09 December 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #15

When I say "random," sometimes it's really random. Today's found car was spotted on a side street in Cambridge between Central Square and Trader Joe's. Normally when we go to TJ's we're driving from home, so we take Memorial Drive. On this particular day I met the Mrs. at her office because it was near the store, and as we drove she turned onto this street by mistake. But when I saw this car I knew instantly what it was, and asked her to pull over because I couldn't pass it up as a subject.
It's an Edsel, Ford's doomed attempt to make its lineup of brands more like that of its main competition, General Motors. For decades GM's lineup of brands was intended to be aspirational: GM hoped that customers who bought Chevrolet as starter cars would then move up through its hierarchy of more prestigious brands (Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, then Cadillac) as their material fortunes improved, since the brand of car one buys was and is an indicator of one's prosperity.

Ford had Mercury and then Lincoln for its buyers to move up to, but they perceived a gap in the market between Ford and Mercury that someone believed needed filling. But when they launched the line in the fall of 1957, the country was in the grip of a significant recession that caused car sales to drop industry-wide, plus the Edsel's styling was—there's no way to sugar-coat it—dreadful. (The entire car industry was going through a difficult period of gaudy, overdone styling; offering yet another bad example was not a prudent course of action.)
This one is a 1959, the second of Edsel's brief, three-model-year existence. The '59s were toned down compared to the previous year, but it was already too late to matter. By the time the 1960 models reached showrooms, with styling that shared the bulk of its sheetmetal with that year's Fords and still managed to look pretty good compared to some of the other cars available that year, the whole brand was DOA. The '60 cars were produced for just over two months, and only 2,846 cars were built.

Now any Edsel is rare and sought-after, a bitter irony in light of how the car was mocked and shunned when new. This car has plates and appears to be driven at least occasionally, and overall it looks far better than one might expect given its age. On the rear side you can see the "Ranger" script  that indicates this would have been the lower of the two model lines offered this year. There were four lines offered in '58, but the car did so poorly so quickly that the offerings were curtailed the following year.)
Early on, some Edsels were built at a Ford plant in Somerville, MA, but it was closed in October 1957. That's how the Assembly Square Mall (and later, shopping center) got its name—it occupies the site of the former plant.

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