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Monday, February 17, 2014

1957-1959 Ford Fairlane Fairlane 500 Skyliner

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The idea of a retractable hardtop convertible first floated through Dearborn’s styling studios in 1955. Stylist Gilbert Spear worked up the plans and $2.2 million was spent to study the concept. 
 
1956 Lincoln Contintal Mark II.

Originally slated for corporate flagship, Lincoln Continental Mark II, it was deemed to be far too costly for such a low-production model.  The retractable study was sent down to the Ford studio where higher production numbers would better amortize the additional $18 million needed to further develop and test the concept.

Sheet metal was bulked up in the rear quarters up to accommodate the large roof.  A special .184-cubic metre (6.5-cubic foot) bin was created for luggage storage so that items stowed in the trunk wouldn’t stray and be crushed as the top came down.   
 
The Skyliner used the 5.1-litre (312 cubic inch) Y-block V-8 engine that was installed in police cars.

The completed Skyliner package was heavy enough to require the Interceptor V-8 engine used in police cars as standard equipment. Interiors were finished in a linen pattern Royal Scot Tweed upholstery, edged in vinyl trim.



The operation of getting the top down was a complex one, even if the driver only had to push a button on the steering column and stand back to ooh! and aah! as the magic show began.  A dash light glowed its warning as the trunk lid  opened, the package shelf rose up to deck level, the top unlocked and the roof pointed upward into the air the first 30 centimetres  (12 inches) of the roof actually folded under so that it would fit into the allotted space) and then disappeared into the cavernous trunk space.  Finally the trunk lid came down, the warning light went off and the driver was ready to roll.  In case of emergency, engineers thoughtfully provided a hand crank to finish the job.

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The impressive electrical and hydraulic system included 182 metres (600 feet) of wiring, ten power relays, eight circuit breakers, ten limit switches, three drive motors and a safety lock that prevented the mechanism from going into operation unless the car was in neutral.


Skyliners had a three-year run, from 1957 to 1959.  The first year 20,766 were built.


 The second year 14,713 units were shipped during the 1958 model year.  

1958 Ford Skyliner instrument panel.


In 1959 production dropped to 12,915 units. Skyliners were never profitable even though they retailed for 20% more than Ford’s top-of-the-line Sunliner convertibles.  

 Dealers were happy to sell Skyliners but many didn’t want to stand behind the service and warranty work. The retractable hardtops were ultimately sentenced to automobile death by  division’s president Robert McNamara,  because he hated gimmicks and loved large production numbers.



No Skyliners were built in Canada, though a few were imported and sold through Ford dealers.  Curiously enough, this is one of the rare times where a Ford model did not have a corresponding relative in the Meteor family.  No Meteor Skyliner with the retractable roof was ever sold.


Just under 60,000 of these unique land yachts were built.  If you should ever get a chance to watch a Skyliner perform, you’ll be one of a handful of lucky people who ever get to see this  classic in action.

1959 was the last year for the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner.


Copyright James C. Mays 1999 All rights reserved.