By on March 3, 2011

How cool does a junkyard car have to be before we acknowledge that it’s just too far gone to return to street duty? A first-year Edsel wagon? Very, very cool. This one, however, appears to have been baking/freezing in a Great Plains field for a few decades, and there isn’t a whole lot of Edsel-ness left. Still, such cars allow us to contemplate Ford’s Edsel Nightmare.

GM’s strategy of having a progressive ladder of increasingly prestigious marques worked very well for them, and so Ford decided they needed a new marque to plug in between aspirational Mercuries and got-it-made Lincolns: Edsel! Everyone agrees on that part of the story, but then the usual single-interest-partisans-versus-everyone-else conspiracy theories get rolling (yes, there are single-interest Edsel fanatics. Hell, there are Cavalier X-11 and Wolseley Six fanatics).

Probably things would have gone OK for the Edsel if the late-50s recession— the worst since the end of World War II— hadn’t jabbed conspicuous-consumption car sales in the liver with a rusty catfish knife. As it sorted out, the few car buyers who were shopping decided that regular Fords were just fine with them. Meanwhile, one of the main architects of US military involvement in Southeast Asia consolidated his power at Ford Motor Company, using his influence to kill the Edsel in favor of the much smaller Falcon; by the time McNamara took over as FoMoCo president, the Edsel was doomed. Sure, the Falcon flew out of the showrooms and was the basis for the insanely successful Mustang… but that just proves to Edsel fanatics that Americans are idiots. Why, you’d be able to buy a 2011 Edsel Xtreme GT right now, had McNamara not exercised his evil powers. Edsel nuts hate McNamara even more than the Corvair Jihad hates Ralph Nader, and that’s saying something.

A really devoted rat-rodder might have done something with this car, but it would have been far easier to pay $200 over scrap value and get a somewhat less hopeless example.

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21 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1958 Edsel Villager...”

  • avatar
    Philip Lane

    That’s Citation X-11 fanatics!
    And don’t you forget it, Miss Murilee!

  • avatar

    What a sad sight.  This Edsel’s too far gone, but I still hate to see it in line for the Crusher.
    McNamara was the absolute antithesis of a car guy.  And he was a cold, calculated bastard, to boot…I doubt he made many friends during any phase of his long and varied career.  But his instincts on automobiles weren’t that far off base, just about 15 years ahead of their time.  Sabotaging the Edsel was a pure ego trip, but the brand’s quick, embarassing death likely saved Ford countless millions long-term.  And the Falcon was the right car for the right time; GM and Chrysler’s more-ambitious first compacts just couldn’t compete.
    Iacocca’s sales instincts served Ford much better during the ’60s, but McNamara’s cheapness and austerity would have been proved valuable long after Henry II got fed up with Lido’s antics in the ’70s.

    • 0 avatar

      It was McNamara’s decision to dump the 2 seat Thunderbird and use that brand on a larger vehicle. That turned out to be a good business decision since the 4 seat T-birds outsold the baby Birds by a considerable margin. McNamara also was the one who picked Elwood Engel’s proposal for the ’61 T-Bird to be stretched into the classic ’61 Lincoln Continental.
      Not a car guy but his business decisions seem to have been sound.
      Remember it was McNamara and the other “whiz kids” brought in by Henry Ford II that turned it into a modern company. Henry Ford had an aversion to accountants and engineers and when Hank the Deuce took over management of the company from Henry after it was clear that Henry wasn’t capable of managing FoMoCo in the wake of Edsel Ford’s death, it was McNamara and his colleagues who turned the company around (at least in a management sense).

  • avatar

    “GM and chrysler’s more ambitious first compacts just couldn’t compete.”  It has always been a well known fact that chrysler’s compacts, while oddly styled were mechanically light years ahead of both ford and GM”s compacts.
    They were the first car to have an alternator. They had the ultra smooth and reliable three speed 904 torqueflite, as opposed to the nova’s 2 speed powerglide and the falcon’s 2 speed fordomatic.
    The suspension was light years ahead of the crude suspensions of the other two. And they had the indestructible slant 6. The slant 6 also featured a superior intake manifold compared to the ther two. It had individual runners, which made for superior distribution compared to the crappy log manifolds of the others, in which the cylinders had to share ports, fighting for their share of air and fuel.  the slant 6 also had a superior exhaust manifold design.

    • 0 avatar

      The Valiant was a better car than the Falcon, absolutely.  Problem was the consumer didn’t really care.  That’s why Mopar dumbed-down its cars as the ’60s wore on, buyers weren’t ready for push button transmissions and torsion bar suspensions.

    • 0 avatar

      Well said M426W…styling was often questionable, but the product was much better.

    • 0 avatar

      The true telling point is when Chrysler introduced the Valiant to Australia they put it on 14 inch wheels to cope with the rough roads it did fine Ford introduced the Falcon it fell apart the suspension was rubbish too light and the body weak, took Ford OZ several years to fix it.

    • 0 avatar

      The early Valiants, along with many of the Chrysler products in the early 60s, were hobbled by ugly duckling styling. Corporate decisions meant forcing already questionable styling onto inappropriate body sizes, resulting in some cars that are perennial suggestions when they question of ugly cars comes up. Lord knows that I love me some slant six but the first gen Valiant, with those horizontal fins front and aft, ia just funny looking. Exner’s 250 Valiant and FliteWing concepts which were the basis of the look of 1960-62 Mopars, had some quirks but were much cleaner then the resulting Valiant and then the awkward downsized ’62s that Chrysler exec William Newberg forced on Exner and the rest of the company (Newberg got wind of the Chevy II and mistakenly believed that GM was downsizing its cars)

    • 0 avatar

      The early Valiants (and Lancers) were cursed with lousy build quality. Water leaks, in particular, were a real problem. The Falcons were much better in this regard. That alone probably led many people to choose a Falcon over a Valiant.

      Chrysler Corporation’s build quality was all over the map in the 1960s. GM and Ford were much more consistent in this regard. The A-bodies were probably the best built Chrysler products during the mid- and later 1960s, as they didn’t change as much as the full-size and intermediate cars.

      The second-generation Valiant was a much-improved vehicle, with more “mainstream” (and attractive) styling. It was with the 1963 Valiants and Darts that Chrysler began dominating the compact market, a position it would hold until the mid-1970s.

  • avatar

    You’d be surprised what people can accomplish…

    And this car was recovered from a creek bed!

  • avatar

    “chrysler dumbed down their cars as the 60’s wore on.” Uh……the torsion bar suspesnsion remained, and was known throughout it’s time to be better than ford and GM’s designs. They continued to refine the A body as time went on, and it became a best seller.
    The A body later on could also be had as a low priced musclecar, the 340 version being better than anything ford or Gm offered. For one thing the V8 powered A bodies featured 10 inch brakes, as oppsed to the 9 inchers on GM’s V8 powered novas and such. I could go on……….

    • 0 avatar

      All I meant was that the earlier cars were tuned for handling rather than ride comfort.  And they weren’t terrible handlers by modern standards…nobody would say that about a comparable Galaxie or Impala.  That didn’t sit well with buyers accustomed to the softer (read:  worse) suspensions Ford and Chevy offered, so Chrysler softened the cars up.  The cars still handled better than the competition, but the difference wasn’t as vast as before.  But it helped sales, so…
      Look, I’m not trying to attack your Mopars.  I agree with you, from an engineering standpoint, they’re were better in a lot of ways.  Give me a break.

  • avatar

    About 20 years ago, I was shopping for a “new old car” to replace my ’69 Cutlass ragtop that became impractical do to the arrival of a couple of kids.  My (ex)wife didn’t like cars at all, but I took her to look at the two that were on my short list.
    The first was a really nice ’61 Olds Super 88 4dr hardtop.  The second was a ’59 Edsel Villager station wagon.  I showed her the Edsel first because it insured that she would like the Olds.
    Now that my nice Olds is rotting away in the side yard, it makes me wish that I had gotten the Edsel wagon instead.
    Warning!  Shamless blog plug follows…(well, the Cutlass ragtop is on there, so it’s sorta ok, right?)

  • avatar

    It sure seems that parts like doors and such would be worth more than scrap value.

  • avatar

    If it’s there the next time you’re at that yard, you should grab that horse collar from the grille. That’s worth salvaging.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The problem with the Edsel was:
    1. the insurmountable hype pre-launch
    2. was there really room above Mercury but below Lincoln as Ford tried to imitate the successful GM strategy of Chevy-Pontiac-Olds-Buick-Cadillac?
    3.  Like Farago said so long ago about the Tribeca grill, the vaginal horse collar lemon-sucking ‘face’.  The 59s were better looking; the 1960 model oh-so-rare quick grille/tail light graft on a Ford sedan before they pulled the plug
    4.  The 1958 recession, which hit the mid-level car market hard (of course, hideous ’58 GM designs and questionable Chrysler quality hangover from ’57 didn’t help)
    I don’t blame McNamara – but he was strictly B-school, not a car man.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Edsel wagons in any condition are a rare sight but when your wife buys one for you-that’s Loch Ness monster rare.

  • avatar

    The Edsel was not intended to fill a space in the lineup between Mercury and Lincoln, but rather between Ford and Mercury.

    The Edsel Ranger and Pacer shared Ford bodies.  The Edsel Corsair and Citation shared Mercury bodies.

    I believe that the Edsel wagons (Bermuda and Villager) were all Ford-based rather than Mercury-based.

    Edsel was meant to be Ford’s version of Pontiac rather than Buick.

    • 0 avatar

      One of the problems with the Edsel is that it ultimately filled TWO niches. The Ford-based cars competed with Pontiac and Dodge, but the Mercury-based cars were meant to take on Buick, DeSoto and some Chryslers.

      Edsel thus bracketed Mercury in its model offerings, which left buyers confused. Couple this with the fact that Mercury attempted to move upmarket with the Park Lane, and Ford did the same thing with the Fairlane 500 (and then the Galaxie), and it’s easy to see that potential buyers were confused as to where Edsel fit in the Ford Motor Company’s brand totem pole. 

      The irony is that McNamara’s four-seat Thunderbird easily outsold the Edsel, and was a huge success. And it was sold by FORD dealers under the Ford nameplate, even though asking prices were clearly in the medium-price field. The 1958 Thunderbird, not the Edsel, was the car that ultimately made inroads into GM’s territory.   

  • avatar

    The valiant/dart became the closest amercian product to what mercedes made in those days. They had alot of the same qualities that mercedes had during that era.
    They had a fairly stout structure, low beltline and generous glass area, with an upright driving position, and pretty good handling with decent fuel economy. And they were mechanically overbuilt.

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