Edsel, Synonym for Failure, Now a Pricey Collectors' Item

One of the greatest marketing blunders in modern history, the Edsel automobile, nevertheless maintains a steady band of loyalists today.

"It's different; it's a loser," says Roland Houde, of Andover, Mass., who owns five. Why does he collect them? "It has a little more character" than other historic cars, he explains.

The two-ton behemoth was Ford's answer to a question nobody asked. The company wanted a mid-priced brand to give its customers a car to "trade up" to other than General Motors and Chrysler products.

The Edsel was named - against the persistent advice of Ford's marketing consultants - after the only son of the company's founder. It was a product of the American tail fin era and came complete with lots of chrome and high-tech gadgets, such as a push-button transmission and parking brake.

After months of unsurpassed hype, it was launched in September 1957, on the leading edge of a recession, just as more Americans turned to smaller, more economical - and often foreign - cars. Early models were full of bugs, saddling the cars with a reputation as lemons. Production continued only three years for a total of 110,000 cars.

Today, 170 belong to Hugh Lesley of Oxford, Pa. He liked them when they were new, he says. Now he's saving them for posterity. "People gave them to me in the '60s when they were in disgrace," he says.

Now he has all but one of the 35 models produced, housed in five buildings on his farm. Four are for show. Ten or 12 he drives. About half are just for parts.

Two Edsel clubs hold annual meets: the Edsel Owners Club will gather in Tulsa, Okla., on Aug. 1-3 this year, and the International Edsel Club meets in Janesville, Wis., Aug. 8-11. Each draws about 100 cars and 300 fans. Many owners are members of both clubs.

Show-quality Edsel convertibles, such as one of Mr. Houde's, can fetch nearly $50,000 today, while most run-of-the-mill models sell for between $1,500 and $2,500. Others, such as the 80 or so parts cars on Mr. Lesley's farm, may go for $25 a ton.

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