Classic Recollections: 1958 Edsel Villager, Kirk Swiatek, Bloomingdale

  • Whether in motion or parked, this decades-old Edsel Villager still grabs attention.

    Whether in motion or parked, this decades-old Edsel Villager still grabs attention. Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • When he's not loaded up for rehearsal or a show, Kirk Swiatek attends the Buona Beef cruise night in Itasca with his girlfriend, Amanda Studnicka. He also cruises at Tastee Freeze in Palos Heights.

    When he's not loaded up for rehearsal or a show, Kirk Swiatek attends the Buona Beef cruise night in Itasca with his girlfriend, Amanda Studnicka. He also cruises at Tastee Freeze in Palos Heights.

  • In addition having space to carry his drum set, Kirk Swiatek likes the "boomerang" taillights on his Edsel.

    In addition having space to carry his drum set, Kirk Swiatek likes the "boomerang" taillights on his Edsel. Courtesy of Kirk Swiatek

  • Kirk Swiatek had his mind set on finding a vintage vehicle that packed loads of one thing -- utility. He found it in this decades-old Edsel Villager.

    Kirk Swiatek had his mind set on finding a vintage vehicle that packed loads of one thing -- utility. He found it in this decades-old Edsel Villager. Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • The Villager's three-speed Teletouch transmission allows drivers to switch gears with the press of a button on the steering wheel.

    The Villager's three-speed Teletouch transmission allows drivers to switch gears with the press of a button on the steering wheel.

 
By Matthew Avery
Special to the Daily Herald
Posted5/14/2012 6:00 AM

The reasons for selecting a classic car to purchase can be myriad. Some prospective buyers look for the brawniest powerplant under hood. Others seek out a timeless design that transports them to simpler times.

Kirk Swiatek had his mind set on finding a vintage vehicle that packed loads of one thing -- utility.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bloomingdale resident plays in a local rockabilly band, Lil Red and the Howling Wolves, so he wanted to make sure whatever rolling relic he procured had the interior space to haul his musical instruments.

"I'm the drummer for the group and naturally have lots of cases and equipment I need for each of our gigs," he says. "Whatever I found had to be able to carry it all."

The answer to Swiatek's hauling demands were found in an Ember Red and Snow White 1958 Edsel Villager station wagon he located in Island Lake.

"Everything was there and it was a true solid survivor," he said. "There's a couple patches of rust but the frame is rock solid and the original paint still shines with a coat of wax."

He purchased the unrestored family mover early last year and after a bit of research, learned more about the car's ironic history. "It was manufactured in the Ford Louisville Assembly plant on, of all days for an Edsel, April Fools' Day of 1958."

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Despite its lackluster sales records, the ill-fated Edsel brand still carried a few tricks up its sleeves to entice buyers. The car has its original three-speed Teletouch transmission -- placing the gear selector in the form of several buttons in the middle of the steering wheel.

"These units were temperamental and never seemed to work quite right," Swiatek said.

Another attention-grabbing innovation is the floating speedometer globe, which places the numbers in an orb that rotates vertically to show the car's speed. "It had to seem so futuristic to buyers in the '50s and just screamed 'new technology!' "

Under the reverse-opening hood is the original E400 engine, packing 361 cubic inches and delivering 303 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque. Out on the highway, Swiatek reports it produces plenty of power to move all 3,827 pounds of the classic machine.

"It rides silky smooth and even though it didn't come with A/C, I don't need it," he says. "With all the windows down there's excellent airflow."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Whether in motion or parked, this decades old Villager still grabs attention with such eccentric styling features as its "boomerang" taillights. "These are coveted among hotrodders who add them to their custom rides. This wagon had them straight from the factory."

Another unique original item on Swiatek's hauler is the clear hood-mounted badge. "Many times they would blow off or break, and to see one left intact is uncommon," Swiatek says.

The quirky Edsel models seem to have a love-hate impact on those who see them. In the beginning, most people fell into the latter category, but the tide has shifted to the former. Opinions are no matter, though, to a fully satisfied Swiatek, who enjoys his abnormal ride.

After seeing his classic wagon swallow all his musical equipment with room left for a few friends, he's learned that Edsel owners, both past and present, march to the beat of a different drum.

A drum you can be sure will fit in the back of this vintage carrier.

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