See-Through Roof: 1954 Mercury Sun Valley Project

Quite a few people will remember that in the mid-1950s, Ford had a car with a see-through hardtop roof called the Skyliner. But fewer will remember that Mercury had its own version called the Sun Valley. Neither car sold in huge numbers once people figured out you that could roast alive inside one on a hot summer day. But they were novel reflections on the trial-and-error decade that was the 1950s. This 1954 Sun Valley looks like a restoration project that stopped mid-way before it was handed off to someone else to sell. The body looks good overall, but we can’t say whether everything is there you would need to finish the job. You can find this project in Coos Bay, Oregon and here on craigslist where it’s offered for $14,500. Thank you to Andria Antonakos for uncovering this one for us!

The Skyliner and the Sun Valley weren’t the first cars to market a see-through roof as Plymouth tried it once in the late 1930s without much success. The FOMOCO pair was the first to combine a futuristic bubble-top look into full-scale production automobiles. Assemblies of both cars was about 23,000 in 1954 and it would be tried again in 1955 before Ford moved on to something else (the 1957 retractable hardtop?). Designers recognized that heat could be a problem, so the plexiglass section of the roof was tinted sunglass green but gave off a bit of a strange hue in the passenger cabin under full sunlight. Testing was done out in the desert and supposedly only a five-degree difference was found to exist between these cars and regular 1954 hardtops. To help compensate, Mercury offered a snap-on interior shade for summer use. Air conditioning was available in 1954, but costly and few Sun Valleys had it. For more info on the Sun Valley, check out How Stuff Works.

This 1954 Sun Valley appears to have come from the factory with Parklane Green paint, one of only two colors the car came in (the other was yellow). The top was dark green or white either way. We’re told that the car originated in Nevada, which lends itself to the creation of minimal rust after 66 years. That’s not saying there may not have been any, but if it was there, it may have already been tended to. Many of the trim parts have been removed, including the bumpers, and the photos provided seem to show that all or most of it still exists. What is not old mint green paint is now primer grey. The most important part of the car is still there and looks to be intact: the plexiglass roof. If it were missing or damaged, I don’t know what would be involved in replacing it.

The interior also looks to be a work-in-progress. Parts of the dashboard have been removed and one door panel is missing (or at least not pictured). We’re told that Sun Valley interiors featured yellow and dark green all-vinyl upholstery or white cloth-green vinyl. The safe bet would be to assume that everything inside the car is going to need to be replaced, reupholstered, or refinished. This was a well-equipped cruiser when it was new, not only having power steering and brakes but also power windows. And an automatic transmission (2-speed?).

Assuming this Mercury has its original engine, they rolled out an all-new overhead valve, 256 cubic inch V-8 for 1954. While displacement was roughly the same as its flathead predecessor, the new motor with its oversquare configuration developed more power. The performance was also aided by the use of a 4-barrel carburetor featuring an inlet vacuum which replaced the mechanical linkage to the two rear Venturis, plus dual floats, and a concentric fuel bowl. The engine in the seller’s car looks as though it hasn’t been touched, but other components in the engine compartment have been removed and hopefully are still around.

The hardest thing about buying a car like this is finishing a job that someone else started. Despite what your eyes may tell you, you never really know what was done before you arrived on the scene. Three of these cars in great shape are currently being offered online in the $50,000 range, which is also what NADA says they should bring. So, at the seller’s asking price, can this rare automobile be finished and put back together for less than $35,000? If would seem so.

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Comments

  1. kiteflier

    I drove one in 1975. The guy living next door to me bought one and wanted me to drive it back home for him. We rode over in his MG TD and I drive the Mercury and he follows me in his MG. The Merc was nice but I couldn’t get used to the green color inside from the green roof panel. Everything looked green even my skin. We got halfway home when a car cuts me off and the the guy comes running up to the car yelling “how much for the car?”
    I said it’s not my car and pointed back to my friend that had pulled up behind us.
    The guy walks back to the MG, they talk, I see them shake hands, and the guy is getting back in his car. My friend walks up to me and says, “We’ll follow his car. I just doubled my money and sold it to him.”

    Like 6
    • Paul L Windish

      Kiteflier, definitely a feel good story! Not everyone can double their money on a car driving it home from the previous owner!

  2. Will Fox

    The mention of only 2 colors the Mercury Sun Valley came in is only partially true. The SV was introduced in March of `54 in those colors. But by June they had opened up the color offerings like red/black, baby blue/white, etc. The two-tone green combo was the Sun Valleys most popular offering. In `55, the Sun Valleys last year you could get them in any color combo the regular Montclair series was offered in.

    Like 3
    • Dave Peterson

      My brain is a doubtful source of late, but I do recall seeing one of those beautiful chrome banded Victoria’s with two tone pink and white with a matching pink glass roof. Or is it yet another flashback?

  3. Mountainwoodie

    I was brought home from the hospital in a new ’54 Mercury 2 door. I even have a picture of the car. My Dad must have been a young swinger because from then on it was station wagons and generic strippers, Chevies, Buick and Chryslers. So they have an unnatural attraction for me.

    One of our local last remaining shops that caters to the old car crowd had a ’54 Sun Valley sitting in the bay one day. I got a real itch for it despite the sun oven nature of the top. This one did have the snap on cover. It belonged to a long time customer (as we all are) and he wanted eleven grand.
    I didnt want the car badly enough to part with the money. Thats was a scant ten years ago. Fifty grand? Yikes!

    Are we at the top end of the market for old iron? Who down the line will want them? Can I last long enough to see the bottom of the price curve? Will I still be able to drive? Will I care?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Like 4
  4. Larry Member

    I used to own one of these with factory air conditioning.

    Like 2
  5. fran

    I love the see through roof, but does it have a see through floor? (joking)

  6. Phlathead Phil

    What? That’s a lotta muny! I’m Oout on this one!

  7. Bill McCoskey

    In 1978 a fellow gearhead and I set off from Maryland in my 1973 Dodge B-200 Tradesman van, to do a “grand circle route” of America, 36 states in 18 days. In the Rapid City, North Dakota area, we found a huge junkyard filled with 1920s-60s cars, and the owner was selling stuff really cheap compared to prices back east. Good thing I had brought a comprehensive set of tools!

    My friend was from Germany, and we were both buying pit-free hood ornaments & emblems from the 1920s thru the 50s for only $1 each! I stumbled onto a 1954 Sun Valley that had been rear-ended & totaled. I asked how much for the entire roof assembly, and was told $10, so I bought it. However due to the risk of grass fires, I was told it had to be cut off using saw blades only, no torch! I used up about a dozen hacksaw blades, but got it done. When I brought the roof up to the office, the owner looked it over and said he had to charge another $2 for the sun visors and snap-in sun shield! So it ended up costing me a total of $12. I had also grabbed the firewall data plate and the VIN plate, but he didn’t care about them!

    Strapped the roof onto the back of the van, and it stayed that way for the rest of the 9,000 mile trip. That was an adventure I would have never tried had I known what the trip would take, with long nights of driving and daytime sightseeing, and damn little sleep! But we made it back to Maryland with less than 24 hours before his flight back to Germany.

    Sold the SV roof at the Carlisle, PA flea market a couple of years later, for $1,500.

    Like 1

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