomically almost-correct grille. The result is the best of both worlds: a highly unique but practical daily driver. What more could a lover of old cars ask for?


For the record, this is not the sort of mega-bucks green-washing display that appear at SEMA; this Edsel’s owner, Randall, built it on a very tight budget, and has done all the work himself. The car was found in Portland in reasonable shape, and the body got treated to a low-bucks paint job. After driving eighties FWD turbo-four Chrysler products, he wanted something more distinctive, and its hard to beat an Edsel for that. He was also hooked on a turbo-four’s unique potential for economy and performance, so the two had their unlikely encounter here.


We’re not going to recite the whole Edsel bucket-of-tears story verse-by-verse here; most of you know it well enough. Ford’s ambitious attempt to create five full divisions to go mano-a-mano against GM fell apart in 1958 when the gaudy Edsel arrived in the midst of a nasty recession. 1958 Edsels came in two distinct sizes; the smaller Pacer shared a Ford body shell, and the larger Corsair a Mercury shell.


For 1959, Edsels were decidedly toned down, and all of them shared a slightly lengthened Ford body shell. One could even get a Pacer with the 232 cubic inch six, as a delete option. But the standard engine was the old Y-block 292 cubic incher, a heavy and notoriously inefficient lumpen-element. Together with the cast-iron housing Fordomatic, there was probably close to a half ton of iron sitting over the front wheels.


And a notoriously inefficient half ton. A vintage Popular Mechanics review of a ’59 Edsel yielded 12.1 mpg (20 L/100km) on the highway and 8.5 mpg (28 L/100km) in city driving. Randall says the Eco-boost Edsel can get 24 mpg (9.8 L) in gentle driving, and 20 mpg (12 L) comes quite readily. That’s a solid 100% improvement. Or more accurately, a 50% reduction in fuel used.

Speaking of weight, this Pacer sedan was listed as weighing some 3800 lbs, which probably translates to about 4000 real-world pounds. I don’t have ready access to what a 2.3 turbo four and T-5 manual weighs, but I’m guessing about half, if not less. That made the Edsel’s sit pointed skyward. Randall’s solution:

The front was still sitting up too high so I used an oxy acetylene torch to selectively add many thousands of calories into the bottom three coils on each side. I carefully wrapped the rest of the springs with water soaked rags to help isolate heat transfer. The car is now perfectly level.

That, and lots of other details comes from one of his blog posts at eco-modder, where he describes the journey of his Edsel’s inner transformation. A reader had sent me the link some time ago, and I tried vainly to contact him, but I knew it was just a matter of time before I ran into it.


As soon as he started it, the sound was very familiar indeed: I bought a Thunderbird Turbo-Coupe in 1983, the first year for this engine. And its strengths and vices were well known to me. I could easily hit 30 mpg in the aerodynamic T-Bird. So the Edsel’s 24 mpg seems perfectly credible.

The Edsel probably weighs about 3300-3500 lbs now, a bit more than the T-Bird, but not much. But then maximum performance was not the goal here, although the Edsel is undoubtedly brisker than in its V8 incarnation. The 292 was rated at 200 gross hp, which equates to some 165 net hp. The 1988 turbo four was rated at 190 (net) hp, although it’s not quite making all of that here.


Randall purchased the engine and transmission for $200, but not all the electronics came with it. So it’s currently being controlled by a 1984 computer, and the intercooler is still missing (for now). It probably makes closer to the 145-155 hp of the earlier versions. A mega-squirt set-up is high on the wish list, but it runs quite fine in the meantime.


The Edsel’s 3.11 rear axle gearing were an obstacle, since the little four doesn’t have the low end grunt of the big V8, at least until the boost comes up. A rear end swap would have been pricey, and a new set of tires to replace the old tall 800×14″ bias ply donuts were necessary anyway, so the solution was to, once again, go against the grain. A set of low-rolling resistance 195/70 14 inchers, painted white, increased the effective ratio by 7.3%. Not quite perfect, but fifth gear is now very usable by 55 mph, and starting out on a hill no longer raises beads of sweat.


Curbside Classics is all about honoring cars still at work on the streets. And every time gas shoots up, I start worrying about finding that Mark III or some other gas hog I’ve yet to encounter. Its given impetus, along with a bit of anxiety to my documentation of the survivors. But finding this Edsel was like a giant boost to my all-too often lagging optimism: this is the way forward.


After decades of stuffing ever bigger and more powerful monster V8s into old cars, that past time has reached its obvious limits. 600 cubic inches and a 1000 hp? Sure, why not? Everybody can have their idea of fun. But if the old car hobby is going to be more accessible and affordable, not to mention drivable, than a new paradigm is needed.

The earliest hot-rodders were truly creative in their search for speed and power: GMC truck engine sixes with five carburetors. Or Buick nailhead V8s with their porting completely reversed. Writing a check for a 600 hp crate engine ain’t exactly the definition of creativity or originality.


My hat’s off to Randall and his “Eco-Boost” Edsel. It’s as good of a role model for the next generation of old-car car hobbyists as it gets. And he’s infected with me with thoughts of slipping a turbo four to slip into my ’66 F-100, and beating Ford with an Eco-Boost four cylinder full-sized truck.

Despite my fertile mental ramblings, in 1983 I certainly didn’t ever imagine that my T-Bird’s engine would someday be powering an Edsel, or mentally powering a pickup. Now it seems so obvious. That’s how paradigm shifts work; they sneak up, and suddenly they’re the next big thing. Now just watch Ford add a RWD Eco-Boost turbo four to its line of crate engines.

This piece originally appeared at

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30 Comments on “Curbside Classic Special: 1959 Edsel “Eco-Boost”...”

  • avatar

    Talk about “curbside appeal” have a look at this video I just did on a wonderful classic car museum in Colorado:

  • avatar

    Nice post Paul, glad to see your work again.

    As for the car, with all that white on the outside, and that modern efficiency and goodness inside (2.3t, dual-circuit brakes, front shoulder belts!) it would seem to be the answer to that old question raised by thirsty greedy SUV’s: “What would Jesus drive?” has been answered!

  • avatar

    DAAAAAYUM…them is some whitewalls…
    Do you know what paint he used for the whitewall effect? Krylon Fusion for plastic?
    I want to do this on the tires for my pickup, but I’m afraid of it looking bad…whatever this guy did looks great.

  • avatar

    What an outstanding find, Paul, and nice to hear from you again here!

  • avatar

    You just have to smile when you see this car. Though I’m sure there’s an Edsel club out there somewhere gasping in horror at this violation.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    What a beauty.

    A masterpiece from the distant past coupled with a masterful engine of the recent past. Add a creative owner with a great sense for beauty… and voila!

    A wonderful article. Hope the owner enjoys his treasure.

  • avatar

    I’d LOVE to resto-mod a C3 ‘Vette with a more current 6-speed tranny, a tighter suspension and an LSx. Of course, I have no idea how to do that. I may be the uncreative guy writing checks for someone else to take care of it (though auto repair classes at the local community college are a pretty good deal).

  • avatar

    Nice! Blending old-world style with new-school efficiency. Gotta love it.

    One of my project vehicles is a 1971 GMC Sprint with a two-barrel 350 smallblock. I’m strongly considering swapping in a 6.5 liter turbodiesel V8 out of a 90’s GM truck or SUV and doing a biodiesel conversion on it.

    Unlike the massive and heavy Duramax, the 6.5 is roughly the same weight and physical size as a standard big-block, and it uses standard motor mounts. It’s almost a straight bolt-in.

    • 0 avatar

      There was a guy a few years back that was doing near the same diesel swap – a 6.2l into a 1980 (IIRC) Corvette. If you’re going to swap a “gutless” motor into a Corvette, 1980 would be one of the best years, as it was one of the least performance-oriented years of that marque (again from memory here).

      The thing about these low-tech swaps is that every day, countless thousands of potential donor cars/motors are crushed, shredded, and loaded onto trains and then barges headed for the far east. I suppose that eventually, people will be making aftermarket engine control computers for today’s engines, but it’s getting to be increasingly difficult to even comprehend the level of computing power that is in action every time you turn the key, er, push the button.

  • avatar

    I like the concept.

    With the escalating price of fuel these days, swaps like this may become a viable option to keep the classic cars on the road without taking one in the wallet at the gas pump..

    As far as intercooler options go, if space is an issue, I would look at an air-to-water intercooler setup to get to the 190hp goal..

  • avatar
    M 1

    “but not its 1950′s fuel-gulping ways”

    Is this why he isn’t on the Truth about cars?

    My bone-stock ’55 322 CID runs about 24 MPG highway and probably still makes most of it’s original 300HP rating. Sure it’s no VW diesel Golf, but it’ll carry six adults comfortably with all their luggage (and has factory power seats, power windows, and power brakes).

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      In that case, my E46 BMW will hit 200 mph and get 40 mpg.

      Seriously, the only way a 1950’s V8 sedan will hit 24 mpg on the highway with its original powerplant is down a long hill.

  • avatar

    Excellent job as always, Paul – and welcome “home”! Although I visit and comment on “CC” as well, I just have to split my time, that’s all – and I don’t mind a bit, no different than when you were part of TTAC.

    For the record, I was never a hot-rodder – I’m too cheap, but wanted a great-looking car just the same. Even tho’ my old ’64 Chevy had the 283 with 2 bbl. carb and powerglide, I would’ve been just as happy with a six like my dad’s ’66 Impala as I described on “CC” a few weeks ago. This Edsel is the icing on the cake.

    If I had or could have a ’57 Chevy or my old ’64 back, this is exactly what I would want to do. After all, to steal a famous line: “It’s (my) economy, stupid!”

  • avatar


    Back in 1985 I ran across a ’57 BelAir HT for sale that had its 283 repalced by a Toyota 4-cylinder…don’t remember the size, but he bragged over 20MPG. Then again another friend made the same claim with a stock 2-bbl 400 SB in his ’57 wagon.

    Given the light weight of Chevies pre-1958 (3,100 – 3,500 depending on year and model) – and how heavy today’s vehicles are in contrast – I think a 5.3 would be a powerful yet fuel-efficient choice for both my ’57 and ’68 C-10 projects. (The ’68 is a 2WD and I believe came in around 3,800 lbs – not bad for a truck.)

  • avatar

    Interesting concept, although I’d be a little concerned regarding the tire swap. 195/70-14s are rated at around 1300lbs vs. 1600lbs for the 8.00-14s. So the total load capacity is 1200lbs lower but the estimated weight reduction is only about 500lbs.

  • avatar

    Gotta love that Edsel.

    Another great (but more expensive) idea might be to swap in that nasty new V-6 they’re putting in the Mustangs these days.

    I am currently restoring my grandma’s old ’68 Camaro that had the 250 Turbo-Thrift straight six and powerglide in it. Even had the bumblebee stripe with nice little “250” badges on the fenders. I am a long way from doing the engine, but am leaning VERY heavily toward swapping in a 4200 Vortec L6 and 4/5 speed auto. Rated between 275 and 300HP, the Vortec has plenty of grunt, especially considering the stock engines these cars came with.

  • avatar

    I am reminded of a piece I saw in Mechanix Illustrated years ago. Some German Opel mechanic had picked up a 1949 Buick sedan from a serviceman who’d returned to the US. He didn’t like the gas mileage he was getting with the Buick, so he replaced the big OHV straight eight with an Opel engine. Since there was now plenty of room, he used Opel transmissions in series to obtain the low gear ratio to get the big hulk moving from a standing start.

  • avatar

    Paul – I like your idea: take a classic truck (like any ’60s, ’70s or ’80s Chevy/Ford/Dodge) and drop in a turbo-4 with a 5-spd. The truck would be cheap, the powertrain can be found cheap, and you’d have an efficient, ECU-controlled engine that can do occasional work (with Premium fuel). For heavier load-hauling duty, you could use a 4WD Ranger/BroncoII 5-spd bellhousing, trans, and transfer case – select 4-Lo on the t-case for launch with a heavy load (front/rear propshafts are ‘locked together’ in 4-Lo, so you don’t “need” the front axle) and then shift it to 2-Hi once underway, or once you’re on level ground. If you can live without 5th gear overdrive, you could use a Borg-Warner T-18 (4-spd w/creeper 1st gear) and skip the t-case idea altogether (but this may not be a bolt-on … might need a little bit of help from an a-dapt kit). With the gear reduction of the t-case or a creeper, I think the smaller turbo engine could handle most tasks. Of course it’s probably not ideal for sustained towing, but for shorter hauls, it’d be fine, as long as you hold down the detonation.

    With careful parts acquisition (rust-bucket Turbo Coupe?), the total cost of a project like this could be downright reasonable.

  • avatar

    I never would’ve figured it would work but had forgotten just how bad most of those engines were except for the Chryco hemi’s. I wonder how good it would be with a real ecoboost? With Ford now putting them into f150’s and those selling well it won’t be long before they start filling up the yards.

    BTW, for those looking for turbo 4’s don’t forget all those Mazdas. One of the killer combos I’ve heard is a turbo 4 in a stick Ranger. Much better power and a basic nobrainer of a swap.

  • avatar

    Yes the Edsel is cool but I’d still be curious to know more abou the one with the massive tunnel rams.

    And that Buick is a peach of engineering…it looks as though it has a Potvin style crank-driven blower with the carb mounted on IT, dumping the compressed fuel/air mixture into exhaust ports through huge tubes. How cool is that?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The main concern for me would be the drum brakes . The main reason I let my 66 Valiant go was that it was waaay underbraked compared to modern cars and was a real PITA to drive allowing for safe stopping margins. Great to see your stuff again Paul. I should cruise by and catch your latest site. Cars have to be driven at least 20 yrs to catch my interest.

    • 0 avatar

      My ’66 Mustang also had problems with drum brakes overheating b/c I only had a 3 speed manual and couldn’t shift down rolling down the hills around here. I vowed if I ever built another early Mustang it was going to get a brakes overhaul and the suspension tightened up.

      My ’66 Beetle now has four wheel disc brakes.

      Steering and stopping is a good thing.

  • avatar

    “Now just watch Ford add a RWD Eco-Boost turbo four to its line of crate engines.”

    Ford Australia will be putting the 2.0 Ecoboost 4cyl in the rwd Falcon sedan in a few months time (start of 2012), so this is eminently possible! They use the T56 6sp manual now in place of the good old T5, however the Ecoboost is scheduled to be 6sp auto only.

  • avatar

    I have been threatening to buy a 4 door Ford Galaxy in my parent’s home town (threatening because my Dad keeps saying, why do you want a 4-door old car?), and install the ecoboost v6 in it.

    I am waiting for the crate Ford v6 they implied they were going to release when they had a ecoboost hotrod built a few years ago for Ecoboost PR.

    Ford, when is it coming to us?

    There aren’t enough of the things sold, so far, for the motor to appear in any reasonable amounts in junk yards. Or so I am told.

  • avatar

    Love the thread. I have a 57 two door/210 wagon that I parked the last time gas hit $4.00/gallon. Don’t like leaving it parked. Too much fun to drive. Had been thinking turbo straight six and either thinking I was brilliant or alternately thinking I was slipping into senility. Now I feel better. A280Z engine with a turbo and five speed sounds good. So does a stock 230 six with an ebay turbo or a japanese diesel. One thing for sure. It’s going to beat the 13mpg that I got with the 283/powerglide. They aren’t a bit of fun when they’re parked.

  • avatar

    “the distinctive anatomically almost-correct grille” As my brother once said, “Just hang a bird’s nest under the grill for the full effect.”

  • avatar

    I have a buddy putting an 80s Merc turbo diesel into a late model Land Rover Discovery. He’s already put a turbo Volvo four(?) into a 60s Volvo wagon and a SBC into an 80s Volvo.

    I put a Corvair six in a 70s VW Westfalia including the ‘vair manual transmission. I’ve also put a Type IV 2.0 into a Beetle and the engine lid closes making it a “sleeper” – or it will be after I return it to the road with a restoration. It’s just a pile of parts right now.

    I have seen former interstate buses (40s and 50s Flxibles mostly) with late model turbo diesel pickup truck engines and transmissions. Mileage supposedly goes from 8-10 mpg to again supposedly 12-14 mpg.

    I love seeing the old drivelines updated but the cars kept mostly stock (upgrade those brakes though! single circuit master cylinders are risky IMHO).

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