It looked just like every other free ad you see on the Internet: a single, nondescript picture with a sketchy description. As Edsels go, a beige 4-door Ranger is about as generic as it gets, so it didn’t take a member of Mensa with a PhD in Barrett-Jacksonomics to see why the ad drew little interest.
The familiar “barn find” descriptor, common in other parts of the country, doesn’t exist in California. There are a few barns, but people rarely put cars in them, hence the term “garage find” more aptly describes such an event by California standards. So, who would have ever guessed an Internet ad would produce a car that would emerge from a garage after forty- seven years in hiding, with a unique pedigree consistent with today’s fascination with ‘true survivor’ collector cars?
In production less than eight weeks, the earliest 1960s off Edsel’s Louisville assembly line were shipped to California, so it isn’t hard to find them with low two- or three-digit serial numbers. California had always been Edsel’s strongest market, with approximately 80% of production shipped to The Golden State.
In the tiny town of Delano, a lone Lincoln-Mercury dealer who managed to survive the Edsel publicity bloodbath of 1957 was one of a very few rural dealers in California to receive a 1960 unit. Most 1960s sold quickly, once production halted and list prices plummeted. But for L&S Lincoln-Mercury-Edsel serial number 157, built on the second day of production with a sticker price of $3,236.30, languished around well into the 1960 sales year before finally finding a home to an all-cash buyer.
The home would be that of Fred Montgomery, a local businessman whose family had long established roots in and around Delano. Fred was a savvy entrepreneur who took meticulous care of his very unusual automobile. The fact it had been delivered with a plastic “1960” showroom display license plate still attached is highly suggestive the car was probably not sold until the eve of the ’61 announcements, when need for the plate as a promotional tool was over.
Soon after Fred took delivery he installed a Mark IV air conditioner, a pair of Kraco front seat belts and clear plastic seat covers. He changed the oil religiously and followed the suggested maintenance schedule. In addition to the usual glove box contents, two sales booklets remained in the glove box since the moment it was driven off the L&S showroom floor. He never left the car out at night. Except for a family vacation to Louisiana in 1961, Fred’s Edsel rarely left Delano.
Fred Montgomery gave up driving in 1964 at the age of 61. His Edsel, with 49,469.3 miles on the clock, went quietly into a deep sleep in his garage, not to be awakened for nearly five decades. Years after Fred’s death in 1995, the car came out of hiding and was put up for sale by a great-grandson who, admittedly, was indifferent about the unique car. That’s when it appeared on the Internet. The ad ran for several weeks until the morning of Sunday, June 30, 2013, when it found an appreciative buyer and a caring and loving new home.
Sometimes there are cars you just want to leave 100% untouched. A new set of wide whites might look great, but you realize such will detract from the car’s patina and ‘true survivor’ status. Like with the new, unsold cars recently auctioned from Lambrecht Chevrolet in Nebraska, some owners might even prefer not to wash off the dirt.
Such is not the case with this Time Capsule Edsel, and my goal is simply to return the car to the condition it was in when it went into seclusion. A month into its new ownership, I decided it would not disturb the car’s pedigree to replace the fuel system and re-awaken the brakes, engine and transmission.
I like to think of it as “a blueprint of originality suspended in time,” and since I’ve gotten it up an running, it purrs like a Swiss watch. The vehicle is so virgin that the original spare tire and tools are still mounted inside the trunk, untouched since the day it left the factory.I think of this car as a career find, especially with the nearly non-existent number of undiscovered collector cars left in California.
One of the great things about finding such a car is learning intricate details about how the cars were assembled. For example, the armrests are normally held on with two large Philips screws. The right rear was held on with three – one missed the hole, so they just jammed another on top of it. And there’s a strange factory M-E-L sticker inside the glove box door, warning against revving the engine with the automatic transmission in gear.
I’ve owned or restored several dozen Edsels, and in my experience, the 1960 models got the least respect from new-car buyers. They were sold to people who were expecting the quality of a new Ford for the price of a used Rambler. I’ve never found a ’60 in such pristine condition; as from the start, the 1960s were treated like old used beaters. They looked like cheap Fairlanes and had no resale value.
Sadly the Edsel wasn’t around long enough to have established brand loyalty, but obviously Mr. Montgomery was clearly crazy about his. I like to think that if there had been a ’61 Edsel, Fred Montgomery probably would have bought the first one.
FINAL NOTE: The “Time Capsule Edsel” will get his public debut after he’s been cleaned, washed, scrubbed and waxed! Stay tuned…