Edsel Flop Leads To The Mercury Comet? The Real Story Behind The Ford Failure

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, I really liked your article recently on the Mercury Comets and that it was supposed to be an Edsel compact car. I remember both the Edsel and Comet well as I’m a baby boomer, too. What really went wrong in this situation? Joe L., Chicago, Illinois.
A: Joe, first let’s discuss the Comet a bit more as it was indeed built to be a new compact Edsel when introduced in 1960. However, with continued poor sales at the dealers, the ‘60 Edsel was in its final year resulting in the Comet, although being available at the Lincoln-Mercury dealers, having no official Mercury branding.
If you check the photos I’ve attached from a recent car show in Waverly, N.Y., you’ll see a 1961 Comet sitting with no other identification other than Comet logos. In 1962, Comet became an official member of the Mercury family as sibling to the Ford Falcon. Both Comet and Falcon were successful in the new compact car market, competing against new compacts like Corvair, Chevy II, Plymouth Valiant, and Dodge Lancer.
Unlike Edsel, the Comet was a huge success at the dealerships as more Comets were sold in its first year than all Edsels combined during its three year run. There were also notable Edsel similarities in the Comet, including the rear tailfins and especially the taillight shape in relation to the 1960 Edsel.
As for the Edsel, it was nothing more than gadgets, gimmicks, slick advertising, and new sheet metal on a Ford-Mercury chassis. Thus, the Comet will always be regarded in this column as an innovative new compact car (along with Falcon), while the Edsel was and is a non-innovative, non-inspiring vehicle. And in comparison to the Chevy Corvair, I’d give the edge to the Falcon/Comet as the better of the vehicles in head-to-head comparisons.
Edsel, meanwhile, hoped to sell the American consumer thanks to new-fangled gimmicks, like transmission pushbuttons in the center of the steering wheel and a rotary speedometer. The American consumer, meanwhile, saw right through the ad campaigns for what the Edsel really was.
Still, with so much hype going on about the new Edsel, and even an “Edsel TV Show,” you would have thought something out of this world was about to hit the showrooms. Yet, when it appeared in late 1957 as a 1958 model, it was pretty much a bust from day one. Additionally, introducing a new car during a 1957 recession didn’t help matters either.
Edsel’s design was way out there, with a front end featuring a “scoop nose", “hangman’s noose” or “snorkel” design, take your pick. The front motif offset what I felt was a very nice trunk and rear taillight design and decent interior overall.
Another reason I feel Edsel failed was the name, Edsel. Edsel Ford was the son of Henry Ford, and the name just didn’t have a ring to it like Thunderbird, Continental, Fairlane, or Marauder. There were also many internal disagreements associated with the naming of the new car, and many at Ford headquarters did not want the name on the car.
As for marketing, Edsel was sold initially as a stand-alone Edsel only division, but from the start ended up at the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln dealers. Edsel would then compete for the Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Dodge, Desoto consumer but impacted sibling Mercury more so than the competition.
As sales dropped, Edsel received a front end facelift in ‘59 and rear taillight tweaks resulting in what I consider the best looking Edsel design. Still, the end came in 1960, and when all was said and done, the one thing Edsel achieved from all of this was being labeled as perhaps the worst new car introduction and sales flop in motoring history.
Now, with all this said, when I see an Edsel nowadays at a car show, I’m one of the first to go up and check it out. Thus, the years that pass us so quickly prove that even a horrible flop like the Edsel has its day in the sun, which happens to be right now at collector car shows everywhere.
Some of today’s in-demand Edsels are the station wagons, especially fully loaded Bermudas and Villagers, convertibles, and any two-door hardtops or sedans. However, if not in tip-top shape, Edsel to this day does not command top dollar at the auction sites and may offer an excellent entry point into the collector car hobby. I’ve seen several nice Edsels for less than $7,000 online and in magazines.
The Comets and Falcons from the early 1960s are also noteworthy, as many are available on the open markets and advertised in Hemmings Motor News, Auto Round-Up magazines, and on eBay for less than $5,500. Matter of fact, there’s a nice two-door 1964 Comet on Ebay right now in very good shape for $4,800 “buy it now or best offer.” Check it out.
Thanks for your letter Joe and allowing me to better explain about the Mercury Comet and Edsel.
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