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.
“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.
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.