In November 1954, the final clay models for the 1957 Ford line were approved, and one of the versions given the green light was a retractable hardtop. For Ben Smith and his crew at Special Products Division, this meant little more than resculpting their Continental clay model until it looked like a Ford. In fact, the larger Ford may well have helped to solve some of their packaging problems.
Though it shared the 118-inch wheelbase of other
Fairlane 500s, the Skyliner had a lengthened and
revised frame with more body mounts.
Surprisingly one of the major boosters of the retractable at this point was "Whiz Kid" Robert McNamara. His personal taste in automobiles was better reflected later by the plain Falcon compact, but he had good reasons for supporting the frivolous flip-top: As a contender for the top job at Ford Division -- a plum he would later receive -- McNamara wanted to provide every possible inducement for buyers to pick a Ford and not a Mercury or Lincoln (or, later, an Edsel). After all, there were others who wanted the same job, and some worked for the company's other divisions.
That being the case, McNamara was more than happy to approve not only the retractable, but the complete longer, lower, wider, and fancier 1957 Ford line. He would remain a staunch defender of the retractable right up to, and beyond, its bitter end.
The 1957 Fords were fancy indeed. For the first time, the division offered two wheelbase lengths, the 116-inch Custom/Custom 300 and 118-inch Fair-lane/Fairlane 500 series. Moreover, a host of stylists that at times included Franklin Hershey, Joe Oros, Bob Maguire, Bill Boyer, Chuck Mashigan, Gale Halderrnan, Damon Woods, A. J. Middlestead, and L. David Ash gave the new bodies a crisp, sweeping look.
Some basic visual elements, such as the side spears and large, round taillamps, were continuations of earlier themes, but the overall look was very different. A new chassis design allowed the longer new Fords to be lower, too.
With the exception of engines and transmissions, the 1957s were genuinely "all-new," a good thing indeed in a year when many competitors were bringing out fresh designs.
Considering the cost of the model changeover, the few extra millions needed to bring the retractable to market were a comparatively minor item. But the changes necessary to transform a standard two-door Fairlane into a retractable were in no way trivial.
The latter required its own rear fenders, decklid, tail panel, trunk floor, internal structural members, and gas tank. And, of course, the top itself was a unique item, right down to the rear window.
As part of the Fairlane 500 series, retractables were built on the longer of Ford's two wheel-bases. Even so, changes were made: Compared to a regular fabric-top convertible, the retractable's frame was longer (by six inches); narrower in the rear; had a repositioned X-member; and carried more body mounts, a total of 18. Since the retractable weighed nearly 500 pounds more than a conventional Ford convertible, it rode on heavy-duty steel wheels with rims a half-inch wider than standard.
In consideration of its two tons of road-hugging weight, Ford wisely forbore offering its inline six-cylinder engine in the retractable. Instead, buyers could choose either a standard 272-cid V-8 developing 190 horsepower, a 212-horsepower 292, or 312s rated at 245 and 270 horsepower -- the latter with dual four-barrel carbs. All were derivatives of the over head-valve "Y-block" unit introduced in 1954.
For a time during the 1957 model year, retractables could be ordered with the "F-Code" powerplant, a 312 that made a conservatively rated 300 horsepower thanks to the addition of a McCulloch supercharger. Calling for the blown engine meant doing without the optional air-conditioning system, but some owners took the plunge anyway, and at least six supercharged retractables are known to survive today.
All engines were available with a choice of three-speed manual, manual with overdrive, or Fordomatic automatic transmission.
Take a closer look at the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner in the next section.
For more information on cars, see: