The younger Ford showed more interest than his father in flashier styling for automobiles. He indulged this proclivity in part with the purchase of the Lincoln Motor Company in 1922. His affinity for sporty cars was demonstrated in his personal vehicles: Edsel bought the first MG motorcar imported to the United States. In 1932 he had a V-8 boat-tailed speedster custom-designed for him, and two years later had another car designed, this one a low-riding aluminum-bodied speedster. The latter two cars he kept for the remainder of his life and inspired the design of the Lincoln Continental.
After becoming president of Ford, Edsel long advocated the introduction of a more modern automobile to replace the Model T, but was repeatedly overruled by his father. Flagging sales and dwindling market share for the company, however, finally made introduction of a new model inevitable.
During the design phase for the Model A, Henry Ford assured mechanical quality and reliability, leaving it to his son to flesh out the body design. This the younger Ford accomplished with the help of designer József Galamb. Edsel also prevailed upon his father to allow the inclusion of four-wheel mechanical brakes and a sliding-gear transmission on this model. The resulting Model A was a commercial success, selling over four million during four years of production.
As president, Edsel Ford often disagreed with his father on major decisions, but he nevertheless managed to accomplish several lasting changes. Edsel Ford founded and named the Mercury division, and significantly strengthened Ford Motors' overseas production. He was also responsible for the Lincoln Zephyr and Lincoln Continental.
Each Ford child inherited a large number of shares in the Ford company and the three sons all worked in the family business. Henry Ford II succeeded his grandfather as president of Ford on September 21, 1945. He is generally credited with rescuing the company after World War II.
Edsel Ford was one of the most significant art benefactors in Detroit history. As president of the Detroit Arts Commission, he commissioned the famous Diego Rivera Detroit Industry mural contained within the Detroit Institute of Arts. He was an early collector of African art and his contributions became part of the core of the original DIA African art collection. After his death his family continued to make significant contributions.
Edsel Ford also helped to finance exploratory expeditions, including Admiral Richard Byrd's historic flight over the North Pole in 1926. Byrd, in his Antarctic expeditions, also financed by Edsel, in gratitude named the Edsel Ford Range of mountains for him. Other Antarctic homages include Ford Massif, Ford Nunataks, and Ford Peak.
Edsel Ford's name continues in two of the three local high schools in Dearborn: Edsel Ford High School and Fordson High School. Fordson was the brand name of a line of tractors and was originally started as a separate company, Henry Ford & Son, later absorbed into the Ford Motor Company. Interstate 94 in the Detroit Metropolitan Area is named the Edsel Ford Freeway.
In 1958 Ford started a new car division called Edsel. The Edsel is remembered as an enormous failure, even though the car sold moderately well in its first year. The Edsel line was discontinued after the 1960 model year.