Ah, the Edsel. A historical signpost warning against innovation for the sake of innovating. Of course, that wasn't the only reason for the car's birth. Ford perceived a hole in their offerings and decided to take Lincoln upmarket and offer a new model range as "step-up" cars from Ford. It sounds a little bit like the conundrum they find themselves in now, and why there's a refocusing going on over at Lincoln/Mercury. Ford's inability to develop and bring the car to market quickly also hurt the Edsel.
The economy was on the skids by the time the large, thirsty Edsels debuted with their thumping V8s. Consumers were shifting toward compact models, and Edsel was left holding the bag. Had the division come to market with the Comet they deveoped just before folding up their tent in 1960, it might have been a different story. As it was, the Comet went to Mercury and saw much success. The Edsel cars were filled with promise and unique touches, such as a geared center hub in the steering wheel, holding it stationary as the wheel turned, and an ignition interlock that locks the shifter in park until the key is turned, but it seems what really killed the car, besides the subjective issue of styling, was an overly exuberant pre-launch marketing campaign.
More commentary and a video after the jump.
They don't look so bad now, fifty years on, but they're certainly not posessed of the same grace as their peers. Styling was definitely an issue with consumers, who largely disliked the look. Build quality was poor to begin with, as well. Edsels rolled down the same lines as their Mercury and Ford cousins, but the cars were sufficiently different to cause the line workers confusion, which resulted in improper assembly or pieces being left out completely.
The advertising campaign leading up to the unveiling also led to public disappointment, and provides what's likely the greatest lesson to be learned from the Edsel story. The public had been led to believe that something truly new and revolutionary was coming, yet Edsel ended up just being tarted up Fords and Mercurys with high sticker prices. One must tread carefully when playing with customers expectations. The video serves to illustrate just how different the advertising world is today. This Edsel spot is not only far too long, the pace is way too slow. Then again, they weren't all hopped up on trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup back in the day, they just had to sit through these things at the drive-in before the Creature Double Feature.