Ford did a proverbial mic drop when it added the retractable hardtop “Skyliner” option to the top-of-the-line Fairlane 500 in 1957.

Let’s say that again:

1957. Retractable. Hardtop.

At its debut, the 1957 Ford Fairlane Skyliner was the only mass-produced car in the world to have one—an engineering marvel to make Rube Goldberg smile.

Here’s a good look at the hardtop mechanism from a 1958 Skyliner we spotted in the amazing Collection 21. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

The mechanism to lower the hardtop consisted of seven individual electric motors, all operating in a precise sequence. The system incorporated levers, folding sections, and articulating arms, and the whole raising/lowering process took about a minute to complete.

You can watch Mr. and Mrs. Ricardo demonstrate it here:

When stowed, the massive hardtop hid under an equally-massive decklid. In lieu of a now-absent trunk, there was a small compartment in the boot that could store some luggage.

Suffice it to say, early Skyliners are rare. We practically tripped over ourselves scrambling to grab pictures of this one after we saw it roll in to the Summit Racing retail store parking lot in Tallmadge, OH.

It’s easy to tell the year for this one. (We didn’t even have to check the license plate this time, Bart.)

First things first, we know Ford only made Fairlane 500 Skyliners from 1957-59.

This Lot Shots Fairlane sports single front headlights which is a dead giveaway that it’s a 1957 edition. In 1958, Ford Fairlanes adopted a quad-headlight arrangement which carried over into 1959 as well.

1957 Fairlanes also had several other distinguishing features, including a much different rear end than later models, so we’re pretty dang confident that this is indeed a ’57.

Unfortunately, the hardtop mechanism proved to be too maintenance-intensive and expensive to catch on, and Ford abandoned the retractable hardtop after 1959.

It would be almost 50 years later before retractable hardtops became mainstream, making it easy to describe the Skyliner as ahead of its time.

Share this Article
Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in an old Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.