Happy Birthday, Edsel It Was on the Market Just Three Years, but the Legend Lives On
John M. McGuire Of The Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
THE EDSEL - probably the most maligned four-wheeled creation in history - was born 40 years ago, an automotive mutant at birth, but one that left its imprint on the St. Louis area.
Of the 110,810 made in three model years, it's estimated that about 5 ,000 Edsels are still out there, alive and mostly well.
So look around, you just might see Joseph Monte of Washington, Mo., zipping by in his 1958 four-door Pacer hardtop or his '59 Ranger sedan. Or Dan Coughlin in his snow white and gold 1958 Citation convertible. And there's Juan Monzon of University City - president of the Gateway Edsel Club - polishing his '58 Pacer, snow white and meridian blue.
Monzon also has a '58 six-passenger Villager station wagon, but it's currently in sick bay, not roadworthy, he said. Coughlin and Monte are amoung the 16 or so members of the local club, which was reborn in 1989.
The original local club, born in 1971, disbanded after its founder, Bernard Ball, moved on to other things. But Ball's interest in the car fol lowed a classic pattern for Edselphiles.
In 1963 - just three years after the Edsel's last model year - Ball went to a junkyard looking for a second car, beauty no object. There was an Edsel in running order. It cost $175. Before he knew it, he had 10 E dsels. Junkyards are still good Edsel hunting grounds.
Next summer, in the second week of August, St. Louis will be the center of the Edsel universe when the International Edsel Club holds its annual convention here at the Holiday Inn-West Port. Monzon expects an invasion of at least 100 Edsels.
"Can you imagine cars with no air conditioning and vinyl seats coming to St. Louis in the second week of August?" Monzon chuckled. Though Monzon, 37, was born after the Edsel's untimely death, that hasn't damp ened his passion for these curious machines.
"I was born in May 1961. But I've always been a car buff. And I always thought Edsels were neat and underrated," Monzon said. "I think they're fascinating cars (most people look at them and laugh), but they weren't any worse than any other Ford product."
The Ford Motor Co. stopped making the Edsel on Nov. 29, 1959, and only 2,840 cars were made that year. Monzon, who works at Allied Gear and Machine Co., a printing press firm, sighed: "They came out in a recession year and they had no tail fins, in an era when tail fins were big. It was just kind of an all-around marketing error.
"They were right on target. But the target moved."
Monzon, like most Edsel-club owners, is not averse to telling a joke at the auto's expense. "Some people thought the tail light on the '58 models looked like an ingrown toenail."
Then there's the enduring Edsel story out of Oklahoma, about the man who tried to sell his '58 Corsair. Monzon tells it like this:
"He ran an ad offering it for $1,000. No response. So he dropped the price to $100. Still no calls. Finally, he offered it to anyone who went to a certain street corner and picked it up - with all the necessary papers inside.
"When he went to look, not only was his car still there, but there were two other Edsels parked alongside."
So these cars - with grilles shaped like the mouths of a feeding carp - are hard or impossible to miss. Actually, the carp simile is a new one. Usually, Edsel grilles are likened to a horse collar or this long-standing Edsel joke: "The grille looks like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon."
Not only are their features distinctive, but many of the color schemes would be right at home on the walls of a brothel. President's red and chalk pink and jetstream blue.
So an Edsel is a can't-miss sighting. But that's about the only can't-miss thing about them.
Just ask veteran car dealer Johnny Londoff Sr., the Florissant Chevrolet-Geo dealer. Londoff's a pioneering Edsel man, and it's an ordeal he'll never forget. …