The World's Ugliest Car; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS
Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge
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, and 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 pushbutton 'teletouch' transmission system on the steering wheel. Seatbelts and childproof 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 U.S. 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 $2.75 billion 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 W12.
Q: I live near East Farleigh railway station in Kent whose manned level crossing is, I'm told, one of only two left in the country. If this is true, which is the other?
Graham Cooper, Maidstone, Kent.
Q: Do any airlines still allow their passengers to smoke?
Eric Roberts, London SE9.
Q: I remember a Sixties children's TV programme in which the climax was of someone riding a bicycle down the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. What was it?
Stephen Williams, Dorridge, Solihull.
Alexander Woolcott's famous theatre review of Wham! simply read: 'Ouch!' Are there any other succinct reviews of note?
IN THE Seventies, Charles Shaar Murray, writing in The New Musical Express, reviewed Lee Hazlewood's Poet, Fool Or Bum. He wrote succinctly: 'Bum!' Richard Myers, Dagenham, Essex. 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. …