It’s funny, this business of scouting for FeralCars.com. Sometimes you start thinking that an early ’90s Camry station wagon might be an interesting subject and then — WHAM! – – you’re driving along Sunset Blvd. and there it is: a 1958 Ford Skyliner! You pull over into the first parking space you can find and run back to that big ol’ Ford.
But maybe your mind is playing tricks with you? Could it really be a super rare Skyliner, Ford’s pioneering effort to effort to build a convertible with a retractable folding steel roof? These were only built for a run of three model years — ’57, ’58 and ’59 — after which Ford threw in the towel. These cost a significant percentage more than Ford’s far less oddly proportioned Sunliner canvas topped convertible. Concerns about the top mechanism’s reliability — incorporating seven electric motors, eight circuit breakers, 10 switches, 10 relays and over 600 feet of wire — limited its sales appeal and sales were not as expected for the Skyliner which didn’t reappear when Ford debuted an all-new body in 1960. The market Ford thought was there wasn’t but the idea was later applied to Lincoln Continental convertibles whose soft top was stowed under the rear deck lid making for a smooth silhouette as those watching the Presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963 can attest.
Upon cursory inspection it’s confirmed that is, indeed, a Skyliner with the roof fixed in the “closed” position and highlighting the strange rear deck, stretched and boxed to open and swallow up the steel top. And it’s a ’58, the second year model when the heretofore conservatively styled Ford line gave way to space race-inspired madness. Fins? Sure, we got ’em? Quad headlights, “frenched” into the fenders atop which are decorative “gun sights”? Sure thing! A faux air intake in the middle of the hood? Check! Quad tail lights? Uh-uh. Wrap around windshield with “dogleg” knee basher? Right there! Oops, almost left out the gleaming gold anodized rear fender insets that adds some metallic flair to the blue and white two-tone treatment.
This particular survivor is in delightfully un-restored conditon. There’s rust through under the headlights and the chrome is pitted, providing a nice contrast to the pristine “trailer queens” that one usually encounters at car shows where owners tend to augment their display with all manner of ’50s kitchy accoutrements including poodle-skirted models and fuzzy dice.
The retractable hardtop convertible idea languished for almost 40 years when it was revived by Mercedes Benz for its compact SLK roadster in 1996 SLK. Other manufacturers jumped on the folding steel roof bandwagon thereafter: Volvo, Ferrari, VW, Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Mazda and even Chrysler with the woeful Sebring that also suffered with the same EPS (Embarrassing Proportion Syndrome) as those Skyliners. And, talk about filling a need that didn’t exist, Chevy equipped the SSR retro hot rod truck thingie with one, too. Ford never again embraced the idea even when top folding technology had been perfected and became somewhat commonplace in the industry. The brain trust in Dearborn seems to have never fully recovered from the lack of public acceptance its corporate forefathers suffered during the last years of the Eisenhower administration.
When the Skyliner was introduced for the ’57 model year, Ford hired Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to star in this commercial to ‘splain the concept of a retractable hardtop to the American public but no sign of Fred and Ethel. By ’58, Ford had added a new, larger four passenger Thunderbird to its line up including a convertible version that had the same top stowing technology as the Skyliner, albeit the top that was stowed was canvas rather than steel. We found a commercial from the era that highlighted both the T-bird and Skyliner as well as Ford’s conventional Sunliner, touted as “America’s lowest priced convertible.”
While you could reasonably expect price for Skyliners to have gone, ahem, through the roof, we found this really nice ’58 in nearby Worcester, MA for a shade under $30K. Not cheap, to be sure, but a chance to own a massive hunk of mid-century technology that addressed a need that was never really there.
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