The Ford Edsel Was One Of The Biggest Flops In Car History — But At Least It Avoided The Name The 'Utopian Turtletop'

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Despite its past, the Edsel has new life as a collector's item.

The 1958 Ford Edsel was supposed to be revolutionary.

Caught up in a marketing frenzy, Ford made the terrible decision to debut 18 variations of the same car at once. It resulted in a car meant to please everybody that pleased almost nobody.

It was too expensive during the late 50s' recession and it guzzled gas. And once the hype died down people realized it was ugly. Some even joked that the centerpiece of its grill looked like a part of the female anatomy.

So even though the Edsel campaign became a template on how not to run a car campaign, insight into the vehicle's naming process reveals it could have been much worse.

Ford's designers and marketers began working on what would become the Edsel in 1955. While designers dreamed up all the different versions of the car that was supposed to take the country by storm, marketers struggled with an adequate name.

The wife of one of the marketers was friends with the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Marianne Moore. The Ford employee, Robert Young, decided she could provide the name he and his team had been searching for.

A bizarrely verbose correspondence ensued, which included phrases like, "the baguette lapidary glamor you have achieved certainly spurs the imagination," and "Our office philodendron has just benefitted from an extra measure of water."

Moore refused to be paid for her services, but happily offered car names over the course of Nov. 1955. Here are some highlights:

  • The Intelligent Whale
  • Mongoose Civique
  • Pluma Piluma
  • Anticipator
  • Regna Racer
  • The Silver Sword
  • Dearborn
  • Pastelogram
  • Magigravure
  • Utopian Turtletop
  • Turcotinga
  • Varsity Stroke
  • Fée Rapide
  • Bullett Lavolta

At one point, Young stopped replying, but Moore continued sending letters. She did, however, receive a bouquet of flowers on Dec. 23 with the message, "Merry Christmas to our favorite Turtletopper."

A full year later, a different marketing representative replied to Moore, informing her that they were going with the name Edsel (the name of Henry Ford's son) and that Young had joined the Coast Guard.

Ford tried improving the vehicle and its marketing for the next couple of years, but Ford president and future secretary of defense Robert McNamara decided to pull the plug on the Edsel in 1960.

Moore published her letters in 1958, and we found them on the site Letters of Note.



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