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The Edsel at 50

  • Edsel fans Frank Harris (left) and Steve Durham stand among several of their rare beauties. The Edsel celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Pictured are (from top left clockwise) a 1958 Pacer two-door hardtop, a 1959 Corsair two-door hardtop, a 1960 red Ranger two-door convertible and the front grille of a 1959 convertible. - 0
  • The front grille (above), a distinguishing feature, of a 1958 Pacer two-door hardtop that is owned and has been restored by Frank Harris. - 1
  • Edsel enthusiast Steve Durham (below) is so crazy about the Edsel that he has the car's trademark front grille attached to the wall of his shop, where he does all of his restoration. - 2
  • Edsel enthusiast, collector and restorer Steve Durham drives his 1959 convertible along the roads of Orchard Hill, where he and fellow restorer Frank Harris live. - 3
  • The most notable dig at the Edsel came in a Time magazine article that said the Edsel's trademark horse-collar-shaped grille "resembled an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon." - 4
  • The Edsel had a short production life due to a lack of popularity. But for some, the vehicle was far from a failure. - 5
  • Ford introduced the Edsel as a "step-up" car for buyers who wanted something a little fancier than a Ford but not as luxurious as a Lincoln or Mercury. - 6
  • The Edsel fender ornament (left) is on the 1960 Ranger two-door convertible also owned and restored by Harris. - 7
  • The production capacity created for the Edsel was shifted to the smaller, more economic Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet that appealed to more buyers. - 8
  • Only 110,000 were built, far fewer than Ford Motor Co., Edsel's parent, had hoped to sell in that period. - 9
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Considered a failure, vehicle has its fans

By RICK MINTER

The Edsel, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, was a marketing flop in its day, but you'd never guess it by driving through the Quail Hollow subdivision between Griffin and Orchard Hills.

At any one time there are at least a dozen Edsels in garages there, thanks to Frank Harris and Steve Durham, who share a passion for the chrome-laden cars that have become cherished by collectors despite their initial unpopularity with the buying public.

Production ended early into the 1960 model year after just two years and one month on the market. Only 110,000 were built, far fewer than Ford Motor Co., Edsel's parent, had hoped to sell in that period.

The failure is reported to have cost Ford more than $350 million.

Too bad for Ford there weren't more car buyers like Harris and Durham back in the day.

Harris, a machine shop owner and operator, has the larger of the two collections, about 20 in all including a dozen or so parts cars.

His most prized car, a red 1960 convertible that was the first of its kind built that year, has won awards across the nation, including "Grand National" honors in 1994.

He also has a '58 Edsel Pacer street rod with a chopped roof and modern supercharged engine, as well as several others including his daily driver, a sporty 1960 Villager station wagon that is one of 59 produced that year.

Durham, a Griffin dentist, has a top-of-the-line '59 Corsair, a '59 convertible and '59 wagon.

He's a lifelong Edsel lover and is a walking storehouse of production numbers and other Edsel statistics.

"I've always loved them and been fascinated with them, even back in the '60s as a youth," he said. "I did my high school thesis on the Edsel. Got an A-plus on that puppy."

He said his first car, almost, was a 1958 Edsel Villager wagon, but he couldn't afford the additional insurance cost for its V-8 engine. "I was 16 and working in the library for $1.30 an hour," he said. "I could afford the car at $350, but I couldn't afford the $500 for insurance."

Harris grew up a Ford man but became interested in Edsels after helping his father, the late Howard Harris, restore the '60 convertible, serial number 00008, that he now owns.

It was a five-year project, but it turned a car that was once a storehouse for a pair of squirrels into a car listed for sale at $200,000.

Like Durham, Harris strongly disagrees with the criticism that dogged the Edsel in the '50s.

The most notable dig at the Edsel came in a Time magazine article that said the Edsel's trademark horse-collar-shaped grille "resembled an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon."

"It wasn't a flop," Harris said. "It was a beautiful automobile. Everybody that sees an Edsel today says, 'That's beautiful.'

"That's all you hear today, but back then they had all kinds of stupid names for them."

Durham also defends the Edsel, saying its demise was due more to tough economic times in the late '50s than any inherent problems with the car. And, he said, there were problems within Ford as some employees resisted adding a whole new brand to the product line.

Ford introduced the Edsel as a "step-up" car for buyers who wanted something a little fancier than a Ford but not as luxurious as a Lincoln or Mercury.

"It really wasn't a bad car," he said. "The automotive industry was going through a lot of styling changes about that time. The DeSotos, Studebakers and Packards were going away and the Volkswagen was coming on."

In the end, Ford did benefit from the Edsel effort.

The production capacity created for the Edsel was shifted to the smaller, more economic Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet that appealed to more buyers.

"It was time for the smaller vehicles," Harris said. "It was just the wrong time for the Edsel."


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

http://www.ajc.com/ajccars/content/ajccars/content/stories/2008/05/23/caredsel_0524.html

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