Teams of judges carefully examined the interior, body, trunk and undercarriage of the cars. Style, vibrant colors and design separate Edsels from the other cars on the road, but that’s not what the judges were looking for. Authenticity is what separates winning Edsels from all the rest.
The turquoise or talisman red paint job isn’t enough to impress by itself, it has to match the original color of the car. Or the driver will lose points, said Marty Scott, the chief judge at the rally. The data plate on the inside of the driver’s door gives the vehicle’s original information.
But while the judging is going on most of the owners don’t seem to care. Sure everyone wants to win, but Edsel owners don’t take themselves too seriously.
“People who can love an Edsel are the ones who always root for the underdog in the Super Bowl,” said Jere Gauss, a retired Boeing engineer from Fresno, Calif. "You couldn't have an ego and own one of these cars."
Gauss' first Edsel was a Pacer that he got in 1977.
"I wanted a car that I could take care of and actually have it gain value," he said.
There aren’t that many surviving Edsels left, but almost all Edsel models – other than some of the station wagons - were on display in Omaha on Saturday.
Ford only produced the chain of cars for three years before they pulled the plug on the project in 1960. The Edsel was once hyped as the car of the future and its design was kept secret prior to its release. But the Edsel went down in history as one of the biggest financial failures in the auto industry.
There were a number of reasons the Edsels were doomed from the onset, including that it was introduced during a recession. The pricing confused the public; the larger, more expensive Corsairs and Citations were priced comparably to the top-of-the-line Mercury cars and the more affordable Rangers and Pacers were more expensive than the nicest Ford sedans.
In the late 1960s Gauss and another member of the IEC began putting tabs on all the Edsels left in the world. He estimates there are 3,500 drivable Edsels, 3,500 that can be made road-ready and another 3,500 gathering dust somewhere with useful parts.
Doug Hartmann, the head of the rally and an IEC member from Fremont, said the event surpassed expectations, and recent years attendance and participation.
“We’re real happy of the way it went,” Hartmann said. “Getting it to Omaha was kind of special.”
Earl W. Dorsey, an IEC member and Edsel owner from Illinois, visited Omaha for the rally. He didn’t bring his Edsel, be he still attends the annual event to see friends from across the country. Members of the IEC are kind of like a big family, he said, who only see each other for about four days a year.
Like many of the owners at Saturday’s rally, Dorsey was in the military and stationed overseas when the Edsel was introduced, so he missed all the hoopla leading up to its release.
“I can’t say much of the fanfare,” he said. “They were just so different I couldn’t help but notice them.”
He travels to rallies because of the camaraderie shared between the owners. Even when his travels are not Edsel-related, he still carries a list of IEC members.
“If I have a problem I can call someone from the club,” Dorsey said. “They’re all very quick to assist.”
It’s a shame, Dorsey said, that there aren’t that many younger Edsel enthusiasts in the world today. There are some important life lessons that people can learn while working on a brightly-colored automobile with a notoriously corky reputation.
They can learn from Edsel owners, who, despite having cars Americans once laughed at, have found a niche in the world of vintage cars and given The Edsel a respectable reputation. Which is more than the Ford Motors Company could ever do.
“All the money in the world, it doesn’t guarantee success,” Dorsey said.
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