The Edsel brand had just three short years on this earth, all of which were consumed by a fight to remain in existence, so understandably no Edsel Racing Team ever formed to win on Sundays. That’s not to say, however, that privateers and individuals didn’t occasionally select an Edsel for their racing efforts, and perhaps the most famous racing Edsel has gone on display after nearly being destroyed.
When Los Angeles businessman Karl Weber developed an itch for off-road racing, he called up Bill Stroppe, Ford’s longtime West Coast motorsports guy, who in the late Sixties had made a name for himself building Broncos for racing at Baja after Ford discontinued racing at Pikes Peak. After collaborating for a few years, Weber decided in 1971 or 1972 that he wanted to compete in desert racing’s Class 6 – then reserved for two-wheel-drive stock production sedans, in the vein of the James Garner Oldsmobile and the Baja SC/Ramblers – but he wanted to stand out among the other sedans. He wanted Stroppe to build him an Edsel.
Stroppe had a little bit of experience prepping Edsels for competition: In the 1959 Mobil Gas Economy Run, he almost squeezed 18 miles per gallon from an Edsel Corsair 8, good for 14th in his class (out of 15). However, rather than try to whip up something competitive from a car that was by then more than a decade old, Stroppe decided to plop a 1958 Edsel two-door hardtop body (from either a Ranger or a Pacer, nobody seems quite sure anymore) atop a Ford stock car chassis, sufficiently lifted to fit the big knobby tires necessary for desert racing.
Like Stroppe’s Broncos, the Edsel received a red, white, and blue paint scheme with a blacked-out hood. A rollbar and a 400-cu.in. big-block Ford V-8 later, and Weber had his Edsel off-road racer ready for the Baja 1000. Except, according to current owner John Swift, it never did very well.
“It was a big flop, kinda like the car itself,” he said. “It was just a heavy car with a big engine.”
Weber kept the car going at least through 1974, but then stuck it in the back corner of the lot surrounding one of his warehouses, where it seemed destined to a quiet and sun-baked retirement. Weber, however, put it too close to a rail spur, so a passing train tagged it, caving in an entire side of the body.
There it sat until the late 1980s, when fellow desert racer Ray Swift bought it. He then handed it off to his son, John, for a full restoration to its original desert racing guise. That required sourcing some Edsel sheetmetal, and all John could find were body panels from a four-door, which he then cut up and welded back together on the Stroppe racer.
“Other than that, it’s exactly the way Stroppe built it,” John said.
While the restoration wrapped up sometime in the 1990s, the Swift family didn’t get the chance to run the Edsel until 2010, when the National Off-Road Racing Association instituted a vintage racing class at Baja. As in the Seventies, the Edsel didn’t exactly perform to expectations, John said.
“We got it to La Paz,” he said. “Even if we had to push, pull, and tug it across the finish line.”
Still, the family took it to Mexico to run the vintage class again in 2012, and John noted the experience was a “fun, family adventure” and that it allowed the older racers “to come back to life and run down the peninsula like they should be run.”
Over the past weekend, the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame added the Stroppe-built Edsel to its semi-permanent display in the Terrible’s Casino in Jean, Nevada, just south of Las Vegas. Along with the Edsel, the ORMHOF also added the Doug & Don Robertson Class 5 Bilstein Baja Bug, reportedly the winningest vehicle in Baja history; the Bobby Ferro Baja 500-winning Sandmaster Funco SS1, and a replica of the Ivan Stewart Modern Motors Funco SS1.
Speaking of Ferro, the ORMHOF also announced this month that he – along with Lynn Chenowth, Frank “Butch” Arciero Jr., Robby Gordon, Steve Morris, and David Higgins – would make up the hall’s class of 2019. The ORMHOF’s induction ceremony will take place November 3 at the South Point Hotel, Casino, and Spa in Las Vegas.
For more information about the hall of fame, visit ORMHOF.org.