In its last year of produciton, Ford’s amazing Skyliner Convertible Hardtop, nicknamed the Retractable, was to evolve even more. It was a full sized convertible with the amazing two-piece retractable hardtop. Ford was already seeing the end of an era and the retractable would not survive past ’59, but what a run it had.
This week, a 1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner Retractable has been listed for sale by a private seller from Missouri. (Follow this link to read his ad and see more photos.) This will be the second time this amazing car has been on the market, having been sold through Cars-On-Line.com back in 2015. After being restored in 2014, this car received “Best in Show” honors at the international Ford Retractable Club judging, scoring 1,011 points and being entered into the IFRC Show Case. The factory options on this car put it into an exclusive category. They include power seat, power steering, power windows, power brakes, air conditioning, Town & Country radio, day/night mirror, padded dash, spot lights, bumper guards, Continental kit, exhaust deflectors, flying eclipse, Sun Ray hub caps and the rare reproduction luggage. It is arguably the most highly optioned 1959 Ford Retractable in existence.
Being a 1959 Fairlane 500 produced in the first half of the production year, it came with the 332 c.i. motor and automatic transmission. When it was restored both were rebuilt and every nut, bolt and piece of weather stripping was replaced. During the frame off restoration all the chrome was redone and stainless trim was buffed.
Ford’s amazing retractable hardtops were produced by Ford Motor Company from 1957 through 1959. If there was ever a technology that was way ahead of its time it was the retractable hardtop. People would watch in wonder to see that magical hardtop disappear into the trunk. The word of the “disappearing hardtop” spread throughout the country and people came in droves to the Ford dealerships to see the Skyliners in action. That first year, 1957, Ford sold 20,766 of these convertible hardtops. Nothing like it had ever been produced on a mass scale before.
Unfortunately for Ford, when the two-piece folding hardtop roof was retracted back in to the trunk of the car it left the full sized car with no trunk room. That proved to be one of the factors that Ford cited for discontinuing the Skyliner after 1959. Sales kept dropping. In 1958, there were 14,714 Skyliners sold.
1959 was the lowest production year for the Ford retractable. Production totalled 12,915 cars sold. That makes the 1959 model Skyliner the most sought after by collectors. During the model year Ford started their Galaxie series as a sub-category under the Fairlane 500. So that year some of the Skyliner retractable hardtops were considered part of the Galaxie series even though it still had Fairlane 500 badging also. It is the only production car in automotive history to bear three model names.
Amazing Disappearing Hardtop
The Ford Skyliner Retractables were a completely new technology for the 1950’s. A young engineer named Ben Smith was brought in to head up the retractable program. In the early 1950’s it was thought that Smith was going to create the retractable hardtop for the Lincoln Continental. By 1953 he had a working 3/8-scale model of the hardtop. They first tested it on a 1952 Lincoln. It is said that politics inside Ford was the reason why the retractable hardtop first appeared on a full sized Ford. But the scale of the development costs also dictated that investment would have to be spread out over the per unit sales of the lower cost, higher production Ford Fairlanes.
Unlike other convertibles in those days, the retractable did not use hydraulics to raise and lower the roof. No the Skyliner’s retractable top was a much more complex mechanism. It required seven reversible electric motors designed just for this use, four lift jacks to move the deck lid and roof, a lot of relays and ten limit switches, ten solenoids, with four locking mechanisms for the roof and two for the trunk lid. A total of 610 feet of wiring made it work. Because of the depth needed for the trunk area, a special fuel tank was designed to fit vertically in back of the rear seat. It actually was much safer that way in case of rear end collisions.
This car is featured this week in the Cars-On-Line.com Christmas edition newsletter. Be sure to read the story and follow the links to see more photos.