You are looking a one of six XL Ford Falcon factory retractable steel-roof cars. They were built for the 1964 Miss Australia parade by Ford, who used Bodycraft for the job. Those front doors give a big hint as to the origins of these droptops.
Overall, they did a pretty convincing job of it. ‘XL’ was our local code for the first T-bird roof version of the Falcon, and those c-pillars were the ideal form for a retractable hardtop. The shape is pretty close to the US ’63 two-door sedan, albeit with shorter doors.
These were actually built out of utility bodies; our utes had the short doors while the US Rancheros had the long ones and we didn’t get the two-door coupe until the XM. Lew Bandt – creator of the legendary first ever production coupe utility in the 1930s – was involved in the preparation of these cars, but there’s not much info out there. With no electrics for this mechanism, the roof had to be lifted out by hand.
Nice ribbing along the decklid. These sorts of cars tend to pop up in someone’s collection over here, but there are apparently no survivors from this small batch. Ford Australia were probably worried about the short cuts taken put these together. Given the cars’ ute origins, I doubt there was much bracing in the rear and these would have flexed like nobody’s business.
Now for the Continental.
Paul’s told this story from the point of view of Chase Morsey Jr. here. What follows comes from a poster called barry2952. I’m taking the liberty of reproducing his text word-for-word from the VWVortex Forum;
“Only the best pictures. These are from my private stash. One of the engineers that worked for Ford at Hess & Eisenhardt sent me the originals of these photos, which I scanned. I gave the originals to the Ford Historian for their archives.
The Retractable was the most technologically advanced automobile of its time. It was custom-bodied by the some company that built my Mark II convertible from a new car. The Continental Mark II chassis was fully developed before a final body design was approved. In 1954 Hess & Eisenhardt made 3 cars for the Continental Division of Ford Motor Company. The first two were standard fare 1954 modified Lincoln bodies altered to sit on the radically new “cowbelly” frame, Ford’s first attempt at a ladder frame. All previous Ford products had had X-frames and flat floorboards. A ladder frame allowed for footwells that are 6″ deep. That allowed them to drop the seating, belt line and roofline 6″, which gives the car it’s distinctive appearance. The frame also allowed for the exhaust system to go in-between the rocker panel and the side of the frame, making for some warm door sills after a long trip. This allowed them to drop the car another 2″. Interestingly, the first two cars were actually sold to the public after they were done testing them.
The third prototype Mark II was the “Retractable”. This was one important prototype. Early on Continental wanted to have a drop top in the line. They spent a whopping $2.1 million dollars (1954 money) developing one mans dream for a motorized retractable hard-top. Not the first retractable, but the first fully-automatic hide-away top. Ford top execs were spellbound by the first 1/4 scale demonstration model, approving further funding and the building of the prototype pictured below.
The Retractable prototype was often seen dashing around Dearborn. The story is told that when the car had dismal sales (the car was $10,000 when a suburban house was $10,000) and couldn’t support further production, let alone bring out a new model at a 50% premium in price. The engineering star was purportedly summarily dismissed. The story goes that one of the engineer loaded his toolbox into the back of the Retractable and drove it home, never to be seen again. The rumor, backed by some first-hand accounts, was that the car was walled up inside the garage until the engineer died. he feared losing his pension if found out.
The reason this car is so important is that the top mechanism that had ruined the finical picture for the Continental Division was then used in the nearly 50,000 Skyliner retractable hardtops over the next three years. The mechanism was brought back into duty without sheet-metal as the convertible top used in the 1961-67 suicide-doored Lincoln Continentals.
This car is the Holy Grail of the Continental Mark II collectors. While there were only three convertibles made from new cars, there was only one Retractable.”
I’ll never die wondering what a decontented Conty trunk looks like.
Interesting! Seems like an awful lot of engineering effort for one event. They could have just mounted a fancy seat in the back of a ute to make a parade vehicle.
All that fab work and they couldn’t be bothered to lengthen the doors? Why didn’t they just import some US Falcon converts?
The longer doors wouldnt fit these were built from sedans look at the 3rd pic.
I would guess that for the purpose/use there wouldn’t have been any benefit from longer doors, there is no back seat after all, and all that fab work was probably more than enough already.
I like it in spite of the short doors .
The MKII Conti concept looks sharp too .
CC effect strikes again as I’ve just been reading about the MkII Continental convertible in Classic American magazine.Nice read,thanks Don
That would be about our car.
I never knew about the Falcons. After all of Ford’s retractible hardtop experience, it shouldn’t have been tremendously hard for them to do these cars. And this Falcon looks to be perhaps the only retractable hardtop I have ever seen that looks really right when the top is up.
I had heard about the Lincoln. In addition to serving as the basis for the 1961-67 Continental fabric-top convertibles, the same mechanism served the Thunderbird convertible as well. The upside was no unsightly bulging top after it was folded down. The downside was that trunk space was just about as bad as it was in the retractible hardtops.
The Falcon looks right when its top is down, too. Better-looking than the sedan; the lines & proportions are great, unlike most other adapted convertibles.
I believe that, along with the 1961-1967 Lincolns, the soft-top retractable mechanism was also used in 1961-1966 Thunderbird convertibles.
So the ultimate fate of the Continental Mark-II Retractable prototype is currently unknown?
It sounds like the story/legend that surrounds the original Corvette Nomad Motorama dream car, which was supposedly spirited away by a GM employee instead of being scrapped, and is now hidden in a garage somewhere.
That is correct. Some say it was crushed and others say it was taken by the engineer. When his house in Dearborn went up for sale it is told that there was evidence of a false wall.
There is a movie on Youtube showing the car being used as a daily driver.
Technically, wouldn’t the engineer who allegedly did this have “stolen” the car, as it was owned by the Ford Motor Company? And wouldn’t the car still be owned by the company, even if it surfaced today? Ford could therefore demand its return…although, one hopes, to display it, and not crush it.
Technically, the statute of limitations ran out 50 years ago, but yes it would belong to Ford, unless they claimed the loss, in which case it would belong to the insurance company.
I believe that the soft-top Skyliner mechanism (albeit modified to be hydraulic/electric) was also used on the late 1959, and 1960 Thunderbirds. The 1958, and early 1959s operated the same way, but were manually operated except for the top operation itself which was hydraulic. Only the 1957-59 Skyliners and 1961-67 Lincolns were FULLY automatic – including the automatic release of the top from the windshield header – motor driven screw locks for the Skyliner, and motor driven latches for the Lincoln. All Thunderbirds had manual release of the top from the windshield header.
Fascinating story on that Mark II retractable. Wonder if it’s still out there somewhere? Perhaps stashed in a barn, or still walled up inside an old garage, waiting to see the light of day again someday…
Hard to believe the first two prototypes were sold. You’d never get away with that today, selling a car with a brand new frame underneath it that presumably hadn’t undergone any crash testing etc. Different world back then. Also that’s a fascinating photo–is the car pictured at lower left actually what the retractable looked like? The roof section looks like the production Mk II, but the front fenders look more like the ’54 and that grille area appears to be a one-off. As mentioned, no hump on the decklid either. Fascinating indeed…
Google search turned up another picture with the top half-way between up and down positions.
It sure looks like the same car. Rear wheel arch is lower than the front, and both are flared. Same nearly vertical crease behind the door, accentuating the rear fender. Narrow front bumper. Doesn’t appear to have the Continental hump on the trunklid.
You are correct. I believe H & E made the body from ’53 or ’54 panels. I think it’s incredible that they were sold, but H & E built everything to be a road-going machine.
I’d forgotten all about those drop top falcons Ive read about them before and seen a recreation being built, the third photo down shows they were built from either wagons or sedans NOT utes,but had ute quarter panels fitted over the welded shut rear doors and that was likely the only stiffening in them but they were never going to be offered to the public so it didnt really matter,
Don someone should have written up the only real ragtops built in Aussie post war the Vauxhall Caleche and Vagabonds they actually existed on the market.
I’ve seen them before in a book, but very nice to see the Falc’ photos here on CC Don! Very interesting about the Mk II too.
The folding sequence for the Continental https://www.flickr.com/photos/glenhsparky/3710623625/in/album-72157621117525917/
So from this information regarding the continental drop top, one could indeed recreate one as all of the mechanicals are available and if I were to do it I’d want to de-humpify it, love the look.
I also notice from the build photos that the continental drop top had an implied rear fender line ( ala ’53 olds ) and not a slab side as in the production, perhaps they needed more room for the top. also too bad they stuck the license plate on the trunk lid, pitty.
There wasn’t room for the mechanism in the prototype so they bumped the fenders. You’d have to narrow a mechanism to fit a Mark II.
Thought I’ve heard of of them all, and claim to be a “retractable idiot” ! Have a “pictorial collection” of, I though all until today” ” retraceables’ from Calliver in the early twenties, thru the “everyones doing it now in the mid 1990’s and 2000. Discovered some one off’s, and wear stuff like the Chryslers’ Scimitar and the “Mohs”. ( and the Thunderbolt . the Gaylord and of course “Playboy).Have heard of the proto-type Lincoln Mark and its non-development story and transfer to Ford before but, Never Never heard of or saw a Retractable Falcon before today . Thank you Don and to all that contributed above. Great , great story and commentary.
I run a group on Facebook for Australian XM-XP Coupes and their US counterparts. I read your article with interest. We’ve had many discussions in our group, on the subject car. It also interests me that your article has much of the truths bandied about here in Australia with regard these XL convertibles. You have done a good job.
Would it be possible to make further contact with you in regard to information that might be shared between us on the Early Falcons? I’d like to think it could be a two way street, but I don’t know how much I can contribute.
I’d be grateful for the contact…. (I gather that this will be moderated; I do not need this to be posted but I’ll leave that to your discretion).