Automotive History: Ford Falcon and Continental Mark II Skyliners.


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.