When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When Ford gives you lemons, open a showroom.
“There has never been a car like the Edsel,” the Ford Motor Co. boasted in 1957 after investing $250 million in a new division of vehicles. “It is a magnificent automobile.”
Named for company founder Henry Ford’s son Edsel B. Ford, the gleaming new line promised “distinctive styling and advanced engineering.”
Akron auto dealer Richard McCulley won the golden ticket when the Ford Motor Co. selected him to operate an Edsel franchise in 1957.
“I am pleased to have the opportunity to announce my appointment to sell this fine car,” McCulley announced. “And I extend a cordial invitation to the public to come in and see and drive this most remarkable car.”
McCulley, one of Edsel’s original 1,150 dealers, had been in the auto business for eight years. The former Kenmore High School basketball star had started as a salesman at the Hull-Dobbs dealership on Kenmore Boulevard. Before landing his own place, he served as vice president and general manager of the Kemp Bros. Lincoln-Mercury dealership at 249 W. Market St.
Dick McCulley Edsel opened in September 1957 in a one-story, brick building at 275 E. Market St. The 28,000-square-foot site had previously served as the home of Wise Motor Sales Co., Summit Chevrolet Co., Charvoz Chevrolet, John H. Stucker Ford, Spot Motor Co. and Olson Radio Warehouse.
“Opportunity knocks now!” McCulley advertised. “We need a limited number of salesmen to sell the fabulous Edsel — the automobile that has created more interest than any other car in this century and has more national advertising than any other in the nation!”
Customers could choose from 18 models including the Citation, Corsair, Ranger, Pacer, Bermuda and Villager, and select from more than 20 colors, including jet black, snow white, ember red, powder blue, ice green, chalk pink and gold metallic. Base prices ranged from $2,300 to $3,489 (about $20,500 to $31,000 today).
“You and I want all we can get for our money when we buy a product, and to do this we must have confidence in the product and in the company that made the product,” McCulley sales manager Smitty Esmile explained. “We sincerely believe that the ’58 Edsel is the kind of car you can have confidence in.”
But shoppers were ambivalent. One of Edsel’s most notable features was the “first jet grille design,” a vertical oval that critics likened to an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon or, even worse, a toilet seat. The division also touted Edsel’s “Teletouch Drive” in which motorists shifted gears with automatic transmission buttons on the steering wheel. Troubles arose, though, when drivers tried to honk their horns and accidentally hit the buttons, damaging the controls or the transmissions.
Dick McCulley Edsel billed itself as “Northern Ohio’s Largest Edsel Dealer.” The franchise initially had competition from Maloy Auto Sales at 406 W. Exchange St., but General Manager W.E. Maloy gave up on Edsels after a year. Other Edsel dealers included Richards-Wallace in Barberton, Ralph Mays in Kent, Medina Motors in Medina and Hogle Edsel Sales in Ravenna.
During one Sale-O-Rama promotion, McCulley offered a 1-cent deal for accessories. For one penny each, car buyers would receive a push-button radio, heater, two-tone paint, power steering, power brakes, tinted glass, white tires, undercoat, compass, windshield washers and backup lights.
The sad truth, though, is that customers weren’t in the mood to buy. More than 63,000 Edsels were sold in the first year as the United States grappled with a recession. The streamlined 1959 models attracted only 45,000 buyers.
McCulley began to diversify his portfolio. Adding new lines, the dealership changed to Dick McCulley Mercury-Edsel in early 1959. Months later, it became Dick McCulley Mercury-Edsel-German Ford.
The Ford Motor Co. pulled the Edsel plug Nov. 19, 1959, saying sales had been “particularly disappointing” while other makes had sold well.
“In view of this high consumer preference for the other company lines and the severe decline in the demand for Edsel cars, the continued production of the Edsel is not justified,” Ford explained in a prepared statement.
The name Edsel became synonymous with failure as the automaker suffered a $350 million loss on the venture. Only 2,800 Edsels were produced for 1960.
In February 1960, McCulley changed his dealership’s name to Dick McCulley Mercury-Comet and began touting his business as “Akron’s Comet Headquarters.”
“Comet is a luxury compact that’s fun to drive and easy to own,” he said. “… It’s right in size, right in price and right for you.”
And it's not an Edsel.
In 1967, McCulley turned over the keys to Tom Botzum Lincoln-Mercury at 328 W. Market St. An avid golfer, McCulley moved to Florida, where he hit the links as often as possible while operating Dick McCulley Ford in West Palm Beach. Akron's original Edsel dealer died in 1999 at age 74 in Palm Beach Gardens.
McCulley's former East Market Street store served as the home of Burg’s Babyland from 1968 to 1989, and Philcap Electronics from 1992 to 2016. The red building stands empty today, waiting for its next adventure.
According to Edsel.com, fewer than 6,000 Edsels have survived, ”and each one is a cherished classic.”
“The 1958 Edsel advertising said it best,” the website notes. “Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it. Once you’ve owned it, you’ll never want to change.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or email@example.com.