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Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel (Automotive History and Personalities) Hardcover – August 9, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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  • Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel (Automotive History and Personalities)
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Drawing from Ford Motor Company's Design Center archives and interviews with some of Edsel's design team stylists, Bonsall chronicles the ill-fated car's history, from its first sketches in 1955 to the last 1960 models, "a marketing disaster whose magnitude has made it a household word." Bonsall explains why the Edsel program was begun in the first place and what went wrong, describing the internal politics of the company at the time and where well-entrenched factions vied daily for control; and he offers comprehensive details of the car itself, including the controversial nature of its styling and even the choice of its name. (In 1960 Time magazine called this $250 million flop "a classic case of the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time.") This sumptuously illustrated book will be of particular interest to auto enthusiasts, who will also enjoy Russ Banham's history of the Ford Motor Company, The Ford Century, reviewed in this issue on p.553. George Cohen
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Review

"Bonsall has not only found new approaches to the subject, but sheds fresh light on the oft-rehashed reasons for the Edsel's death. The book is well written, flows nicely, and artfully mixes personalities and corporate policies. It adds a great deal to our understanding of one of the twentieth century's biggest corporate disasters."—James A. Ward, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga


"Bonsall's success is in an attention to details of development of the car and the book's rich illustrations. . . . These provide the best context for the Edsel story and serve to remind us that our largest companies can at times become hopelessly out of step with their customers."—Library Journal


"Thomas E. Bonsall, a veteran author of automobile histories, revisits the scene of [the] wreck and supplies an interesting thesis . . . .Disaster in Dearborn . . . .is lavishly illustrated, with dozens of pictures of real Edsels and sketches of Edsels that might have been."—The Philadelphia Inquirer


"For those struggling to make sense of the product plan, the corporate culture, the automotive landscape, or how the modern Ford Motor Company came to be Disaster in Dearborn is a good place to start."—Automotive Design and Production


"Bonsall's book is sure to appeal to the dedicated car fancier and the armchair historian in all of us."—Road and Track
"With a number of great black-and-white illustrations accompanying this interesting story, Bonsall has created a winning tribute to an unfortunate loser."—Choice
"Easy to read, and packed with many rare photos, Bonsall's book is a must-read for any automotive enthusiast."—Artvoice
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Product Details

  • Series: Automotive History and Personalities
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford General Books; 1 edition (August 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804746540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804746540
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #733,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Bonsall's treatment of the Edsel story is unique in that he first sets the historical stage and market conditions under which the Edsel program was conceived and executed. He does an excellent job of describing the reasons Ford needed the Edsel program, and why the program missed its mark. As Bonsall methodically moves the Edsel story forward, the reader is filled with a sense of impending doom, much like reading about the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Bonsall does an excellent job of drawing together the many disparate influences and elements that together charted the fateful course of the Edsel.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been fascinated by Edsels since childhood, and while I've never been able to own one, I've collected lots of literature about the most famous flop in automotive history. Although there was familiar material in Mr. Bonsall's work, (the arrival of a new full-sized car just as the first import craze was beginning was the product of a decade-long lead time to launch the new make), there was also much I've never seen in print anywhere before--such as Robert McNamara's statement that the decision to discontinue the Edsel had been made even before its formal introduction! From the company's internal politics, to the design process, to the challenges of setting up the dealer network, no aspect of the Edsel's history is omitted. This profousely illustrated work is an absolute must for Edsel lovers, and should be worthwhile to anyone interested in the Ford Motor Company or automotive history in general.--William C. Hall
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel by Thomas Bonsall is easily the best piece of automobile journalism I have ever read. If you are interested in the Edsel, or just cars of this era in general, Bonsall will simply have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. Not only will you come away with a thorough understanding of the Edsel itself, the author artfully puts the whole Edsel saga into context with what was happening with the rest of the American auto industry during time before, during, and after the Edsel's brief lifespan. I honestly could not put this book down once I started it as Bonsall truly lets you feel the anticipation and excitement surrounding Edsel's conception, design, and launch. Quite simply everything about the Edsel and the people who created it is covered in this book. In closing Bonsall impartially takes you through all the theories on why the Edsel failed and brings the book to a very satisfying and thoughtful conclusion. And although primarily not a picture book, you'll find gathered here a small but exciting group of Edsel prototype photos and sketches I have never seen in print anywhere else before. A terrific book for anyone interested in auto history in general and an absolute must for anyone fascinated with the Edsel.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The 1958 Edsel has received a lot of lampooning from the time it was introduced because of its front design ("a fish sucking a lemon") and this has generally been attributed as the reason it was regarded as a flop. Certainly Ford lost $100 million on it at the time (and its advertising agency and most of the dealers also took baths) but here it is revealed that in reality the car achieved the market penetration in relative terms that was expected of it. The reason for the losses were due to organisational mistakes and the fact that people like Robert McNamara (the archetypal bean counter) pulled the plug on it prematurely. The author also demonstrates that the production capacity created for the Edsel was actually utilised to the full in the 1960s with the Falcon and the Mustang.
This book is a great read, and the illustrations include many interesting design proposals. I would have given the book 5 stars if the illustrations had been printed on coated paper and included at least a few in color.
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Format: Hardcover
Unlike many current automotive books with some nice photos and tired, re-released copy, this one is fresh and fascinating. The photos are good but few, the story is the key and it is a great work. If you are like me and are interested in fresh, serious coverage by experienced automotive authors then this will not disappoint. Five stars from a tough critic.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas Bonsall has compiled the full history of the Edsel project, from initial conception to final failure.
It's the story of the inner workings of the Ford Motor Company in the late 1950s, warts and all. There is also a capsule history of the company, and the man the Edsel was named after, Edsel Ford, the beleaguered son of Henry Ford.
Far from being a dry history story, sometimes the book is a sober story of corporate infighting, sometimes it reads like high comedy, detailing the complicated twists and turns Ford Motor Company went through in it's futile effort to unseat General Motors from it's sales lead during the 50s.
A great read for people interested not only in automotive history, but in the workings of corporate America!
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Format: Hardcover
This book is timeless. Yesterday's problems are today's problems. The book is as well written as any book analyzing a corporate strategic failure in any industry in any decade. The author combines a deep understanding of the history of the U.S. auto industry with excellent research and lively writing.

He covers all the usual topics about the Edsel - the decline mid-price class in the mid-1950's, the recession of 1958, the introduction of a 1958 model before the competitive models were announced, etc. well enough. The strength of the book is in tracing the deeper roots of the failure in company politics and personalities.

It is fun to compare the issues discussed in this book with the current turmoil in the U.S. auto industry. Many industry issues of the last few years - GM dropping Pontiac, GM canceling dealers, Ford trying to decide what to do with the Mercury brand, Toyota introducing full sized pickup just as the market collapses, corporate infighting between Chrysler and Mercedes Benz executives - are echoes of issues that surrounded the Edsel.
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