By 1959 America had lost her confidence; the economy nose-dived, Russia was first in space, there were race riots in Little Rock, and Ford was counting the cost of its disastrous Edsel project—close to 400 million dollars. “The Edsel look is here to stay” brayed the ads, but the bold new vertical grille had become a countrywide joke. Sales didn’t just die, they never took off, and those who had been rash enough to buy hid their chromium follies in suburban garages.
Eisenhower’s mantra of materialism was over, and buyers wanted to know more about economical compacts like the Nash Rambler, Studebaker Lark, and novel VW Beetle. Throw in a confusing 18 model lineup, poor build quality, and disenchanted dealers, and “The Newest Thing on Wheels” never stood a chance. Now famous as a powerful symbol of failure, the Edsel stands as a telling memorial to the foolishness of consumer culture in Fifties America.
A REHASHED FORD
By 1959, the Corsair had become just a restyled Ranger, based on the Ford Fairlane. Corsairs had bigger motors and more standard equipment. But even a sticker price of $3,000 for the convertible didn’t help sales, which were a miserable model year total of 45,000. Ford was desperate and tried to sell it as “A new kind of car that makes sense.”
77 percent of all 1959 Edsels were powered by V8s.
The hooded chrome door mirror was remote-controlled, an extremely rare aftermarket option.
Corsair Convertibles are the rarest ’59 Edsels, with only 1,343 leaving the Louisville plant.
The dominating chrome and white sweepspear that runs the entire length of the car makes the rear deck look heavy.
Red was one of 17 possible exterior colors.
Color-coded wheel covers cost $16.
Ford’s Edsel arrived in 1957 on the back of intense TV and magazine coverage. But by the time it hit the showrooms, the market had done a volte-face and wanted more than just empty chromium rhetoric.
Weighing in at a considerable 3,790 lb (1,719 kg) the convertible was heavier than the sedan.
INSIDE THE EDSEL
The dashboard was cleaned up for 1959 and the unreliable Teletouch transmission deleted in favor of a Mile-O-Matic two-speed with column shift. The eight-tube push-button radio was available for $64.95.
TOILET SEAT STYLING
Roy Brown, the Edsel’s designer, claimed that “The front theme of our newest car combines nostalgia with modern vertical thrust.” Other pundits were not so positive and compared it to a horse collar, a man sucking a lemon, or even a toilet seat.
Ford had canvassed public opinion on a new design with which to challenge GM’s dominance as far back as 1954 and named the new project the E (“experimental”) Car. By the time it appeared, it was a ridiculous leviathan.
The substantial steel girder chassis incorporated full-length side rails and five cross-members. It was hauled along by either an Edsel Express 332cid V8 producing 225 bhp or a Super Express 361cid V8 developing 303 bhp.
Ball joint front suspension.
“Guardrail” frame design with full-length side rails.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Edsel Corsair Convertible (1959)
PRODUCTION 1,343 (1959)
BODY STYLE Four-seater coupe.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and chassis.
ENGINES 332cid, 361cid V8s.
POWER OUTPUT 225–303 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed manual with optional overdrive, optional two- or threespeed Mile-O Matic automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: independent with coil springs; Rear: leaf springs with live axle.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 95–105 mph (153–169 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 11–16 sec
A.F.C. 15 mpg (5.3 km/l)