1957 Ford Fairlane Skyliner Retractable 390

Sometimes a car maker comes up with an idea, puts it into production, and a market either materializes or it doesn’t. Ford’s marketing gurus probably did their homework on the retractable hardtop concept, which had only been done one other time with a production vehicle. That work led to the creation of the Skyliner for 1957-59. Perhaps due to lower-than-expected sales, there was no 1960 Skyliner. This first-year edition has been in storage for 25 years and taken out for a spin every now and then. The interior, at a minimum, will need restoring. It’s available in Indio, California and here on AutoTrader for $25,000. Thanks to Larry D for bringing this find our way!

The heart of the Ford Skyliner was its retractable roof mechanism, marketed as the “Hide-Away Hardtop” which was unique to this vehicle. You couldn’t get a Continental, Lincoln, Mercury, or Edsel fitted that way. The only other time the idea was put into prior production was with the 1938 Peugeot 402 Eclipse Decapotable. The Skyliner’s retractable top operated through a complex mechanism that folded in the front of the roof and pulled it in under the rear decklid. The top used several reversible electric motors, lift jacks, a series of relays, multiple limit switches, a bunch of solenoids, assorted locking mechanisms for the roof and two more for the trunk lid. On top of that, more than 600 feet of wiring ran everywhere.

Once retracted, the top left little available trunk space, so if you went shopping with one of these with, the back seat is where your groceries and other stuff had to go. 1957 sales were the car’s strongest, at 20,766 units. Demand fell by a third to 14,713 in 1958 and even fewer at 12,915 for 1959. That added up to just over 48,000 cars before Ford pulled the plug.

The body and paint look nice on the seller’s car, but oddly no photos are provided of the car’s key selling point, the top. Perhaps it works fine, and it was an oversight by the seller. These mechanisms were known to be finicky, at least with earlier models and repairing one of these things had to be a nightmare for the mechanic at the dealership who drew the short draw. The interior, on the other hand, looks kind of rough. The front seat will need new upholstery, the door panels are lacking, and a new carpeting set will be required.

We’re told this car comes with a 390 cubic inch V8 under the hood, and the Thunderbird lettering on the valve covers tends to support that. But it must not be the original engine as you couldn’t go bigger than a 312 V8 in 1957. In fact, none of the three years of production were offered with anything over 352 cubes. The seller is throwing in an extra 272 V8 and automatic transmission that we’re told will need rebuilding. Perhaps that drivetrain is what was in the Skyliner originally.

Whoever buys the car will get some extras in terms of a set of doors, front grill and a spare 4-barrel carburetor and manifold. The Skyliner name wasn’t new to Ford customers in 1957. It had been used on those models with the clear acrylic glass roof panels (Crown Victoria) in 1955-56. Online pricing guides suggest that premium survivors and restored editions can go for $45-60,000. So, if the mechanical elements of this car don’t need help and the retractable top works properly, this could be an interesting car to flaunt to the Cars & Coffee set.

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Rick

    That engine and transmission being thrown in with the deal aren’t the originals from the car being offered here. That crossover at the upper front of the engine was last used on Ford and Mercury cars in 1956. The canister type oil filter was also last used on the cars in 1956.

    Like 10
    • Will Fox

      Ford dropped the 272 after `56. In `57 you had your choice in various guises of an inline 6, a 292 V8, or the 312 V8. The 332 & 352 cube V8’s didn’t arrive until `58.

      Like 6
      • Rick

        In 1976 I bought a ’57 Ford Custom 300 4-door sedan from the estate of the original owner. The car had 24,000 actual miles and it had the 272 V8 with an automatic transmission. The “B” in the first position of the VIN was the clincher.

        Like 5
      • Phil Lawrence

        272’s were available in all models until 1958.

  2. Ken Carney

    Almost bought a ’58 till Dad talked me
    out of it. He told me that he’d considered buying a spanking new ’59
    model when he was younger but thought better of it after he saw how
    everything worked and the sticker in
    the window. He didn’t leave empty handed though, he settled for a new
    Sunliner ragtop instead– which he
    promptly wrecked backing out of
    the dealership where he hit a pole
    that was placed at the end of the
    driveway! He said he cried like a
    baby after it happened. Must’ve been
    really sad to wreck the first new car
    he ever bought. After keeping it a
    year, he started buying used Cadillacs
    instead. They were cheaper and were
    a much better value to him. It would
    take 15 years before he would buy
    another new car– and when he did, he
    let the lot person pull the car out and
    bring it to him. Nice old Ford though.

    Like 7
  3. 370zpp

    I had the remote control, toy version of this as a kid. Blue with a white top, that even retracted. Oh, and the remote was wired.

    Anybody else have one of these?

    Like 7
    • Steve Moseley

      Yes, I did have one, top worked well. I have been trying to remember the color.. ‘can’t believe I can’t remember,.. (‘Wonder what that little car would be worth now(?) wish I still had it !

      Like 1
    • Rick

      I remember having a white one that was either a ’57 or a ’59 ’cause it had the round taillights. Yes, I wish I had stashed it away in the original box and never abused it like a normal youngster would.

  4. Ken Carney

    Had one similar to yours, only mine was
    dark red with a cream top. The top on
    my car actually went down into the trunk
    too. The remote on my car made it go
    forward and backwards and nothing more. Come to think of it, did anyone out there have the giant ’53 Corvette
    model with lights that lit up and the
    shifter that made the car go forward
    and back up? My kid sister loved to
    use it to take her Barbie dolls for a ride!

    Like 2
  5. rich parsons

    I think a 312 four barrel might have been standard with a 2 four barrel 312 upgrade and a blown 312 was the top engine in 1957. The 352 came out in 1958. My dad bought a 312 with 2 four barrels(270hp) which I would roll out of the driveway at night and fire up a block away. Fun times.

    • tiger66

      The 292 V8 was the standard engine in the Skyliner, per the brochure.

    • Robert (Bob) Soars

      You, too? I used to do that with my Dad’s ’64 Comet Cyclone! What was I thinking? No license, no insurance would’ve covered me, I was really stupid!!!!

  6. Terrry

    Why, oh why, didn’t the seller include a picture of the car with the top up? Something’s a bit strange there. Also, post one of the top partially down too. It would verify that the top is not only there, but that it works.

    Like 7
    • Herb

      My first car was a ’59 Skyliner bought in ’62. Loved it. But I agree that something is strange here. The car in the picture looks like a ragtop. The back of the car does not look large enough or is it shaped quite like a Skyliner. Maybe it’s the angle of the photo, but I don’t think so.

      Like 6
    • Paul DeFouw

      I’m not convinced that it’s a Skyliner. The distance from the door to the back of the car doesn’t look long enough. Also, where’s the flap that goes over the rear shelf?

      Like 1
  7. DON

    Never was a fan of the Skyliner , but I really liked the hardtop 57s . They were known to be rusters however , and there is at least some filler in the car ; the Fairlane script is missing from the front of the car, and there are no mounting holes seen . There aren’t any really good pictures of the sides or rear of the car. As with any old car , you would really want to look this over before buying

    Like 1
  8. Chris Platt

    “The only other time the idea was put into prior production was with the 1938 Peugeot 402 Eclipse Decapotable”- really? How about the Mercedes-Benz SLK? How soon they forget!!

    • Howard Kerr

      “….into PRIOR PRODUCTION…”

      I am guessing that statement means PRIOR to 1957, and the PRODUCTION part means more than 1 of 0. I doubt that the Edsel pictured was even factory produced, otherwise there would be more than a narrowly circulated pictured.

  9. Ralph Puccini

    I beg to differ. Ford did create a Skyliner version for the Edsel for ’58.

    Like 1
  10. Huntley Hennessy

    I agree with Don, It looks like a Sunliner. The rear quarter panels look too short for a Skyliner. Pix of the top mechanism or at least the deck lid in open position would be helpful. I restored one in the late 80’s. It was a great driving car with the top up. When the top was in the trunk the front end felt light and like it was floating. I ended up selling it to a buyer in Japan through Hemmings.

  11. Bunky

    Neat car. I would get the seats done and drive it as/is- at least for awhile. I would also be tempted to leave the 390 in place. More ponies, better engine. If I wanted to put it back to original I would try to find a ‘57 312. They are a little stronger than run of the mill Y blocks- and boring out a smaller displacement block is a crapshoot.
    Couple things; Ford unfortunately used the crossover style exhaust on the 292 through ‘64.
    An Edsel with a retractable top does exist, but it’s a one off custom- not factory made.

    Like 2
    • Chuck Dickinson

      There’re more than one “Edsel” retractables out there. I’ve seen some which kept the Ford quarters, and others which created an pseudo-Edsel extended quarter panel.

      Like 1
    • Rick

      Ford pickups with the 292 used the upper front crossover pipe through 1964.

      The last Ford and Mercury passenger cars to use that arrangement were the 1956 models. In 1957 the exhaust manifolds had the outlet flanges at the rear and the crossover pipe was the traditional type that crossed over at the lower rear of the engine.

  12. Vince H

    54 was the first year for the Skyliner.

    Like 2
  13. Mountainwoodie

    Every year here we have a mid summer Pioneer Days (sort of) parade. We had an older and I mean older fellow in town who once had an amazing car collection and was well known in the vintage car world. He had gotten somewhat debilitated and was sitting in his retractable ’57 watching the parade. The roof was in mid air with the front flap in the process of extending itself but frozen in place, hanging there above the gents head. I ambled over to see what was up and say hello. It was obvious what was wrong……..the relays or pumps had failed.

    When I inquired how were things going, he replied :” Goddamn retractable!”.

    Like 2
  14. Frank D'Elia

    This car is in really rough condition and based on that, and the fact that there are no pictures of the top up, the top coming up, or the top going down, I’d question if the top worked! This top mechanism is nothing if not complicated (remember the world before computers??), and expensive to fix, if you can find somebody who knows what they’re doing. Either this listing is trying to hide the condition of the top (and it’s mechanicals) or the person selling this car doesn’t;t know what they are selling. I take a hard pass!

  15. Howard Kerr

    BTW, the advertisement for this calls it a “convertible” so this looks like a case of BARN FINDS having wishful thinking.

    • Paul DeFouw

      To be fair to Barn Finds. It says convertible in the heading, but the Classic Car Overview in Auto Trader says retractable hardtop. I.E. “this retractable hardtop has been in storage for over 25 years, driven every couple of years.”

  16. MikeinLA

    Although the photos are inconclusive, it doesn’t have the fat butt look of an actual Skyliner.

    Like 2
  17. Chuck Dickinson

    In the first photo, you can see the front right part of the deck lid, and that IS a retractable deck lid. Also, in one of the interior shots, you can see the hole for the top’s ” jack screws”. That, alone, is enough to say that it IS a retractable.

    • Paul DeFouw

      You’re right. It’s a broken retractable, because the flap is not over the rear shelf like it should be.

      Like 1

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