Ford rocked the Motor City in 1957 with the introduction of the Skyliner, the industry’s first all-metal production convertible. This original four-minute film introduces the new feature and includes a neat, clear demonstration. Watch this.
It can’t really be claimed that Ford invented the metal-top, retractable convertible. Like so many automotive innovations, the feature was developed over time by a number of manufacturers and suppliers—in both Europe and America—and identifying the a true originator is rather like peeling an onion. But Ford rightly deserves the credit for developing the feature for volume production and making it available to a mass audience. Which was quite an engineering project in itself: The system employed six electric motors, 10 solenoids, 13 relays, and 610 feet of wiring. Ford modestly described the development of the articulated roof as “the birth of a mechanical miracle,” and marketed the feature as “two cars in one”: a sporty convertible or a cozy all-weather hardtop.
Ford’s first experiments with a mechanized metal top included the 1953 Syrtis, a design studio model, and the automaker originally engineered the feature for use in the 1956 Continental Mark II. But ultimately, the high-volume Ford Fairlane platform was selected so the design and manufacturing costs could be spread over the greatest number of vehicles. As you will see in this film, Ford originally pushed the term “Hide-Away Hardtop” for the folding steel roof, but that label never really caught fire, and today the model is known as the Ford retractable or simply as the Skyliner, Ford’s official model designation.
For its three model years, 1957 through 1959, Ford offered the Skyliner retractable right alongside the automaker’s conventional fabric-top convertible, the Sunliner. And there we can clearly see that while the Skyliner was an impressive engineering achievement, as a marketing exercise it was sort of a flop. Due in part, no doubt, to the Skyliner’s hefty price premium ($2,942 vs. $2,605 in 1957) the traditional ragtop convertible outsold the retractable by approximately a three-to-one margin. In 1959, the Skyliner’s final year, only 12,915 units found buyers, and Ford discontinued the ambitious experiment. Video below.