Since I grew up during the 50s and being a typical teenager, automobiles fascinated me, particularly during my high school years. My family did not own a car. At that time, there were many seniors who drove to school and parked in a field below Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh. Now, I wouldn’t exactly call their cars junkers but, for the record, I’d say the best part of their automotive lives was behind them. Thus, for those of us with out wheels, waiting for the trolley car with my pals marveling at new models as they passed, was almost as famous as girl watching.
Of course, there were those people we considered wealthy who drove around ragtop convertibles. In spite of the word ragtop, these cars were real beauties whether their roof was either down or up. Picture 2 shows off one of these slick, almost sexy looking cars. To say the least, we were envious. Then there were those cars whose side windows went all the way down leaving no center post; we referred to them as hardtop convertibles. Pictures 3 and 4 show such vehicles.
But then came the rumor that Ford company had masterfully created a real hardtop convertible. It seemed that the unbelieveable had happened. Advertisements on television displayed Ford’s engineering wonder in full operation. I remember marveling at a commercial where Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez walked on stage coveting a new Ford convertible sitting there. Of course, curious Lucy climbed in the drvier’s seat, either pulled or pushed a single button, and the action began.
First the trunk lid opened upward from the rear. Next, a solid roof popped up from the trunk and began moving forward. The first 10 inches of roof unfolded from beneath (Pictures 1 and 5). The hard top clamped down on the top of the windshield and locked itself in place. Finally, the trunk lid slowly lowered and settled into position.
Wow-wow, what a breathless operation. As a youthful car watcher, I had just witnessed the incredible. The entire operation appeared smooth, completely automatic, and since the roof was not made of cloth, it looked even more stylish than traditional ragtop convertibles with their cloth roofs stretched tightly over supporting ribs. In my mind, I could imagine thousands of Skyliners being sold. I mean why not? Like the rest of the boys my age, I would certainly want one.
But this fantastic marvel did not sell well. In fact, for the Ford automotive company, it was a financial failure compared to the enormous amounts of money spent developing it. For one thing, the rear panels of the Skyliner had to be extended three additional inches to accept the roof. Even then, the first 10 inches of roof had to fold under itself to fit down inside.
In addition, with the roof either up or down, there was inadequate luggage space at a time when Americans were in love with automobile road travel. The rear seat was uncomfortable. It had to be moved forward to accommodate the moving roof mechanism and thus was very stiff. Passengers sat back against a stiff seat that was almost straight up and down.
Since there was no room in the trunk for a spare tire, it had to be placed under the trunk which meant that the gas tank had to be moved from its more standard position to behind the rear seat. As noted above, this was already a crowded space.
To supply the relays, circuit breakers, limit switches, drive motors, locking motors, a dashboard switch and warning mechanism, along with an interlock system that would not allow the roof to be raised or lowered unless the transmission was in neutral required over 600 feet of wiring. With so many components that had to work flawlessly every time, one can only imagine the number of trips owners made to their dealers to keep their hardtop’s roof operating properly.
Had I known of all the Skyliner’s woes back in my high school days, they would have made little difference to a boy who had always been fascinated by gadgetry. In my estimation, the Skyliner was one of the smartest looking automobiles on the road with roof up or down. If I owned one today, I would keep it powder puff clean and only drive it around with the roof down in either spring or autumn. Summers are too hot. The car will always be a modern miracle in my memory and I’d sell my soul to own one.