Final Parking Space: 1958 Edsel Citation 4-Door Hardtop

Murilee Martin

We’ve looked at a couple of controversial General Motors classics in this series so far (the Chevrolet Corvair and the Pontiac Fiero) but just a single Ford product that stirs up heated debate among enthusiasts (the Mustang II). Today we’re going to restore GM/Ford balance by taking a look at a discarded example of the most polarizing Ford Motor Company product ever built: the Edsel!

Murilee Martin

The Edsel brand was created after exhaustive market research and consultation with focus groups, with plenty of futuristic statistical analysis and—more significantly—office politics stirring the pot. Sadly, the car itself didn’t get put in front of consumer focus groups before its unveiling.

Murilee Martin

The general idea was that Dearborn needed a mid-priced brand to squeeze in between aspirational Mercury and wealth-flaunting Lincoln, in order for Ford to better compete with GM and its “Ladder of Success” model (in which a customer would get a Chevrolet as his first car, then climb the rungs of increasingly prestigious Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac as he became more successful).

Murilee Martin

After much heated debate, the new brand was named after Henry Ford’s eldest son. Edsel Ford was a creative visionary with good business sense who spent his life butting heads with his stubborn old man and died young while fighting to save the company from Henry the First’s obsession with building ever-cheaper Model Ts forever.

Murilee Martin

As we all know, the Edsel Division flopped hard. After much pre-launch hype before the “E-Day” launch in September of 1957, the seven Edsel models went on sale as 1958 models. The final Edsels were built as 1960 models.

Murilee Martin

Sales for the ’58s were solid at first, though the radical styling put off some potential buyers. A bigger problem was the fact that Edsel pricing had the new division competing directly against Mercury, whose Montclair and Monterey shared their platform with the Edsel Corsair and Citation. Meanwhile, the cheaper Edsel Ranger’s price tag was uncomfortably similar to that of the Ford Fairlane 500. To make matters worse, the very cheapest 1958 Lincoln was still priced well above the most expensive Edsel.

Murilee Martin

Then, wouldn’t you know, the Eisenhower Recession hit new-car sales hard in 1958 and 1959. American car shoppers began paying increasingly strong attention to list prices and fuel economy, and the flashy, thirsty Edsels sat on dealership lots while American Motors cashed in with Rambler sales and Volkswagen of America moved more Beetles than ever before. Even Renault prospered here with the Dauphine for a couple of years.

Murilee Martin

The Edsel Division got merged into Lincoln-Mercury (there was never any such thing as a “Ford Edsel”) while resources were poured into the compact car that became the 1960 Ford Falcon. Robert McNamara, future architect of the Vietnam War, became president of Ford in 1960, and Edsel zealots enthusiasts often cast him as the villain who killed the Edsel in favor of the Falcon.

Murilee Martin

Who or what really killed Edsel? It’s hard to get angry about the Falcon, which was a stunning sales success in its own right and whose chassis design underpinned everything from the 1964–73 Mustang to the 1980 Granada. The recession? Changing consumer tastes? Communist agents? In any case, I’m glad that I was able to find this first-year Citation to write about.

Murilee Martin

Look, it even has a Continental kit! I found this car at Colorado Auto & Parts, just south of Denver. It’s got more than 100 Detroit vehicles from the ’40s through the ’70s in its inventory right now, including another 1958 Edsel Citation.

Murilee Martin

The engine is a 410-cubic-inch MEL V-8, rated at 345 gross horsepower.

Murilee Martin

The base transmission was a column-shift three-speed manual, but this car has the optional automatic with pushbutton shifter on the steering wheel hub.

Murilee Martin

The Citation was at the top of the Edsel pyramid for 1958, so most buyers wouldn’t have tolerated a lowly manual transmission in one.

Read next Up next: Carini: When Modern Cars Made Me Eat My Words


    An Edsel ! That 4- door hardtop was a beautiful model which , back in 1958 would have been my choice . The new Edsel arrived at a bad economic time : ( recession of 1957 -’58 .) Sales started out good , but by 1959 diminished to a point where it was no longer profitable to continue production . Soon after the ’60 models were released in late ’59 , Ford decided to end production of the ill fated Edsel after only three short years ! Today , you rarely see one , with the exception of vintage autoshows . Some remaining Edsels have been beautifully restored and are prized treasures ! Happy Motoring .

    I’d always heard the Edsel was pretty much DOA, due to McNamara’s absolute loathing of virtually every aspect of the project. It is even said that at the Edsel’s introduction, he made the ‘deliberate mistake’ of admitting to a reporter there would be no further investment in the already doomed brand. The astounding speed at which an entire car division was reduced to a single model (that was a standard Ford defaced by an ugly grille and rear end) bears this out.

    I remember those as unattractive front ends when new, and a fair amount of public derision. Somebody really doubled down on that one with the Continental kit hanging off its rearend. Nevertheless, seeing old cars in junkyards is equal parts sadness and appreciation for me.
    Couldn’t help but notice the blue Falcon on the left in one photo…an A-frame…

    Calling it the “Eisenhower Recession” is just another example of how a president is blamed for every problem during his administration — regardless of his culpability. A more accurate term for the downturn, in my opinion, is “the inventible economic contraction exacerbated by the post-Sputnik crisis in faith for all American institutions”, which admittedly is a bit cumbersome.

    As for McNamara, I have little but contempt– especially for all the crocodile tears he shed late in his life about the Vietnam tragedy he was instrumental in creating. If only he had been as decisive in ending the war as he was with killing the Edsel — especially since he knew they were both lost causes from the beginning.

    So many parts on the one in the pictures, so it’s a treasure trove at least for restorers, or a ‘project’ for the truly manic car guy!

    I love these stories. It would be interesting to find how a car worthy of a continental kit ended up in this condition 🤔.
    The Olds convertible next to it looks to be in pretty decent shape.

    Mags56, that’s exactly what I was thinking – someone stole the hood, but otherwise it looks in pretty good shape – no rust around the fender skirts, either! Be a GREAT candidate for a restoration.

    Not much of a Ford fan myself, but one can still appreciate how much effort a manufacturer in those days went into styling and trim details. The front and rear bumpers, the C-pillar trim, the dash and radio are pretty cool. But for the grille and headlights (which seem plain and overlooked), it is not a bad-looking car. Too bad the quarters are shot.

    As Mags56 noticed, the Olds next door is pretty cool. That’s a yard I wouldn’t mind taking a stroll through.

    If Steve McQueen had sat in this Edsel, I wonder how much the guy that paid 100,000 for that Firebird would have offered?

    The year was late 1960. I had just graduated from college and was looking for a different car within my budget. A friend had a 1958 Edsel Ranger 2 Dr. Sedan with a stick and I had been acquainted with the car for some time. I enjoyed having unusual vehicles and went looking for an Edsel, as production had ceased and used car prices were soft.

    I found a used 1958 Citation 2 Dr. Hardtop with about 28K miles for $ 900 and bought it. It served me well for about 5 years and 70K miles. It still looked good and ran well when sold. I enjoyed owning the car, it was very roomy, and I never met another like it.

    Many owners had issues with the Teletouch push button transmission but, I suspect that a lot of the problems were a result of dealer techs not understanding how to diagnose those issues. I had a relay in the transmission system fail one evening but was easily able to work around the failure until a replacement relay could be obtained. Overall, my Teletouch was very reliable and the buttons were very convenient in the center of the steering wheel.

    As an aside, the two top 1958 series, Corsair and Citation, were never offered with a manual transmission as they were based on the Mercury body and chassis and had the big block engine. The lower series, Ranger and Pacer, were based on the Ford body and chassis and could be ordered with a manual transmission.

    Another very unique feature was the heater control. It had a rotating dial on the dash which, when turned, would activate a servo motor that pushed and pulled on the various cables to open and close control doors for the heater ducting system – quite clever!!

    While still owning the Edsel, I discovered Mini-Coopers and have had mostly smaller, handling oriented cars since.

    I owned a ‘59 Edsel Corsair two door hardtop. It was like turning a mine sweeper when going around corners, not especially good gas mileage, the horn didn’t work but otherwise a great, goofy looking vehicle. Had it for many years.

    First saw an Edsel at the Auto show in Milwaukee. Not impressed, thought the lines were broken up and the fish mouth was plain ugly. It was a gussied up Ford that didn’t work. Walked away and fell in love with a 58 Chevy convertible. Still love the looks of the Chevy. More than any of the tri-fives.

    Why don’t you do an article on the Pontiac Solstice? Many would argue that and the GXP version (and Saturn Sky) were the prettiest and best handling 2-seater Pontiacs ever made! There are still plenty to be had on the used market in excellent condition.

    When in high school my best friend’s father worked for Fords as a designer and was the one who designed the “horse collar ” grill for the Edsel. He said it would be the biggest seller for Ford because of the radical design.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *