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1957-1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner

1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner

Despite a poor showing in 1958, when the redesigned 1959 Fords were introduced, the Skyliner was still available. The Skyliners was still built on the 118-inch wheelbase that now served all Fords and shared new exterior panels and a fresh interior with them. They were also substantially improved in the areas of ride, handling, and build quality.

1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner full view
The more conservative design of the 1959 Fords
included a return to a full-width grille and round taillamps.

As before, the Skyliner required its own rear sheetmetal, but improvements to the top's operating mechanism allowed it to work with one fewer electric motor. The main roof assembly was identical to that used in 1957 and 1958, but had a new, shorter flipper section.

Midway through the model year, a new Galaxie series became the top-line Ford. The Sunliner and Skyliner migrated over from the Fairlane 500 ranks. Naturally, the Galaxie Skyliner was the centerpiece among these loaded luxury cruisers, the most expensive car (apart from Thunderbirds) in the 1959 Ford catalog. Its price increased again, though not so drastically, to $3,346 without options. As such, the retractable cost $507 more than the Sunliner convertible.

Sales of many Fords were better than they had been in 1958, but the Skyliner once again posted a drop in deliveries, down to 12,915. The decline didn't faze Robert McNamara, who wanted the Skyliner to be continued for 1960. But to do so with the all-new body and frame scheduled for that year would have required some serious development, and the team that had made the first retractable work had been broken up. Ben Smith had been sent to Ford's operation in Argentina, and some of the other engineers who had worked with him were involved in other projects.

After six months of work and some $1 million had been expended in preparation for a 1960-1961 retractable, the program was ended.

Smith never lost interest in the retractable idea. He had proposed a luxury station wagon with a lifting rear-roof section using retractable hardware in 1958 and had built a fully functional prototype on a standard 1958 Lincoln. It was interesting, but bizarre.

Much later, he would champion the idea of a retractable hardtop for the Mustang, but this, too, was never taken seriously by Ford management. The company did make some further use of the retractable's engineering for stowing the convertible tops of "Squarebird" T-Birds and, most notably, 1961-1967 Lincoln Continentals.

Clever as it may have been, the Skyliner was really nothing more than a fad, a four-wheel Hula Hoop that caught the public's fancy for a brief time and quickly faded away. It was no more luxurious, comfortable, or faster than other Fords of its day. Nor was it more stylish; in fact, designers had done all they could to make it appear to be just another hardtop.

It was expensive, complex, and was handily outsold by both coupe and convertible Fords during each of the three years it was offered.

1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner rear view
With its top up, the 1959 Skyliner looked quite a bit like
the other Galaxie closed cars, which used roofs
with wide rear pillars.

The real pleasure of owning a Skyliner was inviting friends over to watch as the mechanism did its thing, waving its decklid in the breeze as the top rose, folded, and disappeared into the vast open area behind the rear seat, complete with lots of whirring noises from the drive motors. And that, for a relative handful of buyers back in the 1950s and the collectors of today, is enough to make the Ford that flipped its lid something special.

Find a breakdown of the positive and negative aspects of the 1957-1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner in our final section.

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