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Pleasures Of The Road : Last Laugh

March 13, 1988|HOWARD BLUME

Wags said that, head-on, it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon. The citrus association was well chosen. No major car venture ever proved as fruitless.

Designed to entice the yuppies of 1958, the gadget-filled, muscular auto entered the mid-priced car market at the start of an economic slump, and at the moment consumer tastes were changing.

Too expensive for what it offered, it featured unwanted gadgets, some of which didn't work. Its space-age temperature control broke down. Its optional push-button transmission, in the center of the steering wheel, was at times mistaken for the horn. And quirks in the first production run gave the Edsel a name for oil leaks and stuck hoods.

And then there was the name.

Edsel .

Not a brave Indian name like Pontiac; not an aristocratic one such as Rolls-Royce; not a grabber like Jaguar. It was a name definitely lacking charisma.

It's design didn't help much. Bisecting a front bumper on either side was a horse-collar grille, an eye-catcher that produced mostly mirth in the beholder.

The Edsel was discontinued in 1960. Kris Trexlor estimates that fewer than 2,000 remain. But time has proved kind to the survivors. Trexlor owns a 1958 Edsel Citation convertible (pictured above) and belongs to a national club of Edsel owners and enthusiasts. Says Trexlor: "People who see the car today say, 'Gee, that's not an ugly car at all.' " He has been offered $25,000 for his.

The ugly duckling has become a swan. The Edsel now looks less out of place than it did when new. And its peculiar front end (left) now makes it distinctive. If you encounter an Edsel today, it may seem to be wearing a grin. That happens when you get to laugh last.

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