Once derided as a lemon, this 1950s car is now prized and will be on display in Boise

·4 min read

When the Edsel debuted in 1958, critics called out the car for having a front grille that looked like a toilet seat. Time magazine cracked that it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.

Like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, the Edsel got no respect.

Sales of the medium-priced car weren’t all that great, either. Only 63,000 Edsels were sold the first year — half of what Ford had projected.

Despite an ad that appeared in the Idaho Statesman promising that “The Edsel look is here to stay and 1959 cars will prove it!” sales were even more dismal before Ford pulled the plug in 1960.

That was then. Today, fans of the car speak of it in much more reverent tones.

The push-button transmission was designed into the steering column of this late 1950s Ford Edsel model.
The push-button transmission was designed into the steering column of this late 1950s Ford Edsel model.

“It’s a neat car and the ride is just amazing,” said Mick Rieber, who rode in her son Cory’s 1958 Edsel from Dillon, Montana, to Boise on Tuesday. “When the highways are rough and bumpy, they kind of float over the road.”

Thirty-five Edsels from around the country are expected in Boise this weekend for the 52nd-annual Edsel Owners Club Convention. Cars were set to be on display Friday and Saturday at the Red Lion Boise Downtowner, 1800 W. Fairview Ave.

Ford poured more than $250 million into the Edsel, about $2.3 billion in today’s dollars. It was named after Edsel Ford, company founder Henry Ford’s son. It was the first launch of a car brand since Mercury in 1939. About 118,000 Edsels were produced.

Even though only 63,000 Edsels were sold the first year, fewer than half what the company had projected, Ford was confident the tide would turn in 1959, as evidenced by this ad that appeared in the Idaho Statesman. After even more dismal sales the next two years, Ford stopped production in 1960.
Even though only 63,000 Edsels were sold the first year, fewer than half what the company had projected, Ford was confident the tide would turn in 1959, as evidenced by this ad that appeared in the Idaho Statesman. After even more dismal sales the next two years, Ford stopped production in 1960.

The car featured several innovations: a floating speedometer that glows when a pre-set speed is exceeded; a transmission that locks until the ignition key is turned; seats that slant forward to provide shoulder support; and electronic hood and trunk releases.

Eagle resident Dave Sinclair is the sole remaining founder of the Edsel Owners Club. He was 18 and just out of high school in 1967 when the club was founded.

Sinclair had grown up liking the car and tried to talk his dad into buying one but could not convince him. Sinclair ended up buying a four-door 1958 Edsel Citation for $120.

Ray Phipps from Vancouver, Wash., enjoys the time getting reacquainted with fellow Edsel owners at a gathering of the Edsel Owners Club at the Red Lion Boise Downtowner.
Ray Phipps from Vancouver, Wash., enjoys the time getting reacquainted with fellow Edsel owners at a gathering of the Edsel Owners Club at the Red Lion Boise Downtowner.

Now he drives a blue 1959 convertible with a white top.

“It’s a pretty common ‘59 color, but there were only three convertibles that we know of in this color,” Sinclair said. “It’s called Windstream blue, and I’ve had this car 44 years.”

At the end of 1957, there was a huge recession, Sinclair said. Sales of medium-cost cars tanked to about half of what they had been the year before.

“Edsel got the laugh before it was a brand-new make and it wasn’t selling,” Sinclair said. “That medium-price segment was really a tough one to get into in a recession. If it had come out two years earlier or two years later, it would have been OK. It was literally the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time.”

Dave Sinclair, of Eagle, founded the Edsel Owners Club. It’s holding its 52nd-annual convention this week in Boise.
Dave Sinclair, of Eagle, founded the Edsel Owners Club. It’s holding its 52nd-annual convention this week in Boise.

He was looking for a 1955 Chevy in 1986 but didn’t find one that wasn’t trashed. He saw an Edsel advertised in a car-selling magazine and decided to look at it. He fell in love with it and bought it.

That car went away after Smith, who was originally from England and came to the United States with a band, got married and had children. Five years ago, he found another Edsel at his mechanic’s business and bought it.

The car came with a 410-cubic-inch engine and an electronic transmission with push buttons for shifting located on the center of the steering wheel. The front seat on the passenger side is wider than the driver’s seat, to allow passengers to get in more easily from the right side.

“They’re big engines that idle nicely,” Smith said. “It’s mated to a two-speed gearbox that kind of zooms away, and then you hear the second gear change, and you’re just cruising. You can do 70 to 80 miles an hour comfortably for hours.”

This is the club’s first gathering in Boise. Two years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 convention, members met in Wisconsin.

Smith, who paints sets for Hollywood television shows, worked to shine up his rims Wednesday afternoon while a group of other Edsel owners went on a tour of the old Idaho State Penitentiary.

Judging takes place at 9 a.m. Thursday. Cars will be on display then and at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, an hour before an “Edselcade” takes off for a visit to the Yanke Motor Museum, 1090 Boeing St.

“If I clean it up, I might be in the running for a prize,” he said. “They have some trophies and got one in the past and I’d like another one.”

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