Darin Schnabel ©2013, courtesy of RM Auctions

• 225-hp, 332-ci overhead-valve V8 engine

• 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission

• Independent front suspension, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel drum brakes

• Offered from the collection of Richard and Linda Kughn

• Ford’s famed “Hide-Away Hardtop”

• An outstanding restoration; well equipped with accessories and options

• Displayed at the Meadow Brook Concours and the Glenmoor Gathering

• Still show-ready in all regards

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1959 Ford Galaxie Skyliner retractable hard top
Years Produced:1959 (Galaxie Skyliners)
Number Produced:12,915
Original List Price:$3,346
SCM Valuation:$36,000–$58,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$20
Chassis Number Location:VIN plate on the driver’s side door jam
Engine Number Location:N/A
Club Info:International Ford Retractable Club
Alternatives:1958 Cadillac Series 62 convertible, 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV convertible, 1964 Chrysler 300K convertible
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 107, sold for $66,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Amelia Island auction in Amelia Island, FL, on March 8, 2014.

Retracting a metal roof

The Skyliner, Ford’s retractable hard top, was a mid-year addition to the 1957 Fairlane 500 model lineup. Its genesis, however, began in 1953.

Gil Spear, head of Ford’s Advanced Styling Studio, crafted a one-eighth-scale model of his Syrtis concept with what he called a “Roof-O-Matic.” The model car incorporated a functional, scaled-down roof that slid back and into the trunk. His idea quickly made its way up Ford’s corporate ladder, and they soon set aside $2 million to further develop the idea.

Ben Smith, a GM engineer, was plucked away to make the concept of a moving steel roof into reality. The idea was big and bold enough to top the upcoming return of Lincoln’s Continental, the Mark II. Executives eventually slated the idea for production on the 1957 full-size Ford.

Ford introduced the Galaxie, a new top-of-the-line series, shortly after presenting the entire 1959 lineup in October 1958. This new trim level was a step above the Fairlane 500, which had been Ford’s top level in 1957 and ’58. The Sunliner convertible and Skyliner retractable hard top were shifted to the new series, but some of the early 1959 examples came with Fairlane 500 script before the Galaxie’s formal introduction, which is why our subject Galaxie wears Fairlane 500 badges.

Swan song off a cliff

To garner any significant attention in 1959’s over-the-top stylish automotive market, a car had to be bold. Harley Earl’s GMs and Virgil Exner’s Chryslers punched sheet metal into new angles and shapes that reached towards the heavens. Ford needed to up their game in a similar way, and their attempt was based in technical excellence with reserved styling.

At the Brussels World Fair, Ford was awarded the Gold Medal for Exceptional Styling, but the Skyliner was outsold by every other Ford submodel except the two-door Country Sedan wagon and two Fairlane 500 sedans.

On top of that, auto sales dropped across the board in 1958 due to an economic recession. Ford sales fell 42% from 1957, including a 29% drop for the Skyliner. Nearly every brand rebounded in 1959, including Ford. But not the Skyliner. Maybe the public wasn’t comfortable with the curiosity of a moving metal roof. Each year the car was available, sales fell — from 20,766 in 1957, to 14,713 in 1958, and finally 12,915 in 1959.

By the time work started on 1960’s Skyliner, a new design team was in place, and adapting the top technology to the new body style wasn’t a simple task. The project went over budget, and although Robert McNamara tried to keep it alive, Ford’s product-planning committee canceled the new car.

Power it up

The designers did all they could to make the Skyliner look like a regular hard top. But under that skin is where the difference really lies, and when the top is in motion, that difference is obvious.

And talk about technical achievement: The top mechanism has over 600 feet of wiring, eight circuit breakers, 10 relays, three drive motors, four lock motors, 10 limit switches, safety interlock and a dash warning light — all set up in series. One bad component will kill the whole process. A pair of mechanical pull arms folded and unfolded the small flipper panel at the front of the roof; this was the only top operation that didn’t require a motor.

There’s a reason all of the Skyliners available on the market today are displayed with the top in mid-operation. Say you hit the switch and the top doesn’t move. Just replacing the switches with new ones will run nearly $1,000, and if that doesn’t fix it, you’re likely in for a very costly repair bill. Verifying proper top operation on one of these before buying is an absolute must.

What’s it worth today?

I crawled all over this car as it sat on the grass behind the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton. Although it was in fantastic shape, it wasn’t perfect.

The chrome showed a few issues, including light scratch marks on the front bumper and a rusting carriage bolt head on the rear bumper. The top of the driver’s side A-pillar showed an odd discoloration as well. The panel fit was mostly spot-on — the fuel filler door was askew, and the gap varied slightly on the driver’s side of the trunk lid.

Whoever took care of the car’s detailing was a cleanliness freak. The carpets and seats were clean enough to eat off of — same with the engine bay. The worst I can say about the interior is that the ashtray could have been aligned to better fit in the dash. That’s all, as the rest was immaculate.

The price paid for this car was a little above market, but the buyer got a fair deal. ACC’s Price Guide gives a buy-sell range of $36,000–$58,000 for a #2 condition car. I’d peg this car at 2+ as it sat, but with properly sorted chrome, I’d bump it to a 1-.

The market for cars like this is fairly narrow, with most buyers looking for 100% stock examples to take to shows or cruises. But I don’t think the appeal of this car will be lost on the next generation of collectors, as new buyers will appreciate the oddity of the design and the technological difficulties that were overcome to make it all work. Plus, it’s just unlike anything else out there. If there’s one thing that collector folks are into, it’s standing out. All that said, I don’t think it’ll be too long before I can call this one well bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.

Comments are closed.