I never thought I’d say those words in the title. When I was a kid, Edsels were the perpetual butt of jokes; for some inexplicable reason, we called them “Edsel Dust”. Well, Edsel had just bit the dust, the very same year we arrived in the US in 1960. So Edsel’s grand implosion was still very much on the public’s mind—including kids—at the time, and the Edsel’s very distinctive vertical center grille made them the easiest car to identify. Everybody could identify an Edsel and chuckle with schadenfreude.
My feelings on the 1958 version are rather different: it was an overly gaudy, silly and fussy makeover of the Ford and Mercury bodies that they shared. But that changed significantly with the 1959 Edsel; yes, it mostly shared the ’59 Ford’s body, which itself was something of a recycled ’58 Mercury body, but in the process of making it an Edsel, it got better than the Ford; significantly so. Seeing that “better” is subjective; let’s use “more advanced”. You might still question the toned down “horse collar” grille, but putting that aside for a moment, that front end is the most advanced of the times. And I prefer to call the vertical segment a tribute to Alfa Romeo.
1959 was a key point in the evolution of the cars’ front end, because the headlight, invariably perched high on the ends of the fenders, now suddenly started to migrate down into the lower section of the front end.
Yes, Nashes had low headlights starting in 1955, and Ramblers in 1956, both inspired by Pininfarina’s restyle of the 1952 Nash-Healey. But those were a bit different, and did not find a lot of favors with the American buying public. By 1958, Rambler went retrograde, and put the headlights back up high, on the ends of the fenders.
In 1959, there was a sea change in that, most of all by GM, whose new cars that year all had some version of that new trend, as seen on this Oldsmobile. So aren’t these the most advanced styled American cars of 1959? No, as it turned out. The front ends did have lower headlights, but the flamboyant and exaggerated styling of the ’59 GM cars, with their wild fins, jet pods, and exaggerated other elements—whose sole inspiration was in outdoing the ’57 Chrysler line—was of course a dead end, and one that was seen as such almost instantly. Which of course explains why GM rushed in drastically toned new 1961 models after only two years.
In other words, the ’59 GM cars had no lasting influence; they were stylistic dead ends, the final blowout of 1950s styling trends.
That was very much not the case with the 1959 Edsel, whose influence can be seen on various FoMoCo products for several years; well into the 60s.
Like the 1962 Ford Fairlane’s front end. Minus the Alfa grille, it’s a splendid tribute to the Edsel’s.
Backing up a couple of years, we can see a very similar front end on the 1960 Comet, which was of course conceived to be a compact Edsel.
This is a fiberglass styling concept for the 1960 Edsel Comet, although clearly not the final evolution, which would have looked just looked the actual Comet but with a split grille. What’s interesting about this concept, as well as some earlier ones that were covered here a while back, is that it reflects key point of stylistic divergence from the 1960 Falcon, that was of course the starting point and the underpinnings of the Comet. But stylistically, a new, squared-off design language was unfolding here, one that would prove to be much more durable than the rounded Falcon’s first generation’s approach.
Of course this more rectilinear design language wasn’t all-new; it started in 1957, most significantly with the Skyliner’s retractable hardtop roof, with its slab C-Pillar and set-in back light, the first of what became a highly recurring theme on Ford roofs for..way too long. The 1965 Fairlane was still wearing it proudly, and the Thunderbird made it an integral element of its look—with some evolution—for years beyond that.
As to the other elements in that new Ford boxy look, especially the roof version used on the 1959 Ford and Edsel, one can see it on quite full display in the 1957 Mercury.
But then as we’ve noted before, the 1959 Ford and Edsel quite obviously inherited the ’57-’58 Mercury body (top), with some modifications. Well, since the senior Edsels were already using it in 1958, we can also say that the 1959 is essentially a senior Edsel with a bit of nip and tucking.
There were of course some differences between the ’59 Edsel (top) and ’59 Ford (bottom), other than the rather different front ends (Ford kept the high headlights), rear ends (Ford’s was significantly less clean/modern), and Ford’s “rocket tubes” attached to its sides. All in all, the Edsel was significantly cleaner and advanced.
One more thing: although they shared the basic body structure, there was a key difference: the Edsel’s 120″ wheelbase was two inches longer, which can be seen in the reduced curvature of its rear door cutout. That means that the rear doors don’t interchange, and that there’s some differences in that part of the body. But then bodies are made up of a lot of little pieces, and Detroit figured out a long time ago how to stretch things a few inches one way or another without incurring big tooling costs, like a roof panel. Or windshields and back windows.
Let’s talk about the Edsel’s other end. It’s relatively advanced for 1959 too, lacking any fins or glued-in jet pods and afterburners. This one doesn’t show it to best advantage, but this design is something of a harbinger of things to come, as in the 1960 Corvair. Is that a wee bit of a stretch?
In any case, it’s where cars in the sixties were clearly going, with a simpler, cleaner boxy trunk and tail lights in the vertical area below. The baroque 1950s were left in the Edsel’s dust.
So much for the positives; there’s negatives too. I have always had a hard time with this general vintage of FoMoCo’s designs in one key area: the “shoulders” at the belt line are too big and wide. Great for the elbows of the passengers when tooling along with the windows open, but not so great for the look and proportions overall.
It tends to create the visual impression that the whole greenhouse is a bit too small, and that it’s melting into the lower body. I’ve actually called this Ford’s “two box” designs, because it really is a slightly narrower and of course shorter upper box sitting on a wider and longer lower box.
This is in stark contrast to the 1960 Valiant’s “fuselage” design, where the doors and windows are all in one plane. This was a quantum step forward in design, a true trailblazer. And of course before long all cars emulated it to one degree or another. It’s as groundbreaking as the C3 Audi 100/5000 was, with its completely flush windows and slick aerodynamic body. It would be a long time before Ford got on that bandwagon.
As to the Edsel’s styling influence, it went a lot further afield than on just other FoMoCo products. Thanks the the astute eye of CC’s Jim Cavenaugh, it’s all too obvious that the legendary Alfa Romeo Giulia was quite significantly influenced by the Edsel, both its rear end as well as roof. I had never noticed it before, although I had thought that the Alfa’s roof design was rather unusual for Europe at the time.
As to the front ends, let’s just say that an even smaller vertical center section a la Alfa might have been more palatable. Clearly the Alfa went its own way otherwise in the front.
The irony in all this is that Ford freaked out when it saw the wild new 1959 GM cars, and decided its boxy Ford (and Edsel) were going to be slaughtered by them.
Not so; the boxy 1959 Ford had a great year, adding two percentage point in market share, nipping at Chevrolet’s bat wings.
Ford rushed their Quicksilver concept into production, and it fell on its face: sales crashed by over 35%; market share plunged by 37%. Undoubtedly the new 1960 Falcon played a significant role in that, but the styling of the 1960 big Ford was clearly a factor too; it just didn’t resonate, and was changed for 1961 as much as possible, given tooling budgets. The 1961 – 1964 big Fords were all laggards.
This new styling direction was a dead end. Meanwhile Ford was selling plenty of junior Edsels in the form of Comets and Fairlanes. It’s interesting to speculate how things would have turned out if Ford had just continued to refine and update this body.
Let’s move on from our analysis and take in this car a bit more, to raise your enthusiasm for being its next owner.
Yes, this is the still the 1950s speaking.
The 1956 Packard Predictor, in particular.
If there had been all-new 1957 Packards, the 1958 Edsel would have looked like a copy-cat.
As to its name, that was a travesty to the impeccable taste of Edsel Ford.
Given the three-on-the-tree and otherwise spartan aspects of this low-end Edsel, I assumed it was a six, which was new to the ’59s. It was the 223 CID unit as used in the Fords. Frankly, from in here, there’s not much to distinguish it from a basic Ford Custom or Fairlane. The Ranger six started at 42,684; a Custom 4-door was $2,273; a more comparable Fairlane was $2,410.
This was the best I could do to get a shot of the dash, which was a bit more elaborate than the Ford’s. Not a whole lot, though.
The rear seat is missing. That makes for a handy pass-through to the trunk, though.
The high mounted outside rear view mirror is an oddity, although not unusual back then. Hi!
Now we get to the moment of truth. There was no price given, so I called, naturally. The owner said “$950. But I will take offers!” He came across as a motivated seller. This fine old Edsel could probably be bought for $750 or so. Depends how good of a negotiator you are.
The body has a few blemishes and it does have some rust on the lower front fenders, front doors and rocker panels, but this looks like a classic Oregon car; meaning whatever rust there is is likely fairly superficial. I took a quick peek of the undersides, and confirmed that. But I’m not vouching for anything either.
It needs a new home; sitting out there in the rain on Seventh Avenue is not a long-term proposition.
My last thought: How different would things have turned out if this had been the 1958 Edsel?
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Alfa Romeo Giulia Design Inspiration Discovered JP Cavanaugh