On an Edsel, he will blame the car. The average dealer has at least a hundred thousand dollars tied up in his agency, and in large cities the investment is much higher. He must hire salesmen, mechanics, and office help; buy his own tools, technical literature, and signs, the latter costing as much as five thousand dollars a set; and pay the factory spot cash for the cars he receives from it.
The man charged with mobilizing an Edsel sales force along these exacting lines was J. Larry Doyle, who, as general sales-and-marketing manager of the division, ranked second to KrafVe himself. A veteran of forty years with the Ford Company, who had started with it as an office boy in Kansas City and had spent the intervening time mainly selling, Doyle was a maverick in his field. Needless to say, we kept those offices locked and the blinds drawn.
Dealers in every make for miles around wanted to see the car, if only out of curiosity, and that gave us the leverage we needed. We let it be known that we would show the car only to dealers who were really interested in coming with us, and then we sent our regional field managers out to surrounding towns to try to line up the No. Anyway, we set things up so that no one got in to see the Edsel without listening to a complete one-hour pitch on the whole situation by a member of our sales force.
It worked very well. In fact, it missed the goal of twelve hundred by a couple of dozen. In retrospect, it would seem that Doyle could have given lessons to the Pied Piper. Now that the Edsel was no longer the exclusive concern of Dearborn, the Ford Company was irrevocably committed to going ahead.
The matter was attended to with dispatch. In June, too, an Edsel destined to be the star of a television commercial for future release was stealthily transported in a closed van to Hollywood, where, on a locked sound stage patrolled by security guards, it was exposed to the cameras in the admiring presence of a few carefully chosen actors who had sworn that their lips would be sealed from then until Introduction Day.
For this delicate photographic operation the Edsel Division cannily enlisted the services of Cascade Pictures, which also worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, and, as far as is known, there were no unintentional leaks. Within a few weeks, the Edsel Division had eighteen hundred salaried employees and was rapidly filling some fifteen thousand factory jobs in the newly converted plants.
On July 22nd, the first advertisement for the Edsel appeared — in Life. A two-page spread in plain black-and-white, it was impeccably classic and calm, showing a car whooshing down a country highway at such high speed that it was an indistinguishable blur. Whoever wrote the ad cannot have known how truly he spoke. Gayle Warnock, director of public relations, whose duty was not so much to generate public interest in the forthcoming product, there being an abundance of that, as to keep the interest at white heat, and readily convertible into a desire to buy one of the new cars on or after Introduction Day — or, as the company came to call it, Edsel Day.
This was something new to me — I was used to taking what breaks I could get when I could get them — but I soon found out how right Dick was. It was almost too easy to get publicity for the Edsel. Clippings came in by the bushel. Right then I realized the trouble we might be headed for.
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The policy was later violated now and then, purposely or inadvertently. And, for another, Edsels loaded on vans for delivery to dealers were appearing on the highways in ever-increasing numbers, covered fore and aft with canvas flaps that, as if to whet the desire of the motoring public, were forever blowing loose.
Copeland, its assistant general sales manager for advertising, sales promotion, and training. Ranging separately up and down and across the nation, the four orators moved around so fast and so tirelessly that Warnock, lest he lose track of them, took to indicating their whereabouts with colored pins on a map in his office. And well they might have been, for developments in the general economic outlook of the nation were making more sanguine men than KrafVe look puzzled.
In July, , the stock market went into a nose dive, marking the beginning of what is recalled as the recession of Then, early in August, a decline in the sales of medium-priced cars of all makes set in, and the general situation worsened so rapidly that, before the month was out , Automotive News reported that dealers in all makes were ending their season with the second-largest number of unsold new cars in history.
Perhaps the least impressed of all was Judge, who, while doing his bit as an itinerant speaker, specialized in community and civic groups. He wandered restlessly around the auditorium as he spoke, shifting the kaleidoscopic images on the screen at will with the aid of an automatic slide changer — a trick made possible by a crew of electricians who laced the place in advance with a maze of wires linking the device to dozens of floor switches, which, scattered about the hall, responded when he kicked them.
At the last moment, Judge would descend melodramatically on the town by plane, hasten to the hall, and go into his act. Never again will we be associated with anything as gigantic and full of meaning as this particular program.
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Here is a glimpse of the car which will be before the American public on September 4, [at this point, Judge would show a provocative slide of a hubcap or section of fender] It is a different car in every respect, yet it has an element of conservatism which will give it maximum appeal The distinctiveness of the frontal styling integrates with the sculptured patterns of the side treatment This is the Edsel story. It differed from previous automotive jamborees of its kind in that the journalists were invited to bring their wives along — and many of them did. Before it was over, it had cost the Ford Company ninety thousand dollars.
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Thus hobbled, Warnock could do no better for the reporters and their wives when they converged on the Detroit scene on Sunday evening, August 25th, than to put them up at the discouragingly named Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel and to arrange for them to spend Monday afternoon hearing and reading about the long-awaited details of the entire crop of Edsels — eighteen varieties available, in four main lines Corsair, Citation, Pacer, and Ranger , differing mainly in their size, power, and trim. It went over fine.
There was excitement even among the hardened newspapermen. In the afternoon, the reporters were whisked out to the test track to see a team of stunt drivers put the Edsel through its paces. This event, calculated to be thrilling, turned out to be hair-raising, and even, for some, a little unstringing. Edsels ran over two-foot ramps on two wheels, bounced from higher ramps on all four wheels, were driven in crisscross patterns, grazing each other, at sixty or seventy miles per hour, and skidded into complete turns at fifty.
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For comic relief, there was a clown driver parodying the daredevil stuff. All the while, the voice of Neil L. Krafve replied tersely that he would answer when it was over and all hands safe. But everyone else seemed to be having a grand time. It was beautiful. It was like the Rockettes. It was exciting.
Morale was high. The stunt driving, like the unveiling, was considered too rich for the blood of the wives, but the resourceful Warnock was ready for them with a fashion show that he hoped they would find at least equally diverting. He need not have worried.
The star of the show, who was introduced by Brown, the Edsel stylist, as a Paris couturiere, both beautiful and talented, turned out at the final curtain to be a female impersonator — a fact of which Warnock, to heighten the verisimilitude of the act, had given Brown no advance warning. Things were never again quite the same since between Brown and Warnock, but the wives were able to give their husbands an extra paragraph or two for their stories.
The next morning, at a windup press conference held by Ford officials. One guy simply miscalculated and cracked up his car running into something. No fault of the Edsel there. One car lost its oil pan, so naturally the motor froze. It can happen to the best of cars.
Fortunately, at the time of this malfunction the driver was going through a beautiful- sounding town — Paradise, Kansas, I think it was — and that gave the news reports about it a nice little positive touch. The nearest dealer gave the reporter a new Edsel, and he drove on home, climbing Pikes Peak on the way. Then one car crashed through a tollgate when the brakes failed.
That was bad. That was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. One of our reporters was tooling along — no problems — when a Plymouth driver pulled up alongside to rubberneck, and edged so close that the Edsel got sideswiped.
Minor damage. A dealer in Portland, Oregon, reported that he had already sold two Edsels, sight unseen. On E Day, the Edsel arrived. In the ad, Ford looked like a dignified young father, Breech like a dignified gentleman holding a full house against a possible straight, the Edsel just looked like an Edsel. There did not seem to be much room for doubt about the reality of that full house.
Three days later, in North Philadelphia, an Edsel was stolen. It can reasonably be argued that the crime marked the high-water mark of public acceptance of the Edsel; only a few months later, any but the least fastidious of car thieves might not have bothered.
This, in contrast to the wide and horizontal grilles of all nineteen other American makes of the time, was slender and vertical. It was intended to suggest the front end of practically any car of twenty or thirty years ago and of most contemporary European cars, and thus to look at once seasoned and sophisticated.
The trouble was that whereas the front ends of the antiques and the European cars were themselves high and narrow — consisting, indeed, of little more than the radiator grilles — the front end of the Edsel was broad and low, just like the front ends of all its American competitors. Consequently, there were wide areas on either side of the grille that had to be filled in with something, and filled in they were — with twin panels of entirely conventional horizontal chrome grillwork.
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The attempt at sophistication was so transparent as to be endearing. But if the grille of the Edsel appealed through guilelessness, the rear end was another matter. Here, too, there was a marked departure from the conventional design of the day. Instead of the notorious tail fin, the car had what looked to its fanciers like wings and to others, less ethereal-minded, like eyebrows.
The lines of the trunk lid and the rear fenders, swooping upward and outward, did somewhat resemble the wings of a gull in flight, but the resemblance was marred by two long, narrow tail lights, set partly in the trunk lid and partly in the fenders, which followed those lines and created the startling illusion, especially at night, of a slant-eyed grin.
From the front, the Edsel seemed, above all, anxious to please, even at the cost of being clownish; from the rear it looked crafty, Oriental, smug, one-up — maybe a little cynical and contemptuous, too. It was as if, somewhere between grille and rear fenders, a sinister personality change had taken place.
In other respects, the exterior styling of the Edsel was not far out of the ordinary. Its sides were festooned with a bit less than the average amount of chrome, and distinguished by a gouged-out bullet- shaped groove extending forward from the rear fender for about half the length of the car.