The Life and Times of Edsel, a Ford Alternative by Ford (Part IX)

We return to our Edsel coverage today during the second model year of the company’s entry-level car, the Ranger. When it debuted among the other six Edsel models in 1958, it was the least expensive and least decorated of them all. However, it was still more expensive than the better-looking Fairlane 500 on which it was based, and in fact is similar in price to a more upmarket Mercury, the Medalist.

Although it was the best-selling Edsel of 1958, it was criticized for its styling (much like the rest of the line). Ford listened to feedback and made styling changes for 1959 that toned down the Ranger’s appearance a bit. The ’59 Ranger also got an extended wheelbase, which it shared with the more expensive Edsel Corsair. With its new platform and partially new sheet metal, how would the Ranger fare in 1959?

Despite poor first-year sales, Ford raised the price of the Ranger significantly for 1959. Remember that in 1958 base pillar models were asking $2,484 ($25,723 adj.), while hardtops started at $2,643 ($27,369 adj.). The following year, the base four-door sedan was $2,685 (adj. $27,421), while the four-door hardtop was $2,760 (adj. $28,187). Pricing for the coupe was even higher, with the two-door hardtop at $2,690 ($27,472 adj.).

In comparison, the 1959 Fairlane did not increase in price, remaining between $2,360 and $2,600 ($24,102 to $26,553 adj.), making most versions cheaper than the Ranger. The short-lived Mercury Medalist was replaced by the more upscale Monterey in 1959 with a completely new style. It was only slightly more expensive than the Ranger, asking between $2,770 and $3,150 ($28,289 to $32,170 adj.), but the higher figure was for the luxury convertible.

Changes to the Ranger for 1959 must be seen in the context of the major changes that occurred that year at the Edsel. With its new, slimmer lineup of just three cars, the Ranger was expected to attract buyers who would have already purchased the more expensive Pacer. Also, the 63,110 sales the company handled in 1958 was a pretty disastrous result, and that too had to be changed.

Unfortunately, the Edsel’s popularity declined from its lowest year of 44,891 in 1959. However, the changes to the Ranger were certainly successful as it sold much better than in 1958. Over 67% of the Edsels sold in 1959 were Rangers. . Again, the cheapest body is the most popular: the four-door sedan almost doubles its sales, selling 14,063 units (7,414 in 1958). The only other model to increase sales was the two-door sedan, which found 7,778 customers compared to 4,615 the year before.

The two remaining body styles both lost sales in 1959. The two-door hardtop was previously the second best-selling Ranger with 6,005 sales, but sold 5,966 in 1959. Finally, the expensive four-door hardtop was no one’s favorite. The slow 1958 sales figure of 3,667 fell to 2,451 in 1959.

However the math was done, the Ranger was once again a big miss against its brother the Fairlane. Ford sold 178,800 Fairlanes in 1959, with older styling and in its final model year. Once again, Edsel executives had to take drastic measures!

Through the prism of history, the drastic action taken by Ford seemed the most obvious course. For 1960, the Ranger was new again. This time it was much more closely associated with the success of the Fairlane, which entered its third generation in 1960.

The Ranger was absent from any association with the mid-range Corsair in 1960 when it was cancelled. This meant that in 1960 the Ranger went to dealers as the only Edsel sedan model. The only other Edsel in 1960 was the mid-level Villager wagon. The Ranger would have to scoop up the sales of all the ill-fated Edsel sedans of yesteryear.

On the Ford side of the house, the success of the Fairlane meant that its range had to be expanded. From 1960, the Fairlane took over from the Custom 300 line, while the Fairlane 500 was relegated to a mid-level offering. Newly available as Ford’s full-size flagship, the Galaxie.

The Galaxie appeared in 1959 as an exclusive version of the Fairlane 500 as Ford prepared to revamp the range. The 500 Galaxie was officially introduced in late 1958 and appeared in dealerships during the 1959 model year. It became its own model in 1960 and was a little less flashy than the chrome and gingerbread look of ’59.

Although the Ranger, Fairlane, and Galaxie were all on the same chassis, for some reason of product differentiation, the Ranger had an extra inch of wheelbase over its siblings: 120 inches against their 119 inches. The Edsel also used a slightly longer body, which stretched 216 inches compared to the Ford’s 213.7 inches. More bizarrely, Ford’s models were 81.5 inches wide, while the Ranger was 79.8 inches wide.

One win for the new Ranger was an increase in available body types. With the exception of one wagon, the Ranger benefited from the Galaxy’s body selection. The Ranger was offered with two doors in sedan, hardtop and convertible, and with four doors in standard sedan or hardtop.

Normally the comparisons would stop there, but Ford offered another competing option from its Mercury division in 1960. The larger Monterey, introduced in 1959, continued into 1960 and was priced about the same as the Ranger. It rode on a longer wheelbase of 126 inches and covered 219.2 inches in 1960 with its revised styling (three more than the Ranger).

Adding to the mixed messages between its divisions, the Ranger continued with a more limited engine range than the Fairlane. Edsels were equipped with the Mileage Maker 223 cu in (3.7 L) straight-six or the older 292 cu in (4.8 L) Y-block V8. The top spec was again the 361 series (5.9 L) FE V8.

The Fairlane was available with many different engines depending on trim, but only shared the 223 Mileage Maker I6 with the Ranger. Its other engines included a 292 cubic inch V8 from the Thunderbird, which was more modern than the Y-block from the Ranger. Two other Thunderbird V8s were also offered, including a 352 (5.8 L) and eventually a 390 (6.4 L), although the latter did not arrive until 1961.

At the same Ranger price, the Monterey was offered with a standard V8, the 312 (5.1L) Y-block V8. Optionally, the Monterey was equipped with the MEL 383 V8 (6.3 L), a premium engine forbidden to Ford. With threats from all sides internally, it was shaping up to be a very mixed and confusing bag for the 1960 Edsel Ranger.

And that was before any styling was considered, as the Ranger no longer used Edsel-specific body panels. Instead, Ford decided to differentiate its Edsel product through the use of different trim and lighting elements. We’ll pick up next time with a review of the ’60s style and how it priced and sold in the face of stiff competition from the Fairlane and Monterey.

[Images: Ford, Dealer]

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