Ford Skyliner Retractable Hardtop

The idea of a retractable hardtop was proposed to the Ford brass in about 1953 by designer Gil Spear, who drove a one-off retractable station wagon. It was intended for the 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II, but that was already expensive, so the idea was shelved. But by 1955, Ford was locked in a #1 sales battle with Chevrolet, and Spear’s idea became the 1957 Fairlane Skyliner. That year, 20,766 buyers bought a car whose principal virtue is to amaze your friends.

You park on a flat surface, hit a lever on the left side of the steering column and watch three roof drive motors, four lift jacks, four door lock motors, 10 solenoids and four locking mechanisms fold up the roof and hide it in the trunk. Wait a minute and you can reverse the process. All this takes 610 feet of wiring, and if you’re wondering how much trunk you have left when the top is stowed, think how much luggage you can store above your head in a jet plane.

Spear’s idea worked, but the result was expensive and only made for three years –1957-59. The 1960 Fords were too low for the arrangement, and the retractable was dropped. Sales fell each year – 14,713 in 1958 and 12,915 in 1959 – but the allure of the mechanism still reduces children (and adults) to a “first-time-at-the-circus” state.

Skyliners always draw a crowd, and this 1958 example in turquoise and white is no exception. Offered from a highly respected private collection, its restoration was freshened by Junior’s House of Color. It is powered by a 300 hp Interceptor Special V8 and described as a very nice driver with all its mechanisms working properly. At $3,138, this was the priciest Fairlane model available. According to an advertisement featuring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, “it goes from an open convertible with room inside for a weekend’s worth of luggage to a hardtop all in a matter of seconds.”

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2010 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.

300 hp, 352 cu. in. OHV V8 engine, four-barrel Holley carburetor, three-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension by coil springs and wishbones, rear suspension by leaf springs with live rear axle, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 118"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Tom Maule

Gallery: Ford Skyliner Retractable Hardtop