1958 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner Retractable Hardtop, Series 8-58
On loan from: Reynold Limbach, Overton, NE
Original cost: $3,163.00
Number made: 14,713
Engine, etc. 8 cyl., valve-in-head, 312 hp; ours has a Thunderbird special engine; 118 in. wheelbase; 4,069 lbs.
The 1957 – 1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner was the world’s first production retractable hardtop-convertible. It seemed like a good idea at the time but proved to be more complicated with lots that could go wrong. The Skyliner was also more expensive at $400 more than the conventional Sunliner convertible. It was the most expensive vehicle offered by Ford. Both factors affected sales.
The retractable roof was originally developed for the Continental Mark II but its price was already so high that Ford decided against adding the retractable top and further inflating the price of an already expensive car. With $2 million already invested in the development of the retractable top, Ford decided to put it in its more affordable Fairlane model, calling it the “Skyliner”.
To create more room for the roof to slide back into the trunk, the roof was made slightly shorter than on other models and its front section was hinged. But the Skyliner ended up with a higher, longer rear deck and a “bustle” rear panel.
The retractable top system was complicated and prone to mechanical problems, but ultimately proved to have decent reliability. It had three roof drive motors driving four lift jacks, four door-lock motors, ten solenoids, four locking mechanisms for the roof, and a total of 610 ft. of wiring.
The car was such a sensation when introduced that even President Eisenhower ordered one in 1957.
The Skyliner came with a standard V-8 and the gas tank was relocated from the rear of the car to behind the back seat. More by accident than design, this relocation added safety in rear collisions. It got 14 mpg. It had little luggage space in the trunk with the top down.
For 1958, the front bumper and grille were redesigned. Quad headlamps were used in the front and rear, replacing the previous single headlamp design.
Sales fell during its three-years of production, prompting Ford to drop the Skyliner after 1959.
See also: http://www.oldcarbrochures.com/static/NA/Ford/1958_Ford/1958%20Ford%20Fairlane%20Brochure/dirindex.html (Original 1958 brochure; pdf)