Courtesy of Auctions America

  • F-code supercharged Thunderbird 312-ci, 300-hp V8
  • Automatic transmission
  • Continental kit
  • Twin dual-purpose spotlight/mirrors
  • Rare — one of 13 built in 1957
  • Only 1957 F-code Skyliner with power front windows
  • Beautifully restored in factory-correct colors
  • Multiple AACA winner
  • 2011 Best of Show at Skyliners of America National

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner
Years Produced:1957
Number Produced:13 (F-code Skyliner)
Original List Price:Approximately $3,600
SCM Valuation:Median to date, $104,690; high sale, $330,000
Tune Up Cost:$300
Distributor Caps:$109 (NOS)
Chassis Number Location:Plate on left front door pillar post
Engine Number Location:Casting number on side of block above oil filter
Club Info:International Ford Skyliner Club
Alternatives:1957 Chevrolet Bel Air fuel-Injected convertible, 1957 Chrysler 300C convertible, 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 4148, sold for $170,500, including buyer’s premium, at Auctions America’s Auburn auction in Auburn, IN, on September 3, 2016.

About a decade ago, retractable hard tops were all the rage. They truly offer the best of both worlds, allowing the wind-in-the-hair experience of a ragtop with the safety, security, and comfort of a sedan. Manufacturers from Ferrari and BMW to Pontiac and Chrysler all introduced models with the feature. Not surprisingly, the concept has become mainstream.

But as is often the case with innovation, the retractable hard top is nothing new. The Peugeot 402 “Éclipse Décapotable” from the mid-to late 1930s had one, as did the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt concepts. But it was Ford that brought it to mass production with the amazing 1957 Skyliner, which made its debut at the New York Auto Show in December 1956.

Destined for Lincoln

If you think Ford’s “miracle car of this generation” should have been a mid-priced Mercury or, better yet, a top-shelf Lincoln, you’re right. Ford stylist Gilbert Spear devised the concept in 1948. In early 1953, Special Products engineers Jim Holloway and Ben Smith began developing the retractable hard top for William Ford’s pet project, the Lincoln Continental Mark II. The ultra-exclusive, ultra-expensive Mark II would have been the perfect application for the gee-whiz top, but when the price of the Mark II approached the $10,000 point, the retractable hard-top project was canceled.

Still, Ford wanted to get something out of the $2.2 million it cost to develop the system, and they chose to re-engineer it for the full-sized Fairlane model.

Ford proclaimed “the same patient research, planning, and testing that went into the Skyliner went into every model of the new kind of Ford for 1957,” making the Skyliner the perfect halo car for the company.

Simple yet complex

Even today it’s amazing to watch the big two-piece steel roof fold and slip under the raised rear deck in just under a minute. But unlike the computer-controlled hydraulic systems on contemporary vehicles, Ford’s Skyliner had all the electromechanical sophistication of a pinball machine from the same era — seven motors, 10 switches, 11 relays and 610 feet of wire. No wonder the complete contraption added 530 pounds of weight over the Sunliner.

The roof and mechanism also consumed so much space in the rear of the Skyliner that the only storage was a small steel basket.

At a starting price of $2,942, the Skyliner was $337 more than the soft-top Sunliner convertible, and the most expensive car in the Ford brand outside the Thunderbird. But in 1957, the shock-and-awe factor was worth every penny. Ford made the most of it with a strong advertising campaign, even hiring the most popular couple ever on TV, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, to promote it on their show.

That $2,942 got you an all-new Ford with longer, lower, wider styling, modern perimeter frame, and 292-ci V8 power under the hood, but not much else. Adding the options befitting a top-of-the-line vehicle could push the price toward the $3,500 mark.

Despite the price tag, a total of 20,766 Skyliners were sold in 1957, helping to propel the Ford brand to total sales of 1,655,068 units. Today’s collectors may be enamored of the flashy 1957 Chevrolet, but at the time the buying public chose the new Ford over the updated Chevy — the first time since 1935 that Ford took the sales crown.

The excitement tapered off for the 1958 and 1959 Skyliners, with 14,713 and 12,915 sold respectively. But to be fair, sales of most American automobiles were down those years.

The Skyliner was canceled after the ’59 model, as re-engineering the top for the upcoming 1960 models would have been nearly impossible. The Ford Motor Company was also reeling from the late-’50s economic recession, and from the huge losses of the Edsel debacle.

Big options

This 1957 Skyliner was ordered to be the best ride available. Built on June 7, 1957, it is finished in Raven Black (code A) with a Flame Red top (code V) and a Flame Red, Colonial White two-tone interior (code AU). Options? This Skyliner has most of them, including power steering and brakes, power windows, Town & Country radio, electric wipers with washer (replacing those annoying vacuum wipers), tinted glass, and the “Continental Kit” spare-tire carrier.

This car was also ordered with the rare supercharged F-code 312-ci V8. Developed to counter Chevy’s fuel-injected “Black Widow” NASCAR racers, the F-code engine packed special heads, cam, distributor and 4-barrel carburetor, along with the Paxton-McCulloch VR57 supercharger pumping out up to 6 psi of boost. Paxton claimed up to 360 hp for this engine, but Ford rated it at 300.

Most of the around 212 F-code engines were installed in ’57 Thunderbirds. Only 27 Fairlane coupes are thought to have been equipped with the F-bomb, and just 13 Skyliners. With both a retractable top and supercharged engine, this ultra-rare F-code Skyliner had to be the ultimate in circa-1957 “wow.”

Just six of the original F-code Skyliners are thought to exist today. In the past decade, five of those six have sold at auction, ranging from $110,000 on the low side to $330,000 on the top. So at $170,500, this sale was just under the average for the model with the F-code option.

You can’t blame the price on the quality of this car, as its provenance and multiple awards should underline the quality here. No, it just seems that on this day the demand for the ultimate in ’50s shock-and-awe was lacking, and as such, this Skyliner sold for a very attractive price. On any warm, sunny day with a
small crowd to impress, this car will look very well bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of Auctions America.)

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