Cherry: ’59 Ford Skyliner ‘Flip Top’
Special to The Union
When Ford came up with the idea of a retractable hardtop convertible, there were no others in the world.
Although Peugeot had made a power-operated hardtop convertible in the mid-’30s, it had long since been discontinued. Originally destined for the Lincoln Continental Mark II, this heavyweight, high-priced option ended up with the Ford Fairlane 500 in 1957.
Retractables quickly acquired the nickname “flip tops,” inspired by the so-called crush-proof cigarette boxes with a lid that flipped open. Although they worked well, they were more expensive than a conventional convertible and were outsold by them by four-to-one in their best year.
Frank Kerner’s first experience with the Ford retractable was a plastic model kit he built when he was 14 years old. Then a friend in high school owned a real one, however, the power hardtop didn’t work. While thumbing through an issue of Auto Trader one day in 1987, Frank saw a pricey Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop advertised for sale and flipped over it.
“I knew I had to have one of those cars,” he said.
First he checked the wrecking yards for one in rebuildable condition. Most were not. He did find one with no engine and trans that was possible, but he had no idea if the top would operate.
He was about ready to take a leap of faith and buy the car when, through a friend, he heard of a ’59 retractable that had been sitting under a car cover for some time. Although it needed work, it was complete, running and the all-important top mechanism worked.
With only 95,000 original miles and no serious problems, Frank decided to buy it and drove it home. He almost didn’t make it. It was a hot day, about 95 degrees, and the car kept overheating. The carb had issues as well, but Frank managed to nurse his Ford home.
Fortunately, the engine issues were minor and he was able to resolve the overheating and carb problems without overhauling the 352 CID mill or the Cruise-O-Matic auto trans. He did a cosmetic cleanup, but no major mechanical work.
Frank repainted his retractable himself in black, as well as installed an upholstery kit for the interior. The biggie, the electrical for the retractable hardtop, required nothing. With almost 700 feet of wiring, six electric motors (down from seven the year before), 10 relays and 12 switches, any problems can be a nightmare to trace.
In fact, in all the years he’s owned the Ford, Frank only has had to repair one problem: a circuit breaker stopped working. After he finally located it under the right front inner fender, all it needed was a cleaning.
Frank and wife Diane enjoy taking their Flip Top Ford to local car shows and events, including the Saturday morning Cars and Coffee at Kmart shopping center on McKnight. Over the years, they have logged on another 70,000 miles without any major problems.
Watching him put down the top is still a marvel to behold. It’s all automatic and done with pre-computer technology.
First the trunk opens from the front. Then the top lifts to the whine of the turning screw hold-downs. The front edge of the top folds under as the top nestles into the trunk, taking up most of the space. Then the front edge of the trunk lid unfolds and the lid descends. The flip top has flipped.
Ron Cherry has published two books, a mystery titled “Christmas Cracker” and a noirish suspense, “Foul Shot.” For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.
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