While today we usually just call them all Edsels, when it debuted in 1958 Edsel was actually a full vehicle lineup, sporting both “Senior” and “Junior” models, each with a variety of model names. The recently launched Lincoln Corsair (a name previously used by Edsel) got me thinking about the fates of the other Edsel model names. How many went on to have second lives, and how many (like the Edsel name itself) have faded into ignominy?
When Edsel launched in 1958, the two senior models (both based on Mercurys) were the previously mentioned Corsair and the Citation. The Citation was the range-topping model of the Edsel lineup, with some extra gingerbread to distinguish it from the (slightly) lesser Corsair.
Citation, as we all know, went on to be used by General Motors in 1980 for Chevrolet’s ill-fated version of GM X-Car. I’m not exactly sure how Chevrolet ended up using this name – perhaps Ford didn’t maintain their trademarks on the Edsel models, under the assumption that no one would be foolish to reuse a tarnished Edsel model name.
In any case, this is advice that GM probably should have heeded, as the Chevy Citation would go on to become arguably one of GM’s deadliest sins, with poor quality, many recalls, and rear brakes that could famously lock up early, causing the car to lose control. As much as anything, the Chevy Citation was responsible for driving buyers by the millions into the arms of Honda, Toyota, and Nissan.
As an aside, while the Citation name may have been affixed to two of the largest automotive flops of all time, the Cessna Citation series of private jets is the world’s most successful series of business jets, with over 7,000 produced since 1972, and is still being produced today.
I’m starting to sense a pattern here. The Pacer was one of the two junior Ford-based Edsel models introduced in the lineup in 1958.
While Edsel would drop the Pacer for 1959, the Pacer name would go on to be (in)famously reused by American Motors in 1975 for their revolutionary new-ish compact car. There were some interesting modern touches (such as the rain gutter-less, airplane style doors), an isolated front subframe suspension and one of the first uses of rack and pinion steering in an American car. The passenger door was also four inches longer than the driver’s door to ease ingress, a proto Hyundai Veloster, if you will. The diminutive engine compartment was originally intended to house a compact rotary engine being jointly developed with GM, which would have been revolutionary, had GM not killed it.
Alas, all this was not enough to save the Pacer. While the elevator pitch was noble (big compact car with small car economy), the reality was closer to the opposite: The space of a small car with the fuel economy of a large car. And let’s not forget that the styling, while daring, was way out of step with the Brougham era into which the Pacer launched.
The Ranger was the other Ford-based junior Edsel model launched in 1958. Ranger (along with Villager) was the only Edsel name to be used on all three model years of Edsel, up to the bitter end in 1960.
Unlike the Citation and Pacer names above, Ford decided to reuse this name itself. Initially, Ranger was the name of a fancy option package for the F-100 pickup, introduced in 1965 (just a scant 5 years after Edsel closed up shop, giving it the shortest “rest” period for any Edsel name). The Ranger included such niceties as bucket seats, carpeting, and an available center console).
The rehabilitation of the Ranger name continued with the introduction of the fifth-generation F-100 in 1967, with Ranger officially becoming the top level trim line. In 1970, a Ranger XLT trim was added above the Ranger model. The Ranger brand extension continued into the 1970s, with an even higher Ranger Lariat trim being added in 1978. In 1982, the Ranger name was yanked from Ford’s full-sized truck to be used on the compact Ranger pickup (A truck that seems to have never gotten a full CC treatment). Introduced in 1982 as a 1983 model, the Ranger name was used for several iterations before being retired in 2012.
A new mid-sized pickup bearing the Ranger name was introduced by Ford in 2019, giving Ranger the longest and most successful second life of any of the Edsel model names.
Villager was the name applied to the lower trim four-door Edsel wagon. Fun fact: The Edsel Villager was originally intended to be called the Edsel Caravan, a name that obviously went on to great success with as a Dodge minivan.
The Villager name would go on to be used by Mercury’s version of the joint-venture Nissan/Ford VX54 minivan, produced in Avon Lake, Ohio from 1993 to 2002. While not an outright failure like the Citation or Pacer reincarnations, the Mercury Villager was never a strong seller, despite benefitting from a powertrain lifted from a Maxima, ads featuring Jill Wagner, and a curious naval-themed Nautica trim. The biggest knocks against the Mercury Villager was the high price relative to its smallish size, non-removable third-row seats, and for being late in implementing dual sliding doors.
We now enter the realm of what I call the “Edsel names in waiting.” These are the Edsel model names that have not been reused and are still waiting to find their forever home.
The 1958-only Roundup was Edsel’s two-door wagon (recall that the modern four-door wagon was just starting to become a thing in the late 1950’s) and served as their entry-level wagon. With only 963 sold, the Roundup also represents the rarest Edsel model.
Given that the Roundup name is now closely associated with herbicide, I consider Roundup to be the Edsel name least likely to ever get a second life on another car.
Bermuda was the top-of-the-line Edsel wagon in 1958. The Bermuda and Roundup were both dropped in 1959, leaving the Villager as the sole wagon in Edsel’s lineup for 1959 and 1960.
While Willys briefly used the Bermuda name in 1955 for the hardtop version of their Aero sedan, the Bermuda name has never been applied to another vehicle since Edsel, which is a shame because it is a great name. Bermuda is rich in imagery, conjuring up pictures of tropical islands, loud plaid shorts, and plane eating triangles.
Lastly, what about the Edsel name itself? I quick search of the USPTO web site reveals that for other than a few specialized uses, most of the Edsel trademarks have lapsed. This technically means that anyone could conceivably use the Edsel name on their own vehicle in the future. However, the reality is that after 60 years, Edsel is still synonymous with “failure” even among people with even no automotive knowledge. Indeed, other than a few obscure rock bands, I was unable to find any non-automotive uses of the the Edsel name, that’s how badly Ford damaged this name. We are unlikely to ever see this name affixed to another automobile.