Passage A by Laura Hillenbrand
The horseless carriage was just arriving in San
Francisco, and its debut was turning into one of those
colorfully unmitigated disasters that bring misery to
everyone but historian. Consumers were staying away
from the "devilish contraptions" in droves. In San Fran-
cisco in 1903, the horse and buggy was not going the
way of the horse and buggy.
For good reason. The autombile, so sleekly effi-
cient on paper, was in practice a civic menace, belching
out exhaust, kicking up storms of dust, becoming hope-
lessly mired in the most innocuous-looking puddles,
and tying up horse traffic. Instead Local Lawmakers
responded with monuments to Legislative creatvity. The
laws of at least one town required automobile drivers to
stop, get out, and fire off Roman candles every time
horse-drawn vehicles came into view. Massachusetts
tried and, fortunately, failed to mandate that cars be
equipped with bells that would ring with each revolu-
tion of the wheels. In some towns police were autho-
rized to disable passing cars with ropes, chains, and
wires. San Francisco didn`t escape the legislative wave.
Bitter Local officials pushed through an ordinance ban-
ning automobiles from all tourist areas, effectively exil-
ing them from the city.
Nor were these the only obstacles. The asking
price for the cheapest automobile amounted to twice the
$500 annual salary of the average citizen-some cost
three times that much-and all that bought you was
four wheels, a body, and an engine. "Accessories" like
bumpers, carburetors, and headlights had to be pur-
chased separately. Navigation was a nightmare. The
first of San Francisco`s road signs were only just being
ecected, hammered up by an enterprising insurance
underwriter who hope to win clients by posting direc-
tions into the countryside, where drivers retreated for
automobile "prcnic parties" held out of the vies of
The first automobiles imported to San Francisco
had so little power that they rarey made it up the hills.
The grade of Nineteenth Avenue was so daunting for
the engines of the day that watching automobiles strain-
ing for the top became a local pastime.
Passage B by Peter Carlson
In the mid-1950s, Ford Motor Company was build
ing not one, not two, but 18 varieties of Edsel, includ-
ing a convertible and a station wagon. The designers
came up with some interesting ideas. They created a
push-button transmission and put it in the middle of the
steering wheel, where most cat's have a,horn. And they
fiddled with the front end: Where other cars had hori-
zontal chrome grilles, the Edsel would have a vertical
chrome oval in its grille. It was new! It was different!
Unfortunately, it didn`t work. ,It couldn`t suck in
enough air to cool the engine."They had to keep open
ing up that oval to get more, air in there," says Jim
Arnold, who was a trainee in Edsel 's design shop."And
it didn`t look as good."
Edsel didn`t have its own assembly lines, so the
cars were produced in Ford and Mercury plants, which
caused problems. Every once in a while, an Edsel
would roll past workers who were used to Mercurys or
other Fords. Confused, they sometimes failed to install
all the parts before the Edsel moved on down the line.
Cars without parts can be a problem, of course, but
other aspects of the Edsel juggernaut worked per-
fectly-the hype, for instance. The Edsel PR team
touted the glories of the cars, but wouldn`t let anybody
see them. When they finally released 'a photo` it turned
out to be a picture of... , the Edsel 's hood ornament.
And hundreds of publications actually printed it !
On september 4, 1957, proclaimed by Ford as
E-Day, nearly 3 million Americans flocked to show-
rooms to see the Edsel Unfortunately, very few of them
bought the Edsel. "We couldn`t even get people to drive
it," says C. Gayle Warnock, Edsel`s public relations
director. "They just didn`t like the car. They just didn`t
like the front end."
But styling was hardly the worst problem. Oil pans
fell off, trunks stuck, paint peeled, doors failed to close
and the much-hyped "Teletouch" push-button transmis-
sion , had a distressing tendency to freeze up. People
joked that Edsel stood for "very day. something else
Another major problem was caused by bad luck:
The Edsel was an upscale car lunched. a couple months
after a stock market plunge caused a recession. Sales of
all premium.cars plummeted.
Before E-Day, Edsel `s hypemeisters promised to
sell 200,000 cars the first year. Actually, they sold
63,110, Sales dropped below 45,000 the second year.
And only 2,846 of the 1960 models sold before Ford
pulled the plug.