Pick of the Week: 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner

The 1957 Ford Skyliner drew a crowd during its complex retractable-roof operation

One of the greatest tricks of marketing automobiles, or anything else for that matter, is creating demand for something that people didn’t know they wanted. So it was when Ford introduced a convertible for 1957 that was also a hardtop, doing away with fragile fabric tops and replacing them with a complex mechanism to retract the solid roof and stow it in the truck.

That might sound routine today, but it was an absolute marvel back then. No, Ford didn’t invent the retractable hardtop – French automaker Peugeot did that in the 1930s – but Ford was the first to install one on a big, flashy American passenger car.

For the Pick of the Week, we have the first year of Ford’s hardtop convertible, a 1957 Fairlane 500 Skyliner advertised for sale on ClassicCars.com. The Riverton, Utah, seller says the Ford has been freshly restored with just 2,150 miles showing on its odometer, presumably since completion.

The Skyliner has been completely restored, the seller says

“This is a must-see American classic and everything works well,” the seller says in the ad’s brief description.

Even though the Skyliner name was carried over from previous years’ clear-roof-panel models, the hardtop that transformed into a convertible was something completely different. That, and the 1957 Fords were all brand new designs in those heady days of complete model-year changes, stylish streamlining and emerging tail fins, slathered with plenty of chrome and stainless trim.

The power top was a mesmerizing feature, operated via a wildly complicated system of electric motors, heavy switches and relays, springs, cables, screw jacks and pivots. The driver, with the push of a button, would cause the roof to lift, the trunk lid to open rearward, the first 10 inches of the roof to fold under, and the entire heavy assembly to glide into the trunk, which closed over it.

It was a mechanical ballet of the first order, with an accompaniment provided by whirring motors and clicking switches as the system worked through the sequence of stowing the roof and, in reverse, putting it back up again with a solid clunk. Even with the top up, the Skyliner was easy to spot because of its elongated trunk section and shortened passenger compartment.

Cargo space was confined to this bin when the roof was in the trunk

Ford sold 20,766 Skyliners during the 1957 model year, quite an accomplishment considering that it was the family brand’s priciest car at $2,142. But that was a sparse sales number compared with the conventional fabric-convertible Sunliner, which had four times as many sales that year.

The revolutionary Skyliner was produced for just three model years and through three successive body-design changes, with the final ’59 retractables being the most memorable in that pivotal year of stylistic excess.

The asking price for this ’57 Skyliner is $34,850, and the maintenance of the exotic creature takes some dedication – you’d better have someone handy who knows how to fix these things.

 

15 thoughts on “Pick of the Week: 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner”

  1. yes the old saying ,ask the man who had one
    unreliable,top goes up and then stuck and won’t come down, had to be on a perfectly level ground or would not work right. And lets not forgot rattles galore.
    yes the 59 was much better and of course then they killed them for lack of sales.
    so if you have to have one buy a 59

  2. Well, if you ask this man, my ’57 Skyliner made for a wonderful four mid-’60’s post-high school years, and with a certain, perhaps inevitable gratefulness, I’m glad to have also enjoyed no malfunctions whatsoever. There were some maintenance/ repair events, but I was able to handle them myself, and of which, none involved that storied top system extravaganza that never once malfunctioned despite my tendency to dazzle any passengers with it, nor did the car ever fail to get me where I needed to go and then return. Were that not enough, a floor mounted Hurst three-speed stick was a godsend for a fan such as I, making the driving that much more a treat.

    Though long gone now, it still lives within me and in quiet moments still brings great vibes.

  3. PS: The only thing to compare with the aforementioned is,simply, She Who Rode with Me in the Car. God love her forever.

  4. I’ve loved these cars since they first came out. Even though I always wanted one and had numerous opportunities throughout the decades, I never seemed to get my hands on one. Great memories.

  5. Best part of ownership of my 1957 Ford Skyliner is the camaradererie it has developed with related IFRC Skyliner owners, and especially the friendship and talks with one Ford designer(Mr. Ben Smith), accredited with putting that USA marvel on earth. I enjoy the pleasure of working on my Skyliner as it brings fond memories of yesteryear when I was a kid working on those cars including my 1957 Sunliner convertible.

  6. I had a 1959 Skyliner. Took girlfriend to a drive-in movie 20 miles from home. Half way through the movie it began to rain. Hard. No sweat, I’ll just close the top. Well, 3/4 of the way, at least. Drove home with a giant water scoop over our heads. Ever see a blond with a drowned bouffant hairdo? Neither did I after that date.

  7. always be prepared scenario; knowing some of the idiosyncrasy of the design, one can mechanically move the roof to a fully closed or open position; if you own a specialty product be prepared as I say and enjoy the moment.

  8. always be prepared scenario, one must always know the idiosyncrasy of a specialty product; there is in this specialty design a mechanical means to fully close the operation up or down to the retractable hardtop if the electrical system interrupts in some way.

  9. most of the bad rap that the 1957 thru 1959 Ford Skyliner retractables got was due to lack of knowledge and/or training by Ford Motor Company and therefore variable results in repairs; the Skyliner was introduced and put on to ‘mechanics’ at Ford dealerships ‘they were NOT ELECTRICIANS’ … by the time the 3rd model was introduced ‘the damage had been done in somewhat variable repair results’ … the concept is brilliant and the restorers/owners of these SPECIAL CARS hold them in high esteem !
    The result is the International Ford Retractable Club … just ask any member ……

  10. Drove my convertible to work in New York City from Brentwood Long Island. Driving home it started to rain, pushed the button and half way closed it locked up. Here I was 40 plus miles from home
    Soaking wet pulled off the freeway looking for someone to help me…………..not one person would stop . So here I was , a 19 year old with a BRAND new car with a convertible, hours later I I pullled in to my garage sucked all the water out of my car had the Ford Dealer fix the top and that weekend I sold it back to the dealer. Never had a convertible again.

  11. My father was a Ford sales manager when the retractable came out. He brought one to the Dearborn County fair just prior to the 57 showing. He spoke and demonstrated the features of this futuristic model as I pressed the button to retract the top on this T Bird engined White over green beauty. The top stuck just as it was supposed to go into the massive trunk. My dear dad did not miss a beat as he stated that his six year old son was showing how to stop the top to avoid any pinched fingers. I had no idea what he meant but I kept on hitting that button until the top finished it’s magic. Thank goodness that my dad wore a sports coat to hide his sweat stained shirt that day !

    The other blessing was that my grandfather was an electrical engineer and showed the mechanics how to prep these beauties. We sold many more of these than any other Cincinnati district dealership which helped my dad become a very young Ford dealer for most of his life.
    I want one back and I still hold on to the schematics and wiring diagram.

  12. Thanks for the great story, Barry. I once did a story about a collector who had a ’59 retractable, but the servos that operated the top would not cooperate. We took the car to a mechanic he knew who understood the black art of keeping these things functioning. He managed to get them all clicking again, and the top was able to demonstrate its opening and closing ballet. A fun afternoon.

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