Abandoned History: The Life and Times of Edsel, a Ford Alternative by Ford (Part VII)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
abandoned history the life and times of edsel a ford alternative by ford part vii

Thus far in our Abandoned History coverage of Edsel, we’ve made our way through four of the company’s seven models, specifically the ones offered in its introductory year of 1958. Pacer and Citation were sedans that received the immediate ax, while the Roundup and Bermuda were wagon cancellations.

Given the company’s poor sales showing, Ford knew it needed to streamline offerings and cut expenses at Edsel. The three models that made it past the company’s initial year were the Ace of Base Ranger, the upper-mid level Corsair, and the middle-market Villager wagon. By eliminating the cheaper and most expensive models in the company’s lineup, Ford also hoped to better differentiate Edsel from the Ford and Mercury cars upon which they were based. 

It was an uphill battle for Edsel, and of course, we all know how it ended. But for now, we turn to the cheapest car Edsel ever offered (though it was still sort of expensive). Say hello to Ford’s first-ever use of the Ranger nameplate.

Ranger was the entry-level model in the Edsel line, though it was roughly the same size as everything else the company offered. A full-size car, Ranger was based on the same platform as the Fairlane with which it competed, and was similar to a weird one-year offering from Mercury called Medalist. It was all part of a general reshuffling at the lower end of Ford’s two (then three) main brands circa 1958.

For Ford’s part, their cheapest full-size cars were the Custom and Custom 300. 1957 was the first time Ford added numbers after its model names to denote the more upscale models. Above the Custom was the Fairlane, and the upmarket Fairlane 500. Both models were new for 1957, as the base Fairlane took over for the old Customline, and the Fairlane 500 was the successor to the previous Fairlane. 

Fairlane was available with two doors as a hardtop, sedan, and convertible, as well as the Fairlane Skyliner with a retractable roof courtesy of Continental. There was also a two-door Fairlane truck (coupe utility), and a four-door hardtop, sedan, and wagon. A very complete line.

Mercury offered its second generation Monterey as a base offering in 1957, accompanied by the mid-market Montclair. But in 1958 there was a new lesser option, the Medalist. The 1958 Medalist was a revival of a model Mercury previously offered for one year in 1956. 

Initially only a two-door sedan, the 1958 Medalist line expanded to include a two-door hardtop, as well as a four-door sedan and hardtop. The Medalist was cheaper than any other Mercury but more expensive than the established and better regarded Fairlane 500. Oddly, its wheelbase was an inch longer than its Ford counterpart, at 119 inches. Like many Edsels, the Medalist existed only for 1958. History has largely forgotten this car, and it’s difficult to find pictures.

The Ranger shared its 118-inch wheelbase with the Fairlane but was available in fewer body styles: Ranger was limited to sedans and hardtops, with two- and four-doors. The Ranger’s overall length was 213.2 inches, with a width of 78.8 inches in 1958. Weight was low and between 3,700 and 4,000 pounds dependent upon equipment. Given its more extensive overhangs, the Ranger did have some length on its Fairlane sibling, which measured 207 inches. But the Edsel was exactly the same length as Mercury’s Medalist. 

Unlike other Edsel products that forced a single engine upon the consumer, there were options for the Ranger. Base power came from a 223 cubic inch (3.7L) Mileage Maker inline-six. The next step up was the 292 Ford Y-block V8 (4.8L), while the largest engine on offer was the 361 (5.9L) FE V8. 

Off-limits was the larger 410 (6.7L) MEL V8 used in more expensive Edsels like the Corsair and Citation. A manual transmission was standard on Ranger, though the three-speed Cruise-O-Matic was optional. It was shifted on the column as standard, or via the unfortunate Teletouch buttons if a buyer paid quite a bit extra: $231 ($2,392 adj). 

And “paid extra” was something the Ranger buyer would need to get used to, as most features were options at Edsel’s entry-level. Armrests, a rearview mirror, coat hangers, and a cigarette lighter were standard. Feet rested on black rubber squares as the floor mats. 

Unlike other Edsels, the Ranger’s two-tone paint scheme was an optional extra. The heater was also an optional extra for $92 ($952 adj.), and big spenders could have air conditioning for $417 ($4,318 adj.). Other options included seat belts, warning lights for the dash, rear child safety locks, and remote trunk release. 

By now you’re used to the Edsel treatment on the 1958 Fords. The mesh two-tier grille of the Fairlane was swapped for a large central horse collar on the Ranger. It was flanked by two horizontal grilles that wrapped around the front corners, decorated with chromed horizontal slats. Ford reused the Fairlane’s quad headlamps but placed them within ovoid pods that extended out from the fender. 

The split bumper treatment was applied like other Edsels, but the Ranger differed from other models in order to show its basic status: It had almost no stainless steel trim at its front end. The only decoration on the side of the Ranger before the C-pillar was its model name in script. Ranger used much less side trim detail than the Fairlane upon which it was based, which was the opposite of other Edsel models. 

Toward the rear, designers applied the standard Edsel scalloped detailing to the rear door and fender. Said fender was altered from its Fairlane shape, with a flattened horizontal fin instead of a vertical one. The fin led to a reshaped trunk lid that held a set of spear-shaped tail lamps, instead of the large quad ovals of the Fairlane. Fortunately, the Ranger did not opt for the confusing boomerang lamps of the company’s wagon models. 

Ranger’s bumper was largely the same shape as the Fairlane’s but had a slimmer section in the middle that mirrored the thin trunk line. Overall, the Ranger’s lack of exterior detailing and brightwork made it look a bit less jarring than the other Edsel models. Especially so compared to the awkward tailgate treatment on the wagons. 

Inside, the Ranger received the same dashboard layout as the other Edsels, but with a majority of features removed. Spared from cost-cutting were the dials, which were the same as in other Edsel models. Ranger even stayed on brand with its drum-style rotating speedometer. However, along the driver-focused dash, there was a lot of blank space, and blacked-out lights to remind a customer they’d bought the cheapest Edsel. Of course, they’d remember that on their own if they didn’t have a heater in the winter.

Perhaps partially down to its lower pricing and less in-your-face styling, the Ranger was the most successful Edsel model of 1958. In our next installment, we’ll cover Ranger’s pricing and sales, as well as the emergency changes Ford made to it for 1959. For its second year, Ranger would find itself bearing half of the discontinued Pacer’s responsibilities.

[Images: Seller, Seller, Ford]

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4 of 13 comments
  • Dave M. Dave M. on Sep 22, 2022

    I for one appreciate these deep dives into specific models. I find it fascinating. I also now fully understand why Honda et al simplified the model process with their DL-LX-EX-EXL levels. I can't imagine coordinating the assembly of the domestic cars from the 50s and 60s, before mainframes, and I can't imagine the probable drudgery of the design departments to decide which piece of chrome to pull off, which wheel base, etc.

    I understand Ford was chasing the to-that-moment successful GM tier sales strategy, but as we learned sometime later that tier system was rotting from within.

    • See 1 previous
    • Syke Syke on Sep 22, 2022

      You should have seen the car ordering checklists back then. Dad would usually bring the new year's model one home when it came time to order the next year's company car, giving mom a fair bit of say, within reason, of course. (Anything dad ordered had to be an easy move off the used lot the following year, usually meaning Impala 2-door hardtop, smallblock V-8 with two-barrel carburetor, Powerglide, power steering and brakes, and by 1963, air conditioning. And a fair smattering of glitzy options.) Packages? It was definitely ala carte, and the finished order slip would look like some psychological profile testing with all the boxes to check.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Sep 22, 2022

    The Fairlaine is just so much better looking than the Edsel. The Edsel appears like it was designed by a committee, with very little cohesion. Other posters are correct regarding the options lists for domestic cars. Many of the cars manufactured could in today's parlance be considered to be a 'special order'. As I posted previously there was a garage/taxi stand/car lot near Danforth and Midland in Scarboro (east end Toronto) who in the era circa 1972-1976 seems to have had an affinity for Edsels. He would have up to 4 on his lot at any given time. They were then considered to be an 'oddity' and not particularly collectable.

  • Fred Private equity is only concerned with making money. Not in content. The only way to deal with it, is to choose your sites wisely. Even that doesn't work out. Just look at AM/FM radio for a failing business model that is dominated by a few large corporations.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Lots of dynamics here:[list][*]people are creatures of habit, they will stick with one or two web sites, one or two magazines, etc; and will only look at something different if recommended by others[/*][*]Generation Y & Z is not "car crazy" like Baby Boomers. We saw a car as freedom and still do. Today, most youth text or face call, and are focused on their cell phone. Some don't even leave the house with virtual learning[/*][*]New car/truck introductions are passé; COVID knocked a hole in car shows; spectacular vehicle introductions are history.[/*][*]I was in the market for a replacement vehicle, but got scared off by the current used and new prices. I'll wait another 12 to 18 months. By that time, the car I was interested in will be obsolete or no longer available. Therefore, no reason to research till the market calms down. [/*][*]the number of auto related web sites has ballooned in the last 10 to 15 years. However, there are a diminishing number of taps on their servers as the Baby Boomers and Gen X fall off the radar scope. [/*][/list]Based on the above, the whole auto publishing industry (magazine, web sites, catalogs, brochures, etc) is taking a hit. The loss of editors and writers is apparent in all of publishing. This is structural, no way around it.
  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..