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Ford Fairlane Skyliner... The Retractable Hardtop

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Jive-Bomber, Oct 12, 2010.

  1. Jive-Bomber
    Joined: Aug 21, 2001
    Posts: 2,952


  2. Rocky
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 13,660

    Classified Editor

    With 13 relays in the electrical system [so I've been told by a buddy who usta drive them] they were great until they malfunctioned.
    The guy who ran the Bonneville Motel had several on the property and when he found I was a mechanic he offered to put me up for free while I repaired his flop-tops. I tried to 'splain to him I was on vacation...didn't want to wrench on my time off. He gave me a cool framed poster advertising B'ville speedweek taken from the Wendover Times on Aug 4th, 2000 as a little persuader..wasn't enough to try to straighten out the nightmare wiring in those cars...but they are cool when they work.
  3. Deuces
    Joined: Nov 3, 2009
    Posts: 12,303

    from Michigan

    I heard a story once many years ago that the guy who designed the electrical system for those tops ended up in the nut house.....
  4. Von Rigg Fink
    Joined: Jun 11, 2007
    Posts: 13,431

    Von Rigg Fink
    from Garage

    I heard the same thing..not that it makes it true, but it sure makes you wonder
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  5. seatex
    Joined: Oct 24, 2006
    Posts: 2,650


    I'll never forget seeing one of those for the first time at Hot August Nights about 15 years ago. The wow factor was way up as the guy kept cruising up and down raising and lowering the top. About an hour after we had first seen the car, we saw it parked on the street with it about half open. Not sure if he just parked it that way, or broke it, but damn, it was cool either way!
  6. barry2952
    Joined: Aug 9, 2007
    Posts: 351


    The top for the Skyliner was developed for the Continental Mark II Retractable. The Continental Division of Ford spent $2.1 million developing the top but sales figures didn't warrant using it on the limited production cars.

    Here are some pictures that one of the original engineers sent me of the mule's development. It is rumored to still exist in a garage in Dearborn. It was made by Hess & Eisenhardt, the same company responsible for cutting my Mark II into a ragtop.

    After nearly 50,000 Skyliner units were built the sheet metal was removed and the mechanism became the top mechanism for the '61 Lincoln convertible.

  7. jim galli
    Joined: Sep 28, 2009
    Posts: 376

    jim galli

    I owned a '57 and my best friend owned a '59 for a long time. In fact, the wiring mechanism and controls were so over-engineered on these that you could find one in a wrecking yard and chances were good that if you put a battery in, the top would still work. Compared to todays computerized stuff that needs a micro chip to shift my 4WD into action, these were very straight forward. The only problem ever encountered with either of the 2 I cared for was when we drilled through some wires installing seat belts! The T'Bird ragtops used much of the mechanism with soft roof also. My '64 sport roadster worked very similarly except it had a hydraulic pump that was fussier than the electric screws on the retract.

    Ford lost money on every one of them, but considered it worth it having a flagship like no other. These never would have flown when the 'ant eater' was introduced in 1960. That chapter was closed.
  8. Jive-Bomber
    Joined: Aug 21, 2001
    Posts: 2,952


    Barry-- KILLER Pictures! Thanks for posting!
  9. I'll bet a few of the people who bought them ended up in the same place.

  10. TomH
    Joined: Oct 21, 2003
    Posts: 1,243


    A local guy just restored a `58 and went to a Canadian event this past summer. On the way back into the states they wanted him to open the trunk at customs. Guess what?? It didn't work!! After they tore the back seat out to get at the relays and still couldn't get to work they let them cross.

    I have never like the side profile with the top up. It just doesn’t look right to me.
  11. tommy
    Joined: Mar 3, 2001
    Posts: 14,763

    Member Emeritus

    A cool idea when they came out but I never liked the fat ass that they had. They didn't look as good to me as a sedan or a convertible. You can pick them out from 2 blocks away. I think you have to sign a pact that you will always leave the top halfway up when parked in a car show.:D

    I wonder if the same guy was responsible for the sequential turn signals a few years later?:D They were a wiring nightmare also.
  12. "To see one down on the ground, shaved, metal flaked and sporting chrome reverse wheels with spiders might just put it back on my list real quick".

    Like this?

    Attached Files:

  13. sloorider
    Joined: Oct 9, 2006
    Posts: 277


    I wonder if a geek/madman could utilies modern wireless tech, servos and stepper motors to make it slick...over my head thou...
  14. 57Custom300
    Joined: Aug 21, 2009
    Posts: 1,263

    from Arizona

    It still amazes me that they could do it with relays and wiring back then. Its just a marvel to watch them work. Nowadays with everything computerized they still have there share of glitches.
  15. Gotgas
    Joined: Jul 22, 2004
    Posts: 6,258

    from DFW USA

    I've always heard they were amazingly reliable, which is confirmed by the people that actually owned them above. It's the people that have never owned them that speculate that they were complex and unreliable. I know three people that own them. All of the top mechanisms have been left unrestored, and they all work perfectly.

    Maybe it's the people that decide to 'improve' the operation that are messing them up? :confused: ;)

    The Ford wasn't the first retractable hardtop. The Chrysler Thunderbolt of 1941 had it as well. And if you thought the Ford was funny looking,... :eek:

  16. Complicated and expensive, but I still love 'em.
  17. Jkustom
    Joined: Oct 8, 2002
    Posts: 1,671


    I wanna see more pics of that Chrysler!! It looks like a car from "the incedibles" or something..

    I met a guy with a '59 skyliner once, he said his top worked great.. I was kinda surprised how noisey it was going up and down, but that's when cars were still machines.. Pretty rad.
  18. ramrod2624
    Joined: Dec 19, 2006
    Posts: 639


    I have a 59 Retractable, When I got it at first the top did not seem to function but after playing with it a little and working the knots out of it wham there it was opening and closing. a little noisey as was said but I think thats just part of it. also mine takes a little time to catch the screws at time but I think thats just adjustment.
    I know an older gentelman who has one of each year 57,58, and 59. the 58 he uses in parades the 57 is a points car the 59 is also a points car. he has been working on them shince they first came out. knows them like the back of his hand! the best part about him and his cars are that he will take all of them out. he rotates the cars weekley and goes to all the local cruises and most of the bigger events like John force christmas show etc...
  19. froghawk
    Joined: May 9, 2008
    Posts: 815


    From what I've read this top mechanism's reputation for being troublesome is not necessarily deserved. It had to be pretty reliable since they used the same basic technology for the tops on the '58 thru '66 T-bird and '61 thru '67 Lincoln Continental convertibles.

    The video with Lucy and Ricky is really cool! Interesting that the car is two-toned with a darker upper body; don't often see '57 Fairlane 500s that way. The top does sound noisy; whining like a Stuka dive bomber!
  20. 63Compact
    Joined: Feb 14, 2007
    Posts: 1,071


    7 motors, 13 limit switches, 600ft wiring and 8 solenoids. I ve fixed one of those on a 57 for a guy fun times indeed.
  21. flynbrian48
    Joined: Mar 10, 2008
    Posts: 5,460


    I had a '59 in the late '70's that had come from a junkyard here in MI. The top worked fine, after cleaning some terminals on the selenoiods, and replacing the limit switch on the deck lid. Had a 352/Cruis-o-matic, I put duals on it, lowered it, a set of slot aluminum mags, and added a pair of stainless skirts. Man, what a cool car. I sold it to buy a new washer and dryer and pay of a credit card when our son was born. Sheesh...
  22. autobilly
    Joined: May 23, 2007
    Posts: 3,087


    These cars are just plain atomic cool! I came close to buying a red '59 in '86, but had to be realistic and realise that I couldn't really afford the nearly $30K price tag.
  23. rainh8r
    Joined: Dec 30, 2005
    Posts: 792


    I had to go through the top mechanism on a 64 Lincoln that used the same kind of setup, and while it's simple, it can be trying to deal with. It's all done with power-activated (not ground activated) relays and a big, round, rotary switch on the inside of the decklid.:no electronic boards or anything. The biggest problem is finding power-activated relays and figuring out where they put some of the relays, like behind the kick panel or next to the rear seat cushion. The Lincolns also have the rear window drop 6" whenever the rear doors are opened, which is fun to deal with too.
  24. the-rodster
    Joined: Jul 2, 2003
    Posts: 6,118


    The Thunderbolt wasn't a production car, nor the first retractable.

    Check out the 1935 Peugeot....

  25. GaryC.
    Joined: Mar 24, 2007
    Posts: 1,486


    My dad's golfing buddy actually won a brand new baby blue '59 retractable in a contest!
    I remember him coming to pick up my dad in that car. I asked him to make the top go down. He put it through its paces; both down and then up again. It took several hours to wipe the smile off my face. Some things always stick with you. They did have room to get two golf bags in to.
  26. Jive-Bomber
    Joined: Aug 21, 2001
    Posts: 2,952


    Here's one at the Mullin Museum:

    Attached Files:

  27. Brandy
    Joined: Dec 23, 2004
    Posts: 5,290

    from Texas

    With all the horror stories of electric issues, there goes my wild dream.
  28. fms427
    Joined: Nov 17, 2006
    Posts: 831


    My parents bought a new 59, and I bought it from them in about 66 when I got married. It was our family car as we were moving about the country from college to work. It is still one of my favorite cars!

    Ours was always very reliable - only had one issue when a wire broke in the front moveable roof section early in its life. Easy to fix, but it took the engineers from Dearborn to find it. Living in PA. , the steel roof was great in the winter, and it really attracted attention when the roof went up or down. While luggage space was tight with the top down, when the top was up it was like a small pick-up truck - just had to be careful not to pack stuff on a limit switch ! Was great riding, and fast with the 352 Interceptor engine. But, Its sales were hurt because it was an EXPENSIVE Ford !

    Alas, when graduation came, I was seduced by a yellow 65 Impala convertible, 327, 4 speed - and the retractable was traded in with 80K miles. Still wish I had it back - but not sure I'd want to restore one.......
  29. Zombie57Ranchero
    Joined: Oct 7, 2009
    Posts: 459

    from SGV

    Another example of why the saying "They don't make things like they used to" is so true!
  30. I knew a guy who had a black one. It was a beatiful car (he may still have it...i have no idea). But he was an electrician. I was down at his shop one day when he was trying to get top to work. He said, "The next damn car I build ain't gonna have nothin' electric in it!!!" LMAO

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