Poor Edsel Ford, forever immortalized as the namesake of the late-fifties model Ford Edsel, today considered one of the worst aesthetic and business blunders of the 20th century. During his life, however, and as president of his father Henry’s motor company from 1919 until his untimely death in 1943, Edsel was known as a design innovator. Now, on March 8, his innovative and one-of-a-kind 1934 Ford Model 40 Special Speedster will be on the block at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, held at the Florida island’s Ritz-Carlton from the 7th to the 9th. RM Auctions is overseeing the sale and estimates the car will go for $1.5 million to $2 million—a world record for a Ford. “There’s really nothing to compare it to,” says Ian Kelleher, the house’s vice president.
Alex Finigan, classic car sales manager at Paul Russell and Company, the Essex, Massachusetts, firm to which Ralph Lauren entrusts the refurbishment of his cars, agrees: “For a car guy this would be the pinnacle piece of any collection. It’s just fantastic.”
The Speedster is almost entirely unrestored—only adding to its value—and its current owner, Concours founder and cochairman Bill Warner, very much hopes it will stay that way. “If it gets all tarted up,” he says, “then it’s just another restored car. You can only be original once.” 904-636-0027; ameliaconcours.org
The airplane bucket seats were upholstered in cheap red vinyl when Warner bought the car, so he redid them in distressed red leather. “I’m six foot three inches tall, and the car was built for a guy who was five foot eight,” says Warner. “So I have to drive it barefoot and take the seat cushion out.”
Originally a slate-gray hue called Pearl Essence, Edsel’s favorite, the car was probably painted red for a movie in the forties, when it was likely owned by the actor Keenan Wynn. In 1999 Warner found the car in a Florida garage; it hadn’t been run for 40 years.
“Shouldn’t the two grilles meet?” Edsel wrote to Ford’s director of design Bob Gregorie in 1940. That year a new Mercury engine was installed and Gregorie redesigned the Speedster’s nose, adding the striking three-piece grille to allow more air to circulate.
Built at Ford’s soon-to-close airplane factory in Dearborn, Michigan, the car incorporates many aeronautic elements, such as the enclosed cycle fenders, based on the wheels of the Ford TriMotor plane. They are mounted to the wheel hubs, so they turn with the car’s suspension.
The special whitewalls— known as double whites—have a strip of white both outside and inside. In the thirties, says Warner, having these “was kind of like wearing spats.” The wire wheels were covered with aluminum discs, which Warner recast in steel.
Gregorie and Edsel customized the chassis of a ’34 Ford to create the Speedster. They entirely redesigned its front end, building a lightweight frame out of airplane tubing.
The unusual recessed headlights were molded right into the body of the car and may have been actual landing lights from a TriMotor plane. The existing lights are larger than the originals, which were swapped out when the engine was replaced.