1957-1959 Ford Styling

The Ford Skyliner's Troubles

The 1959 Ford Skyliner was a technical marvel but not showroom success. The Skyliner's top mechanism comprised 600 feet of wiring spread among 10 power relays, eight circuit breakers, 10 limit switches, three drive motors, four lock motors, a dashboard warning light, and a safety interlock that prevented operation without the transmission in Neutral.

1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
1959 was the final year for the Ford Skyliner.

Here's how it worked. A steering column switch activated two (1957-1958) or three (1959) switches to start the deck motor, which lifted the long lid via twin shafts at each edge. As the deck locked into full-open position, it tripped the switch for another motor that raised the package shelf to deck level. That started another motor for unlocking the top, after which two more motors (one on the 1959) moved it up and back into the open trunk cavity. A separate servo folded the "flipper."

This process could be reversed at any point. However, because the system was sequential, it was rendered totally inoperable if any one part failed. In that event, the point at which the sequence stopped told a mechanic or owner where the trouble was. A hand-cranked emergency manual override was provided so you wouldn't have to drive with the top at half-mast.

Considering its complexity, this system proved remarkably trouble-free -- so much so that it inspired the soft-top mechanisms on the 1958-1966 Thunderbird and 1961-1967 Lincoln Continental convertibles. Of course, everyone wanted to see it work: in some places, the Skyliner's "disappearing act" was the biggest attraction since the circus left town. Ford advertising helped stimulate public curiosity by asking a legitimate question: "How can it be a hardtop convertible if the top doesn't go down?"

Despite its crowd appeal, the Skyliner was not a success. After a brisk 20,766 units for the abbreviated 1957 model year, production dropped to 14,713 for 1958, then to 12,915 for 1959. The problem was price: $437 to more than $500 costlier than the soft-top Sunliner. Buyers had a hard time justifying the extra expense for the sideshow roof and its many potential headaches -- never mind limited luggage space with the top up, no luggage space to speak of with it down, and next-to-impossible spare tire access.

Interestingly, Ford experimented with a retractable for the 1961 Thunderbird program, but it never came close to production. Neither did a 1960 Skyliner based on that year's new "aerodynamic" passenger-car design. Styling was one stumbling block: retrac engineering required boxy bodywork, as on the 1957-1959 Fords. But the real reason was the McNamara regime and its turn from marginal marvels like the Skyliner to more practical and profitable products, notably the 1960 Falcon compact.

As a relic from the decade of hula-hoops, two-tone ballpoint pens, and refrigerator doors you could open from either side, the Skyliner has since become a coveted collector's item. Yet for all its technical wizardry, it was only the answer to yet another automotive question that no one was asking, and was thus inevitably short-lived. Which, of course, is precisely why we'll remember it long into the future.

On the next page, you'll see the production numbers for the 1957-1959 Fords.

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