The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : The Ultimate Convertible? - Andrew Burford's Ford Skyliner The 2019 Insurance Classic Motor Show : The Ultimate Convertible? - Andrew Burford's Ford Skyliner
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The Ultimate Convertible? - Andrew Burford's Ford Skyliner

Andrew Burford is the owner of what might well be the ultimate convertible on British roads. That might seem a bold statement until you learn that one of his fleet is a 1959 Fairlane 500 Galaxie Skyliner – ‘one of 12,915 produced that year’. As befitting a Detroit car of quality.

The Ford is powered by a 332 V8 “engine ‘with the two-barrel carb’ and boasts “Cruise-O-Matic” transmission. ‘Despite the weight and size still gives us very good gas mileage (relatively). It is a very original car, and I have just had to attend to some minor issues. Typical of many of the cars of that era it has two-tone “Torch Red” and “Raven Black” paintwork and has power brakes, steering and select-air conditioning’.

And, most notably of all, the entire roof retracts into the boot. I will repeat that – the metal top retracts into the luggage compartment at the press of a button. Back in 1957, Ford was the best-selling car marque in the USA and so what better way to consolidate their success than to introduce a special version of the Fairlane 500 – one with the world’s only Hide-A-Way hardtop. Here is the proof from a 1957 commercial starring Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz -

The engineer Gil Spears initially planned the roof for the 1956 Lincoln Continental Mk. II but as the costs proved astronomical, the project was transferred to the Ford division. The top was devised with great precision, and the forward section was hinged, allowing it to fold separately, which reduced the space it occupied at the rear of the car. The petrol tank was re-located to under the rear seat.

The entire process of opening or closing the top took a mere 40 seconds. Of course, the Skyliner was not a cheap prospect ($2,492 was no small sum 62 years ago), and it weighed a good deal more than a standard Sunliner convertible.

The brochure made a guarded reference to ‘plenty of room for weekend luggage’, for any suitcase that did not fit inside the metal compartment within the boot ran the risk of being crushed by the roof. But these were small sacrifices for utter and total style and to ensure that extra degree of exclusivity; the “Hide-Away” was not available on an Edsel, Mercury or Lincoln.

The final example was built in 1959, for it was always to have a limited production run. For a brief impression of its complexity, the roof needed four locking mechanism for the top, plus two more for the boot, 610 feet of wiring, four lift jacks and seven reversible electric motors. By 1959 the number of the last-named had been reduced to six, but the Skyliner would remain a challenge to any future restorer.

However, the Skyliner more than achieved its aim of attracting countless visitors to their nearest Ford dealership. Today, Andrew report that his car ‘still amazes the crowds whenever we retract the roof and is perfect for the UK climate. With the influx of new retractables, most people cannot believe how well it works, it being nearly 60 years old’.

Ford’s boast that the Skyliner was ‘literally two glamour cars in one – each a masterpiece of craftwork and distinction’ was a justifiable one. The car with ‘the smooth expanse of metal’ is the epitome of aspirational motoring for the late 1950s American driver. And you can imagine a Jack Lemmon or Tony Randall look-a-like arriving home to suburbia in style - naturally accompanied by a ‘hi honey, I’m home!’.




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