Cover image for Disaster in Dearborn : the story of the Edsel
Disaster in Dearborn : the story of the Edsel
Bonsall, Thomas E.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Stanford, Calif. : Stanford General Books, 2002.
Physical Description:
230 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TL215.E37 B66 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Few cars in history have grabbed the public's fancy as much as the ill-fated Edsel--the Titanic of automobiles, a marketing disaster whose magnitude has made it a household word. Remarkably, there has never before been a book that tells the whole story--how the Edsel was planned, created, produced, and marketed.
This richly illustrated book is the result of years of research by an award-winning automotive historian with access to the dark reaches of the Ford Motor Company's archives. The author also interviewed most of the original key Edsel design team stylists, who have supplied additional archival material. The result is a unique history of the Edsel program from the initial discussions in the late 1940s, through the first sketches in the mid-1950s, to the last, unlamented 1960 models.
The Edsel story, however, deals with much more than a new brand of car. It was a key component in a deadly serious corporate undertaking at Ford Motor Company following World War II. Ford wanted to remedy years of mismanagement and return the company to parity with General Motors by dramatically expanding Ford's presence in the burgeoning medium-priced field. The Edsel was the most spectacular failure in that effort, but was only one pawn in a complex, high-stakes chess game that was a thoroughgoing disaster from start to finish.
In the case of the Edsel, the failure was the result of almost too many factors to count: poorly conceived marketing, contentious internal corporate politics, bad quality control, and, ultimately, lack of support at the higher reaches of the corporation. The greatest irony of all, though, is that the Edsel--as this book demonstrates in its surprising conclusion--was actually a modest success that deserved continued management support.

Author Notes

Thomas E. Bonsall is the author of More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story (Stanford, 2000, and The Lincoln Motorcar (1981, 1993), winner of both national awards for automotive history writing, the Cugnot Award of the Society of Automotive Historians and the McKean Cup of the Antique Automobile Club of America. His Avanti! (1978, 1994) is the only comprehensive history of the Avanti and Avanti II.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Drawing from Ford Motor Company's Design Center archives and interviews with some of Edsel's design team stylists, Bonsall chronicles the ill-fated car's history, from its first sketches in 1955 to the last 1960 models, "a marketing disaster whose magnitude has made it a household word." Bonsall explains why the Edsel program was begun in the first place and what went wrong, describing the internal politics of the company at the time and where well-entrenched factions vied daily for control; and he offers comprehensive details of the car itself, including the controversial nature of its styling and even the choice of its name. (In 1960 Time magazine called this $250 million flop "a classic case of the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time.") This sumptuously illustrated book will be of particular interest to auto enthusiasts, who will also enjoy Russ Banham's history of the Ford Motor Company, The Ford Century, reviewed in this issue on p.553. George Cohen

Choice Review

The old joke asked, "How do you describe a three-time loser?" The answer: "A pregnant call girl wearing a Vote-for-Nixon button, driving an Edsel." Oh, the poor Edsel--the wrong car at the wrong time with the name nobody wanted. Bonsall's Disaster in Dearborn is a very complete, thoroughly researched history of the Edsel. The first 75 pages present a glimpse of what was going on at the Ford Motor Company and documents what led up to the Edsel. This portion of the book may be hard going for those people casually interested in the Edsel, but Bonsall does a wonderful job of capturing the drama of the events that led up to the introduction of this new Ford model. It's all here--the Whiz kids, market research, internecine corporate shenanigans, and of course, the infamous Horse collar grill (the vertical grill chosen because high end European cars like the Jaguar and the Mercedes-Benz employed such a design). With a number of great black-and-white illustrations accompanying this interesting story, Bonsall has created a winning tribute to an unfortunate loser. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels. C. J. Myers Arcadia University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. v
Introductionp. 1
1 Edsel Ford: The Early Yearsp. 7
2 Edsel Ford: The Final Yearsp. 23
3 Development of the Marketp. 41
4 Prologue to the Edselp. 53
5 Learning Their ABCsp. 63
6 The Plot Thickensp. 77
7 Motivational Researchp. 109
8 The Show Opensp. 119
9 First Tragedy ...p. 135
10 ... Then Farcep. 149
11 Final Act ... and Curtainp. 167
12 Why the Edsel Failedp. 189
Epiloguep. 207
Notesp. 213
Bibliographyp. 223
Indexp. 227