MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Robert Tate's Collection/Ford Motor Company
Published 07.25.2018

Ford Skyliner assembly line 1 Tate Collection RESIZED

In 1957, Ford Motor Company sales increased dramatically, and for the first time in many years, the Ford nameplate regained the first place sales spot from Chevrolet. New for 1957 was the great-looking and exciting Fairlane 500 Skyliner Retractable Hardtop model which proved very popular. The vehicle cost $2,945 and was the highest priced model in Ford's lineup. Today, these cars have become classics and very collectible for automotive enthusiasts worldwide.

 

Ford Skyliner brochure 2 Tate Collection RESIZED 

The Ford retractable models were manufactured at assembly plants in Dearborn, Michigan; Mahwah, New Jersey; Louisville, Kentucky; Kansas City, Missouri; and San Jose California. Ford’s advertising called it “The exciting new Ford Skyliner … World’s Only Hide-Away Hardtop,” and they were introduced to the public in dealer showrooms on April 18, 1957. Ford said this about the new retractable hardtop during its introduction: “Here is the car the whole world has long dreamed about, the world's only Hide-Away Hardtop. Touch the magic button and the Hide-Away roof vanishes into the rear deck and you're sitting in the dreamiest convertible under the sun.”

Ford Skyliner brochure 3 Tate Collection RESIZED

Ford designers and engineers had worked together for five years in secrecy to design a vehicle that offered great styling and innovative engineering. The operation of the retractable top was very simple. During the time of operation, the driver would touch the top button, electric locks would release in the trunk lid, and the roof would rise up and back out of the way. Then, locks would automatically release in the top area, which would swing back and down into the trunk. The trunk area would close and lock itself. Within 48-50 seconds, the model converted from a closed hardtop to an open-air vehicle.

Ford Skyliner ad 4 Tate Collection RESIZED

The Ford Skyliner also represented the beginning of a new era in automotive designs. Spacious styling with handsome appointments for both the driver and passengers packaged in a truly great-looking car. The models were manufactured in 12 new single colors or 13 new two-tone color styles.

1957 Ford Skyliner 5 Tate Collection RESIZED

Unfortunately, the Skyliner models were plagued with problems, including issues with the retractable top that sometimes did not work at all. In addition, drivers could have problems with the luggage space when traveling. If the luggage was not properly stored, the retractable top would sometimes damage the luggage or vice versa.

1957 Ford Skyliner 6 Tate Collection RESIZED

The Ford Skyliner was only manufactured for three years from 1957-1959. The 1957 Ford Skyliner retractable model was a unique mid-1957 arrival, based on earlier developmental engineering by the Continental Division. Ford sold 20,766 retractable models in 1957, however, sales would begin to taper off, because they cost $340 dollars more than a Fairlane Sunliner convertible priced at $2,605. Ford Rouge News on June 21,1957 said, “In May, one out of 12 Ford cars sold was a convertible, either a conventional convertible with a fabric top or the Skyliner with a steel top that retracts into the trunk area. More than 5,000 people have purchased the Skyliner since it was introduced two months ago.”

In conclusion, Ford hit a home run with their styling in 1957, which was proven later by sales figures. Some of the individuals that were a part of the 1957 Ford designs were George Walker, vice president for Ford Styling, along with Frank Hershey, Joe Oros, Bill Boyer and other Ford designers. For more information on the 1957 Ford retractable models, contact the International Ford Retractable Club in Cicero, New York at 315.877.6553 or on the web at by clicking here.   

 

Bibliography

Dammann, George H. “Illustrated History of Ford 1903-1970.” Crestline Publishing, 1970.

Consumer Guide. “1957 Cars.” Volume 162, November 1977.

Sorensen, Lorin. “Ford's Golden Fifties.” Silverado Publishing Company.

Lamm, Michael & Holls, Dave. “A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of  American Car Design.” 1996-1997.