This Edsel Would Set You Back Nearly $2 Million

A long-lost speedster re-emerges in time for the annual Pebble Beach Concours.

by on Aug.19, 2011

From barn find to well-restored classic, the 1924 Edsel Ford Speedster.

It’s become a cliché: the “barn find,” a rare car re-discovered after years hidden away in some old garage or barn.  But like many a cliché, there’s a bit of truth, as the folks at the Ford House are only too glad to talk about.

The mansion-come museum, along Lake St. Clair near Detroit, will soon be the home for the 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster that was the personal project of Edsel B. Ford, one-time president of Ford Motor Co. and the son of founder Henry Ford.  But first, the strikingly advanced 2-seater will be competing for the coveted trophies to be handed out over the weekend at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

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The Speedster – which strongly influenced some of the most important designs to come out of Ford and its Lincoln brand in the years before World War II – was designed by legendary Ford stylist E.T. “Bob” Gregorie, but Edsel Ford was actively involved in its development.  It was just slightly longer than the classic 1934 Ford Roadster, but appeared longer and lower due to a number of technical and visual tricks – such as moving the cockpit rearward and then extending the boat tail.  The Speedster was hand-built out of aluminum and equipped with a stock Ford Flathead V-8 making 75 horsepower.

The Speedster featured a number of unique design elements including the completely enclosed radiator.

The car became part of his personal collection, then sold off after Edsel Ford’s untimely 1943 death and ultimately vanished entirely, only to resurface after 40 years in a garage.

“This was a significant find and is all the more impressive after going through a complete restoration,” said Bill Warner, a Florida collector, founder of the Amelia Island Concours – and the man who discovered the Edsel Speedster after so many years out of sight.

Shortly after the death of Edsel B. Ford the vehicle was sold for the less-than-princely sum of just $200.  It bounced around for a number of years after that, at one point getting a gaudy red paint job for an appearance in the Disney film, “The Epoch of Transportation.”  Later, A Navy sailor acquired the Speedster for $603.  Then it vanished.  According to Warner, it developed engine problems and the owner stored it away, promising to eventually make repairs.

Edsel Ford II and son Henry III take the Speedster out for a spin.

And there it sat until Warner went looking.  He bought it in 1999 and put it on display at the Amelia Island Concours.  He also drove it, no easy task as it was designed for a man the size of the modest-statured Edsel Ford.  “The only way I could drive it,” laughs the larger Warner, was taking my shoes off so my feet could fit into the pedal box.”

When Warner decided to put the Speedster back on the market it garnered a bit more of an appropriate bid, going to a Texas collector for an impressive $1.76 million.

But, “I told Bill one day I’d have this car,” said Edsel B. Ford II, the grandson of the late Ford executive and a member of the board of the Ford House, which is housed in the lakefront mansion once owned by his grandparents.

The Edsel Ford Speedster used a stock Ford Flathead V-8 engine.

When the most recent owner died suddenly, Ford and the Ford House saw their opportunity.  But first, it was time to restore the car, which had undergone a number of modifications, over the years, with some significant damage to the rear patched up with a block of wood and some molten lead.

RM Auto Restoration completed the work in time for the Speedster to make its second Concours bow.  But where it was just a curiosity at the 1999 showing, it is this weekend a serious contender for Best-of-Show, suggested Ken Gross, one of the Pebble Beach judges and a writer who has worked on the formal history of the 2-seater.

During his unfortunately short life, Edsel Ford was actively involved in — and often kept – a number of significant vehicles.  Often, he would take them down to his winter home in Florida to gauge the reaction of his wealthy neighbors.

“We’re acquiring vehicles where Edsel had a strong influence,” said Ford House director Kathleen Mullins.

Several of those vehicles have already been returned to the Ford House, but “There are about a dozen other cars” they want, said Edsel Ford II.  Perhaps some of them will also be found in a musty, dusty old barn.

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