To the uninitiated, Edsel Ford’s claim to fame is two-fold: he was the only child of the man who put the world on wheels, and a car that carried his first name was one of the biggest flops in the history of Ford Motor Company.
But Edsel B. Ford deserves more credit than that. Exhibit A: the 1932 Ford Model 18 “Edsel Ford” Speedster that crossed the block at RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island (Fla.) Auction on Saturday, March 12, 2016. The car, which sold for $770,000, is the first of three one-off custom speedsters that were designed by Bob Gregorie, who worked directly with Edsel on the project.
“The coolest part about this car is that it’s as close to a factory hot rod as any car could possibly be,” said Dave Kinney, publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide. “The bones of it are steeped in history, and its DNA is all Ford.”
Although Edsel Ford was president of FoMoCo for nearly 25 years – from age of 25 until his death at 49 in 1943 – his controlling father had plenty to say about how things were done. The artistic Edsel still managed to influence the styling on a number of cars of the era, particularly Lincolns. And he appreciated – and drove – non-Ford marques that had a bit of flair, cars like Stutz, Bugatti and Hispano-Suiza.
Edsel was responsible for the creation of Ford’s first styling group in 1935, and he chose Gregorie, a former yacht designer, to lead the team. That was hardly a surprise, considering that the two had collaborated on the Model 18 Speedster three years earlier.
Among the Speedster’s styling features: long hood, tapered fenders adapted from Tri-Motor aircraft “wheel pants,” flared grille, slanted hood louvers, handle-less suicide doors, spun aluminum wheel covers over the wire wheels, curved frame side covers and bullet-shaped polished aluminum headlights.
“It’s a beautiful car,” Kinney said. “I think it was incredibly well bought for the history it represents – and there’s still a lot to be discovered about its early history. I hope that it goes on display somewhere so the public can enjoy it. It’s that significant.”
According to RM Sotheby’s, after Edsel Ford and Gregorie began working on a second Speedster, Ford sold the original to Indianapolis mechanic Elmer Benzin, who resold it to a young GM designer who eventually wrecked it. For decades it was widely believed that the Speedster had been scrapped, but it actually ended up in the hands of a Connecticut body man who wasn’t aware of its history. After the man passed away, the Speedster was acquired by RM Sotheby’s consignor, who restored it to look as it originally had. The car carries a period-correct 85-bhp, 221-cid Ford flathead V-8.
This was the first time the Speedster had been offered for public sale. The second version was restored by RM Auto Restoration and is owned by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. The third has never been found.