For all their popularity in mid-century America, dazzling, futuristic concept cars remained distant dreams. They were fantasies built to ignite the imagination more than accurately predict the future. Only Ford and Mercury went there by introducing dream car style for everyman with their Plexiglas-topped 1954 Skyliner and Sun Valley. Ford's early 1950s X-100 and XL-500 dream cars had featured clear roof panels, so the claim about introducing a dream car for everyman wasn't far off the mark.
During the mid-twentieth century, Ford designers seemed obsessed with cars’ roofs. They introduced an influential formal roofline with their stunning new '55 Thunderbird that also featured a removable hardtop. For 1956 Thunderbird also brought the first car with a porthole roofline. Ford’s 1957 Fairlane 500 Skyliner wowed with its first mass-produced folding metal top. Thunderbird’s 1960 edition featured an optional sunroof before any other U.S. carmaker did so. And the snazzy 1955-56 Ford Crown Victoria featured a “basket handle” of chrome trim band looping side to side over its roof, a treatment that served well on the Skyliners of those years.
Ford’s Crestline Skyliner and Mercury’s Sun Valley were deluxe two-door hardtops with Plexiglas half roofs tinted green to lessen heat gain. They claimed the clear tops only added five degrees to interior temperature, but a snap-in sunshade was provided, just in case. Air conditioning was optional, but so expensive then that few were so equipped.
Even poetic print ads couldn't help to move many Sun Valleys. Just 9,761 were sold in '54 with sales falling to just 1,787 cars in 1955. Mercury’s Sun Valleys were priced considerably higher than Ford's Skyliner that moved 13,000 units with the same roof treatment. Slow sales meant Mercury’s Sun Valley was discontinued after the 1955 model year, but Ford’s Skyliner survived through 1959, though its last three years featured folding metal tops rather than the earlier clear Plexiglas paneled roofs.
Ford’s next trick roof was the folding metal lid on the 1957 Fairlane 500 Skyliner, a wonder of engineering that still dazzles car show attendees. Mercury didn't attempt another production “dream car” until the division’s ill-fated 1957 Turnpike Cruiser featuring a powered roll-down rear window. Today Ford Skyliners and Mercury Sun Valleys remain valued, if affordable, classic with clean examples selling in the $20,00-$40,000 range.
Written by Jim Cherry