Recently, I took Ethel on a trip to the DFW Swap Meet in Grand Prairie, TX. It was a decent-sized meet, with numerous parts vendors and cars for sale/trade. I went mainly to look for Edsel parts, and I did not leave disappointed.
About 1 hour after walking around, I stumbled upon a vendor from Minnesota selling original and re-printed automotive literature (service manuals, spec cards, advertisements, etc). One of my buddies that came with me starting digging in a box labeled “1957-1959 Ford”. He found an original 1959 Edsel spec card, produced by the Automotive Electric Association. This card is an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper, with valuable engine, wiring, and other mechanical specs printed on it. These were used in service shops for a mechanic’s reference when a car came in to the shop for service. It has all V8 engines and transmissions listed, specifically for the Ranger and Corsair models. I only paid $5 for it, and it has already paid for itself several times in the past month of owning it.
Another item I picked up was an original Borg-Warner carburetor rebuild kit for my ’59 FE engine. I paid $10 for this kit, with the intention of having it as spare parts. NAPA makes a rebuild kit for the 4-barrel carburetor, but it is more expensive.
These items were purchased following my “NOS” mindset: trying to use parts that were made during the car’s original tooling life, so that it meets the specs originally designed for the car. Going this route has saved me many a heartache out on the road.
As a general statement, reliability is relevant. Newer cars (post-2000) typically allow for less-frequent service trips to the dealership, and the number of breakdowns prior to 100,000 miles is much less than say, the average 1950’s or 1960”s sedan. The majority of this reliability is due to the advent of the automotive computer, which monitors vitals such as temperature, engine timing, vacuum, and adjusts air/fuel mixture as necessary. Having a computer perform these adjustments instead of the driver is something I would be willing to bet that less than 1.00% of drivers today appreciate. Older cars (1940s, 50s, 60s) required constant tuning of the carburetor and even timing, according to the age of the engine. The 99% of the motorists in America that take the modern automobile for granted would most likely not even know where to start when it came to making adjustments on the fly, if they drove a pre-80’s car or truck. I’m not belittling this population, I’m just stating facts. The modern car is living proof of the statement “necessity is the mother of invention.” What I mean is this: enough drivers (and therefore customers of the automakers) expressed the desire for an automobile that didn’t need to have the carburetor cleaned out or adjusted every 10,000 miles, nor the timing adjusted every time the points or spark plugs were changed out. This cry for simplicity forced the automakers to design and build a car that made the minor adjustments itself, while allowing drivers to skip a service trip or two without it affecting the vehicle in a major way.
While I have enjoyed the fruits of automotive engineers’ labor (in a 2012 F-150), I will make this controversial statement: older cars are just as reliable as newer cars. This should come with a caveat, I guess: the reliability of a pre-80’s automobile is solely dependent on the owner or driver of the car. I am confident that my 1959 Edsel is just as reliable for getting me from point A to point B as my 2012 F-150 was (yes, I sold it). Let me give you a recent example of this reliability that I experienced in Ethel today.
I recently made the move from San Antonio to Waco, TX. In Texas terms, this a short drive (approx. 180 miles). This weekend Ethel was one of the possessions needing to be moved from San Antonio to Waco. Most people would be surprised to know that I planned on driving Ethel the 180 miles on the interstate…with the rest of the crazy drivers and truckers on the road cruising at 70+ mph. While Ethel does not have airbags, she is fully clad in steel, has four solid sets of brakes, and a big block engine that can get out of the way fast. I was pretty confident in her. I took to the highway at 11:30, and 3 short hours later, we rolled into Waco. The trip was incredible, to say the least. I maintained an average speed of 65 mph, with a high speed of 75 mph when going downhill. Other than the 7 thumbs-up I got, the ride was uneventful. Ethel kept a constant coolant temperature, sipped 87 octane gas at 12 mpg, and had me all smiles the entire way. My favorite part of the trip was taking the overpass on Hwy 6, which overlooks the booming metropolis of Waco.
I share this drawn-out story with you for this reason: this car is one that I believe to be reliable, because of the care that the previous owners showed it, as well as the routine maintenance I’ve performed since owning it. At the end of the day, reliability is directly proportional to the amount of care given by the owner. By knowing your car well, and recognizing abnormalities when they exist, a driver can better take care of their car and prevent major breakdowns or issues when travelling. Get to know your car, understand its needs, and it will treat you well.
-If you ever disagree with my posts or would like to contribute your opinion, please comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Unless you purchased an expensive import or waited until the 70’s to buy your next car, motorists of the 1950’s relied on what we now call “dummy lights”. Modern cars still have these lights: these are the annoying “low tire pressure” or “service engine soon” lights that pop up on the dash, and probably stay lit for longer than you care to admit. Well in the 1959 Edsel, Ford was kind enough to include just 2 dummy lights: the oil pressure light, and the generator light.
The function of these lights was solely to indicate to the driver that a problem had occurred, and it should be addressed very soon. The two lights worked like this: in the event of a loss in oil pressure, the sensor’s transducer would lose contact with the electromechanical switch, which would complete the electrical circuit and allow the light on the dash to illuminate (think of how your phone gives you a “dropped call” notification). The same scenario existed in the generator: before turning the key to “Start”, the GEN light would come on because of the completed circuit (no current feeding into the circuit); once the car started and the generator began to spin, the light would go off, signaling an ample amount of current being generated. Due to the simplistic mechanical and electrical structure of the oil pressure unit and generator, if you saw these lights come on during your commute to work, your day probably wasn’t getting any better.
This past weekend I was performing routine maintenance on Ethel, and had a chance to replace the oil pressure unit. The light was functional when I first obtained Ethel – this I know because the idle speed was set so low that the light would come on every time I sat at a red light. The lower the idle speed, the lower the oil pressure; knowing that everything was ok with the 361, I went ahead and bumped up the idle speed to eliminate the issue. All of that being said, I wanted to clean up the oil filter/pressure unit, so I went ahead and replaced the pressure sensor (not exactly following the old adage “if it ain’t broke…).
This quick install consisted of these steps: (1) disconnecting the one wire connected to the sensor, (2) unscrewing the old unit off, (3) cleaning off the filter/sensor housing, (4) screwing the new sensor on and finally, (5) attaching the yellow wire. This sensor is a small and simple component, but its function is vital to the engine’s performance and longevity. A couple scenarios are indicated when this light comes on: either you have a clogged oil passage somewhere in the engine that is restricting oil flow, or you have a massive leak. The result of both issues not being addressed quickly is a burned up engine, which has to be replaced. So, next time you see those dummy lights come on, put some serious thought into finding out why they are lit. Nobody likes being called a dummy by the mechanic.
The first and only modification I’ve made to Ethel was the addition of seat belts for the front and rear seats. Seat belts were only a dealership-added option in 1959. I purchased the belts from Mac’s Antique Auto Parts, who specializes in restoration parts for classic Fords. The seat belts cost $20.00 for each belt, and they have all of the original colors to match the original interior. Hardware was also included. I’ll include more details regarding this project on the DIY page.
Safety incorporated into automobile design was in its infant stages during the late ’50s. Ford was one of the first automakers to engineer safety features such as “deep dish” steering wheels (preventing severe head contusions due to head-on collisions) and “lifeguard” door latches that would prevent the doors from flying open upon impact. In 1959, additional options were offered across all FoMoCo divisions, such as padded dashes, padded sunvisors, and seat belts. While we take these standard features on modern cars for granted, the automobile safety renaissance had a very slow beginning, due to added costs and headaches for both consumers and automakers. Safety just didn’t look as attractive as large, jutting tail fins and a freshly painted steel dashboard.
It wasn’t until the late 1960s that safety was no longer an option for automakers. A great book to read up on this topic is Safety Last: An Indictment of the Auto Industry, by J. O’Connell and A. Myers. It highlights the frustration that consumers and safety pundits alike felt toward automakers. If you want to borrow it from me, I’d be happy to lend it to ya.
After having Ethel for just 1 day, I gave the engine a refresher with an oil change (I recommend 10W-30 for older engines) and new spark plugs. The plugs I pulled from the 361 were the original spark plugs installed with the car on the assembly line. It was time for a new spark.
Once this was completed, I took her for a test drive on the highway, and I felt like I was in a rocket. This thing can really take off in a hurry. The 3-speed automatic has a decent rev range and doesn’t jolt when shifting between gears. Something I did notice was that the tires needed to be replaced, due to some dry rot and overall age. They were original bias-ply 1.00 in. white walls. I chose to go with the 75 series radial white walls from American Classic. These tires have the look of classic white wall tires but with added safety, due to the radial construction. I highly recommend American Classic for your white wall needs (http://www.americanclassictires.com/types-of-whitewall-tires/75-series-narrow-whitewall/).
As of 10/8/14, I’ve only put 700 miles on the tires, but thus far I haven’t had any issues. They are extremely smooth on the highway and don’t wander like bias-ply. They look pretty fly, too.
On January 4, 2014, a new adventure began with the addition of Ethel, the 1959 Edsel Ranger 4-door sedan. This old gal came from a 96 year-old widow who had retired Ethel to a barn in 1994. This woman and her husband purchased Ethel and another Edsel (2 door sedan) new in 1959. They were loyal Edsel owners, evident by their membership in the Edsel Owners Club of America and a keychain that said “I Love My Edsel”.
Ethel rolled off the assembly line in Louisville, Kentucky on October 27, 1958 as a well-optioned car for the time. She came with the following options:
361 c.i.d. Super Express V8 engine, the largest engine available for that year
Dual-Power 3-speed Automatic transmission
Windshield washer w/foot pump
Electric windshield wipers (instead of the standard vacuum-powered)
Day/Night rearview mirror
Even though the 4-door Ranger sedan was the most common model produced that year (12,881 built), it is extremely rare to find an all-original driver condition Edsel, no matter what model. My goal since acquiring Ethel has been to drive and enjoy the car, while gradually restoring and maintaining her. So, join me as I document the adventures and restoration of Ethel the Edsel.