Now the Edsel division had the problem spelled out in precise terms. The new Edsel had somehow to be made into a car with not hot rod connotations, a car that new buyers would instantly associate with prestige occupations. Its personality had to be softened to the point where women would look upon it with favor, it had to be sedate enough to appeal to older, well-to-do buyers. The Edsel needed a special personality.

To drive the car is to appreciate how subtly the job was done. That long-hood feel, for one thing, is something directly contrary to the feel of sports cars or hot rods. Sitting in the Edsel's cockpit and looking forward at the winding white line is about like sitting in one of the classic cars of the pre-war era. In keeping with this feeling, the big engine hits peak torque at a a fairly low point in the rpm scale (2,800 rpm) and is relatively flat between 800 and 2,800. Like the big Lincoln V-12 engines of the classic era, the Edsel mill has been engineered for smoothness. Still, there's plenty of performance there.

Passengers, as well as the driver, receive this feel of power and luxury. Not only is the ride soft and smooth, but the long hood gives the back-seat occupants that limousine feeling, the sensation of being far-removed from the driver.

Unquestionably the makers of the Edsel have created a personality for their car that will differrentiate it from both the Ford and the Mercury, that will even appeal to old, loyal buyers of Buick and Oldsmobile. So far, so good. But this personality, important as it is, can't take the place of essentials - appearance, speed, workmanship, trade-in value. The automobile is a tool, and a major investment and people will even buy cars they don't feel comfortable in if they think they're getting a "sound investment."

At this point in their research, Edsel executives came across some frightening answers from the respondents. A surprising number of people picked Oldsmobile as the best looking car and Buick emerged a close second. Why? Appearance can't be broken down into its component parts as engine performance can, nor is there any known way to measure beauty. The interviewers didn't expect the respondents to explain why they preferred Buick and Oldsmobile, but when many of the respondents failed, in another question, to identify their favorites the situation became rather cloudy. At one point the respondent would positively state that he thought the Buick was beautiful and the Dodge drab, but when shown pictures of the two cars he couldn't identify them.

If the average car-owner was fouled-up on the subject of appearance, he was equally confused when it came to speed. Virtually everyone rated Oldsmobile, Buick and Mercury very high on the speed scale, and gave Dodge and Pontiac an almost zero classification. This was after Dodge had set a number of AAA stock car speed records at Bonneville and a full year after the first big V-8 was installed in the Dodge. Though the Dodge dealers had leased premium advertising space to tell this story many times, it obviously hadn't registered with the readers. Even Dodge owners had missed the point.

Edsel's experts came to a conclusion: car buyers are slow to change their opinions of cars. This was also a warning: either Edsel made the proper impression right away or there would be a long re-education period necessary. As to appearance, it was decided that the Edsel would establish its individuality and hope the customers considered the unusual design beautiful.

Meanwhile, back at the plant, the entire staff was involved with what is called "security" in Detroit. Little of this had anything to do with keeping secrets from either General Motors or Chrysler. More than a year and a half before the Edsel was to be introduced, all the competing firms that cared about it had photos and specifications.

The security had to do with keeping the Edsel's details from the buying public. This is a question of sales impact more than anything else. Much money was to be spent on pre-release advertisingof the teaser variety, and all this would have been useless if photos of the car managed to leak out prematurely.

And then, almost a year ahead of time, a newspaper in Cleveland ran a blurry photo of a car said to be the Edsel. A short while later the United Press picked up the same photo and put it on the wire. Ford's G2 swung into action. If there was a leak from within the plant, that was important. If some competitor was playing dirty, Ford might just release a few photos, too.

The culprit, when he was finally located, proved to be a pleasant, 17-year-old high school student from Detroit. He not only had supplied the Cleveland paper, unintentionally, with the photo, he also had a wallet stuffed with photos of such goodies as '58 Fords and Mercurys and experimental four-seater T-birds. How did he get them? Why, he just climbed the wall surrounding Ford's Dearborn test track, aimed his box brownie, and shot. Edsel division did all it could do -- pretended that neither the boy nor the photos existed.

In a far more important and less well publicized area, the security clamps were still on. This is what Detroit calls "interchangeability, " as necessary to the automobile industry as mass production and one of the most difficult elements of automobile design. No other part of the Edsel's development was given such close attention by the big brass.

What proper use of interchangeability did for Ford is evident even in the '57 models. It was during that model year that that the hole was opened in the Ford Motor Company line for the Edsel. Mercury got a brand new body shell, entirely different than Ford and comfortably larger. Ford added a new series, the Fairlane 500, to the top end of its line. If the Edsel hadn't been planned for '58, the major changes in Ford and Merc would not have been economically possible. But the Edsel pays for the improvements by sharing the cost of the body shells.

The two lower-priced Edsels use the Fairlane 500 body shell, the two higher-priced Edsels use the Mercury shell. The body shell is the inner framework on which the outer, visible panels are hung, the hidden element around which the stylists work.

The sharing of body shells has long been practiced in Detroit by all the major manufacturers, yet some executives still get panicky when they see the fact mentioned in print. They fear, as one Edsel executive phrased it, "that people will misinterpret the idea of interchangeable body shells and start thinking of the Edsel as a big Ford."

Interchangeability goes much farther, not only for the Edsel but for all Detroit cars. Aside from stylized body panels, every part that goes into a car is examined to see if it can be made interchangeable with a comparable part on another car in the manufacturer's line.

Privately, some Detroit observers feel that the Edsel and the Mercury should change places in the Ford family. As a matter of fact, this proposal was rumored to have been mulled over by the all-powerful Ford Administration Committee in December, 1954. (Ford people now deny the story, call it "planned confusion.") At that time the stylists were still working on early sketches of the '58 Edsel and presumably it could have been inserted anywhere in the line.