On Sept. 4, 1957, the Ford Motor Company debuted the new Edsel, with the expectation of attracting the public. But the company ended up selling the car by giving away ponies or $200 cash.
Ford only sold less than one third of its goal. The ones that hit the road suffered from numerous defects.
Ford’s PR department came up with a solution – every Edsel dealer would hold a drawing to give away a pony, or test-drivers could take $200 in cash. The idea appealed to many test drivers, and most of the winners opted for $200 in cash, leaving Ford with a surplus of ponies. The company finally killed the brand in the third year.
It really wasn’t that bad a car. True, the car was kind of homely, fuel thirsty and too expensive, particularly at the outset of the late ’50s recession. But what else? It was the first victim of Madison Avenue hyper-hype. Ford’s marketing mavens had led the public to expect some plutonium-powered, pancake-making wondercar; what they got was a Mercury. Cultural critics speculated that the car was a flop because the vertical grill looked like a vagina. Maybe. America in the ’50s was certainly phobic about the female business. How did the Edsel come to be synonymous with failure? All of the above, consolidated into an irrational groupthink and pressurized by a joyously catty media. Interestingly, it was Ford President Robert McNamara who convinced the board to bail out of the Edsel project; a decade later, it was McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, who couldn’t bring himself to quit the disaster of Vietnam, even though he knew a lemon when he saw one.
Tony and Michele Hamer, “The Edsel – A Legacy of Failure”, About.com Classic Cars
MIRS, September 6, 2013.