What what what? there’s no proper long-form CC post about the 1959 Ford? How can that be? I was as surprised as you doubtless are, though this major gap in the CContinuum has been conspicuously acknowledged for a while. The ’59 Ford made fleeting appearances here and there on CC over the years, but it seems not long enough to warrant a full write-up. Well, it couldn’t hide forever.
It couldn’t hide, but it sure did try. This was one of the cars in the storage lot I wrote about yesterday. I took a few shots on my initial visit, but there was a truck boxing the Skyliner in, so my angles options were limited. Fortunately, when I decided to do a second visit, not only were my phone’s lens issues resolved, but the Ford was out in the open, just sprawled on the forecourt for all to gawk at.
I’ll just preface this by saying that I like the 1959 Ford. Well, I like it a lot more than the 1957-58 or the completely different 1960, in any case, though the 1955-56 Fords are much better-looking, in my view. If we’re choosing favourites among the ’59 Ford products, I would be more partial to the Edsel. If we’re looking at 1959 lower-priced cars, the crazy GM Batwing might be my pick. So all in all, I’d give the Ford a solid silver medal.
And that’s pretty much how Ford scored back in 1959. Chevrolet’s controversial styling is commonly cited as the main reason why the Heartbeat of America (I know, that slogan was used in a different era) had a bit of a fibrillation that year, by which I mean that Chevrolet outsold Ford by just over 10,000 units. That’s tantamount to a rounding error, given that we’re talking about 1.5 million vehicles per Big Two (Plymouth were a distant third place with fewer than half a million).
In reality though, it wasn’t so much that the Batwing Chevy didn’t sell, it’s that the ’59 Ford was a relative hit. In 1957, Chevrolet made 1.5 million cars, but Ford eked out a win with 1.6 million. The 1958 recession hit and Chevy still churned out 1.2 million cars, while Ford did not manage one million. However, the ’59 Chevrolet was brand new, as the ’58 had been too. The Ford body, meanwhile, was on its third year, so one imagines that manufacturing costs were cheaper at Dearborn. Of course, this was somewhat offset by the Edsel fiasco…
The full range of Fords for 1959 (the T-Bird is included here, but not the Ranchero pickup) is quite a sight. Such a wealth of variants is a sign of the times: two-door wagons and the Business Sedan were hangers-on from the past, while hardtop everything was a very ‘50s trait. The new Galaxies, which topped the range, had T-Bird-inspired rooflines, which was retractable on the famous Skyliner.
The Skyliner was not the first tin-top convertible ever made, but it was the first one made in America and in high quantities. Everything is relative, of course: for 1959, only 12,915 Skyliners were made. But then this was the most expensive Ford not named Thunderbird… The model was born in 1957 as the Fairlane 500 Skyliner (they added “Galaxie” only for 1959, because this exceptional model obviously needed an extra name) and required a battery of relays, switches, solenoids and electric motors, bound together by 610 feet of electric wires for this ultimate party trick to be realized. The rest of the auto industry looked at the Skyliner and went: “Meh.”
Over three model years, Ford sold just under 50,000 Skyliners – probably not making much profit on each, but the complex contraption at least proved pretty reliable. Ford adapted the mechanism for use on the 1961-67 Lincoln Continental convertible, so perhaps the trial run had been worth it. Still, the day of the coupé-cabriolet had not quite come.
Well, so much for the sizzle. What about the steak, what kind of cut are we talking about? It depends on how much one was willing to pay in extras, I guess. The base 6-cyl. was decent enough, but kind of short on horsepower to motivate a rather heavy car. There were three V8s to choose from, so one could fork out a few extra bucks and get a decent amount of oomph if one so desired.
But again, the Chevy small-block V8 had already made a name for itself as the best engine in the lower-priced field. Transmission-wise, Ford and Chevrolet were about the same – i.e. much less desirable than Plymouth’s TorqueFlite. The Ford chassis was just as middle-of-the-road as anything. No fancy torsion-bar or dodgy optional air springs here, thank you very much.
So why did Ford convince so many folks back in 1959? Well, we haven’t looked at the styling yet. Overall, the car is a bit boxy and looks somewhat old-fashioned compared to Plymouth and Chevrolet (but not quite so much compared to AMC and Studebaker). Fins were naturally part of the design, but they were quite discreet compared to other domestic offerings. The big turbine taillight was to have a long afterburn on the rear of Fords of the next decade – that rear end, to be sure, looked rather good.
The front end is a bit less inspiring, but then Fords of the 1957-59 generation were, in my view, rather ill-equipped in that department. If anything though, the ’59 is the best-looking of the bunch, with that star-pattern grill adding a bit of pizzazz. The front bumpers, however, are needlessly blocky and do nothing for the car’s appearance, which is all the more puzzling when you consider how well-designed the rear bumpers are. Ford couldn’t do faces in those days, for some reason.
Stepping inside, we see a pretty attractive (and a tad conservative) dash – nothing like the Googie nightmares of Mopar cars, which is probably a good thing. But then there is the obverse of the coin: Ford’s column shift linkage, barely visible on this picture, looked like it belonged more in a late ‘40s car than a fancy ’59. But other than that and this car’s rare dash-mounted vacuum cleaner option, there is little worthy of note, frankly. Nicely done.
So what was the secret sauce that made the 1959 Ford a relative hit? It didn’t offend anyone. While Chevy went a bit mad and Plymouth’s reputation was shot, Ford played the part of the conservative no-nonsense option, with a dash of style thrown in thanks to that Galaxie / T-Bird roofline and those big round rear lights.
As far as the Skyliner is concerned, the technical feat was impressive, but it took another 30 years for the concept to be revisited, this time with success. Poor Ford. That was their one party trick, and it wore thin very quickly. I suppose the lack of luggage space and the constant worry that one of the hundred-plus components that made the roof move might fail – just when it starts to rain – were pretty big hurdles to overcome.
Curbside Classic: 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner (With Video of Roof In Action) PN
Cohort Outtake: 1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Galaxie – The Missing 1959 Ford CC, by PN
CC Jukebox: 1959 Ford Galaxie – On The Street Where You Live, by Joseph Dennis
Cohort Outtake: 1959 Ford Galaxie Skyliner – Would Have Made a Great Extended-Cab Ranchero, by PN
Cohort Outtake: 1959 Ford Galaxie – Cleared For Take-off In Finland, by PN
Cohort Sighting: 1959 Ford Hearse – Improperly Attired For The Occasion, by Perry Shoar
The styling of these cars is rather clumsy compared to the offerings of the competition. While GM and Chrysler’s gargantuan ’59 models managed to look relatively fresh and modern and maintained a certain aura of speed and agility (at least when parked), these ’59 Fords look like old hat, plump and ungainly.
The styling strikes me as being very “busy”, and not very cohesive or pleasingly proportioned. I’ve never knowingly seen one of these in the metal, and I’m sure they’ve got a bit of presence. But if I had one in the garage, I don’t know that I would be able to sit down there with a beer and just sit and enjoy the design. Just a bit messy really.
The third picture suggests that Ford could have amortized the body by fastening the roof and opening up the back end to make a Club Ranchero like Aussie utes.
So. Sick. Of. Skyliners. OK, they are not at all common, but it seems that during the last ten years every single 1957-59 Ford I have seen has been a Skyliner. I was driving a couple of days ago and saw a white 57 Ford parked somewhere. It was a Skyliner. I did not stop my car. Had it been a garden-variety Ford I would have absolutely stopped and shot a dozen photos of it.
Everyone talks about 57-59 Fords the way we talk about 57-59 Mopars or Tri-5 Chevys, but the truth is that the 59 Ford (the body at least) was kind of its own thing. The windshield and vent window shapes are even different, as is every single piece of sheetmetal. The short wheelbase sedans were gone. I have conceded that the 59 Ford was not strictly a repurposed 58 Mercury, but I remain convinced that there is a lot of 58 Mercury in the car – the blunt front and the kickup in the rear door/quarter (that became an outie on the Ford compared to the Mercury’s innie).
I have not read enough Ford history of this era, but it would not surprise me that this car was originally planned to run for another year. I would argue that the 59 Ford is the only American car (except for the 58-60 Lincoln) with the basic rectangular shape that would rule the American auto industry for the next 25 years. With lots of gingerbread hung on it, as was seemingly necessary in 1959. But it was (for the time) a good, conservative design.
I’ve spent way too much time staring at ’58 Mercuries and ’59 Fords, but I’m utterly convinced the the ’59 Ford is a repurposed ’58 Merc body, at least to a significant extent. As I discovered in an Edsel piece I wrote, these cars (Ford, Edsel, Mercury) all sat on essentially the same chassis and their front clips interchanged, more or less. But the senior Edsels and Mercuries’ bodies had those wide shoulders at the belt line which the junior Edsel and ’57-’58 Ford didn’t. Hence the senior Edsels had to have an extension flare added to their front fenders to match up to those shoulders.
The ’59 Ford clearly has those same wide shoulders. They are a key differentiation in the look and feel of this family of cars, and it makes the ’59 Ford look wider, blockier and more contemporary. Obviously a number of details were changed, especially the windshield and such.
This obviously is not the same body as the ’57-’58 Ford. It is a repurposed ’57-’58 Mercury body. But under the skin, there’s really not much difference. They’re all of the same family/”platform”.
I agree about the styling. Nothing really there to excite. However, my grandmother bought one brand new, red and white, with the top dog 352. Every time she came to visit, I’d ask her to put the top down. We took it up Mt. Washington, in 1961, and as I remember, she never had any issues with the car, not even any rust. She wound up trading it in for a 1964 SS Impala convertible, with the 250 horse 327.
Rosemary Cluny advertised the ’59 Ford:
“The world’s most beautifully proportioned car…
“You’re ahead in a Ford all the way.
“It has the style for fifty-nine.
aa it went on and on climaxing in…
“You’re ahead in a FORD ALL THE WAY.”
I believe Rosie.
Probably there is something wrong with me as I have more than enough vehicles and there is no reason under the sun to pursue more, but if a reasonably intact 1959 Ford Ranchero were to become available it would become an obsession to secure said vehicle.
Maybe it’s because Harry Dean Stanton looked so damn perfect behind the wheel of one in ‘Paris, Texas’, maybe it’s the proportions, I dunno, but man, ’59 Rancheros are magnificent. Almost hope one doesn’t come along.
Perfect place to jump in and endorse the ’59 Ranchero! I admire it too.
I’ve always liked big, round Ford tail lights. Like ’59 Caddy fins, ’59 Ford tail lights were the pinnacle.
My favorite ’59 Ford would be the similar Ranch Wagon (or the two door Country Sedan). In around 1985 there was one parked on the street, with a for sale sign, near a friends home in Atlanta. I wasn’t really in a position then to make an offer and get it back to home (Illinois) at the time. It was orange & white.
Paul – certainly the Ranchero and the wagons have only Ford, and not Mercury, lineage. What do you think?
We had two 59 Fords in the family, oldest brother had a white 2 door 352 auto and next oldest brother had a black 2 door 6 cyl 3 on the tree. Never liked the looks of these cars. I am the next brother in line and my first car was a 63 Ford 2 dr sedan 352 4sp. It was originally a 406 car. Engine failure, cam, heads and intake were put on the 352. The 352 ran pretty good but sucked oil like no tomorrow. After a few years I put a 390 T-Bird engine in it. Ran decent, didn’t burn oil, but did not rev out near as well as the 352. Years later pulled apart the 352 to overhaul it, nearly all the rings were broken.
I’m clearly in a minority, but if you’re going to have a 1950s American car with a fins and the rest of it, you might as well go for the bonus ball of Cadillac, Edsel or this. There’re more of these….I’ll take it.
You must be part Australian Tatra 55/66 and 59s were what they got Ford AU just kept the 56 in production with some meteor parts in the grille as an update the annual model change simply didnt happen there, I prefer the 59 to the 58 Goldflash as its known locally those taillights are awesome little wonder they became a Ford theme on US cars,
Ironically or not the Ranchero ute began with this model in the US just as Ford AU uted the Zephyr and stopped building 56 Mainline utes Chevrolet did the same the El Camino appeared after GMH stopped building Chevrolet utes and Vauxhall utes stopped with the introduction of the PA model in 58 coincidence or was some tech sent back to respective mother ships.
Fancy finding one of these in Japan! It looks like it’s certainly seen better days, and needs a fair bit of rechroming. I can’t figure out what’s happened to the reversing lights – are they some sort of once-chromed custom accessory grille that’s been mounted over them? In Australia they got amber lenses and functioned as indicators – maybe in Japan too? From those strange wheel covers it looks like someone was going for some sort of custom look too.
For people who didn’t like the styling excesses of most late fifties American cars, these Fords represented a comparatively conservative alternative. Dad for one hated fins; that was why he didn’t get the new Morris Oxford for ’59 (that, and the Austin chassis). In amongst his things I found a brochure for these big Fairlanes, so the styling must have appealed to him. I never asked him whether he was seriously thinking of getting one. Prestigious, yes, but way bigger than the three of us needed.
That ad – “Set your Family Two Ford Free” – really? Two cars this big? Rich Americans….. 🙂
Another in a continuing series of expertly written and researched essays, Tatra87. It’s fascinating that this folding roof technology came out in over sixty years ago, but it was the whizz-bang ’50s. I have seen one of these in person with the top frozen open, and it is a specimen. It also must have been so frustrating for Ford to lose the production bragging rights of their full-size models by 10,000 units, or so.
Is this Skyliner. 1959. Fore Sale?
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