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1957-1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner

Of course, in a day when Victorias, Country Squires, Sunliners, Rancheros, and sedans in Tudor and Fordor form filled the sales catalogs, the retractable hardtop needed a catchy name of its own.

Ford's marketing department came up with a list of more than 120 possible names for executive review; while none quite reached the flights of fancy as those tossed into the hopper for the Edsel (come to think of it, poet Marianne Moore's "Utopian Turtletop" might have suited the retractable rather well!), they did include such gems as "Liberator," "Caprice," "Spectacular," "Hida-Top," and "Telecoupe."

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner full view
Skyliner buyers could easily exceed the $2,942 base
price by ordering some of the options seen here,
such as a grille guard and rocker-panel trim.

Unimpressed, management chose to hang on to the moniker from the recently discontinued Plexiglass-roof hardtop coupe and called the retractable "Skyliner." Gold-toned name scripts appeared on the wide trim bands at the base of the hardtop roof pillars.

A separate production line was set up for the Skyliner so that workers could concentrate on the somewhat delicate alignment and adjustment processes required by the retractable roof. Many cars apparently needed some post-assembly fiddling, but their reliability record in customer hands was better than one might think, considering the possible consequences of a misplaced limit switch or out-of-line pivot arm.

Unusually detailed service manuals were prepared for dealer service departments; an engine tune-up was a far less-complicated operation than troubleshooting all those switches, relays, motors, gearboxes, and cable drives.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner engine view
The retracting roof wasn't the only trick in Ford's book
in 1957; so was a supercharged V-8.

Some six weeks after the start of production, a dignified black Skyliner was built and dispatched, with a $3,053.70 invoice, to Washington, D.C. The president's reaction to it is unrecorded, but he is certain to have had one complaint: His golf bag would have been next to impossible to stow in the car's trunk.

This, in fact, was the Skyliner's biggest drawback. Despite the promise of a huge cargo space under the expansive decklid, any items carried there had to be fitted within a smallish square metal box or, if the top happened to be up, could be laid atop the screw jacks, which rested flat on the trunk floor.

A related, and perhaps worse, Skyliner negative was the routine faced by a motorist with a flat tire. He had to remove the luggage box to gain access to the wooden panel under which the spare rested. Naturally, if the top was down it had to be raised to reach the luggage box in the first place, and if there was anything in the box, that had to be unpacked as well. At least Ike probably didn't have to worry about changing his own tires.

As might be expected, the Skyliner had plenty of room in the passenger compartment for four or five people -- even if they had to pack lightly. Most of the interior was made up of standard production hardware, except for the rear seat, which was narrower and had both a shorter cushion and a bolt-upright backrest. Thanks to the smaller seat, head and leg room were equal to that found in 1957 Ford hardtops, even though the seat itself was placed three inches further forward in the car.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner retractable top view
Sales of the 1957 Skyliner neared 21,000 despite
luggage space that was confined to a small pen
that was inaccessible when the top was down.

In all, 20,766 Skyliners were sold during the 1957 model year. Almost four times as many conventional Sunliner convertibles were produced, but it was still an impressive number for Ford's costliest family car (base price: $2,942), and boded well for the future.

Check out the next page for details on the 1958 Skyliner.

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