World's Ugliest Car; ANSWER TO CORRESPONDENTS

Article excerpt

Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION

The Ford Edsel has been described as 'the least successful car of all time'. Why is this?

THE Ford Edsel was conceived in 1954 and production began in September 1957 and ran to November 1959. Only 118,287 were produced, including 18 models offering various chassis lengths, engine sizes, interiors and roof styles. The cheapest cost $2,300 and the most expensive $3,489.

It was called Edsel after Henry Ford's son Edsel Bryant Ford. Upon hearing this, Ford's public relations director was quoted as saying: 'We just lost 200,000 sales.'

The Edsel had innovations such as a 'rolling dome' speedometer and push-button 'teletouch' transmission system on the steering wheel. Seatbelts and child-proof rear door locks, then very rare, were also available.

Car writers were initially impressed.

Popular Science magazine wrote of 'gadgets beyond a gadgeteer's dreams of glory' and the Los Angeles Times reported that 'road handling was excellent under the most difficult conditions'.

But the public hated it: Ford had hit the US market with a large model while General Motors, Chrysler and American Motors had turned to compacts and, in a time of austerity, the car was thirsty.

The Edsel was thought ugly, with its famous vertical grille. Some critics likened it to a cart-horse collar, others to a toilet seat. One magazine famously compared it to female private parts. Once this had been said, who wanted an Edsel? The Edsel became an embarrassment.

Only 63,000 were sold in the first year of production. Ford even offered tokens to Edsel owners so that they could select another Ford model. The car also became a standing joke with comedians, and even Vice President Richard Nixon joined in the mockery. Pelted with eggs while riding in an Edsel in Peru, he quipped: 'They were throwing eggs at the car, not me.' The company lost $350million -- or $2.75billion today -- on the venture.

In 1963, Perry Piper co-founded the Edsel Owners' Club. By 1999 it had more than 2,000 members. In the early years, people would try to sell him their Edsels for $35.

Fewer than 10,000 Edsels survive, and today a 1958 Citation convertible or 1960 Ranger convertible might fetch up to $100,000.

John Dowell, London.

QUESTION

Alexander Woolcott's famous theatre review of Wham! simply read: 'Ouch!' Are there any other succinct reviews of note?

THIS brings to mind a 1951 New York stage production based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. John Van Druten's play, entitled I Am A Camera -- prompted the review 'Me no Leica' from Broadway critic Walter Kerr.

Cy Young, London W10.

INFLUENTIAL New York theatre critic Clive Barnes famously reduced his consideration of a play called The Cupboard to a single word: 'Bare.' Jon Holland, Liverpool. WHEN I lived in Margate in the Sixties, a review in a local paper about a musical called That's Entertainment! read: 'That's Entertainment? No!' I also recall a dreadful performance of The Diary Of Anne Frank by an amateur dramatic company in Thanet. It was so bad that when the Germans arrived at Anne's hiding place, someone in the audience shouted out: 'She's in the attic!' John Harcourt, Gravesend, Kent.

QUESTION

King Charles II had 14 illegitimate children; do any of their descendants have titles?

FURTHER to the earlier answer, two infamously licentious descendants of Charles II were Whig politician Charles James Fox and Dr Samuel Johnson's friend Topham Beauclerk. Both proved that acorns never fell far from the royal oak.

Charles James Fox (1749-1806) inherited his royal forebear's love of debauchery. His mother, Caroline, was the great-granddaughter of the Duke of Richmond, Charles's son by his mistress, Louise de Keroualle. Fox was a man of sensibility who wept openly in Parliament when friends felt compelled to speak against him, who fought a duel with a political opponent, shared mistresses with the Prince of Wales, wrote an essay about flatulence to win a wager and secretly married courtesan Elizabeth Armistead, whom he loved. …