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The 1950’s are regarded as the golden age of the American automobile industry, and there’s no doubt that the Ford Sunliner played an integral role in this era.

The iconic vehicles of yesteryear don’t only appeal to car lovers, but also attract those passionate about engineering, design, art and yes, history. Before cars were built for efficiency and speed, it was about the experience, style, exclusivity and ultimately, craftsmanship – making them timeless, works of art. Although these days the name Ford is commonly associated with family style sedans, in a different time the Ford Motor Company pioneered vehicles that partnered innovation with style – perhaps none more so than the iconic Ford Sunliner. So where did it all begin?

The Origins Of The Ford Sunliner

The Ford Motor Company used the Ford Sunliner name on many of its full sized convertibles through the 1950s and 1960s, with the first release issued in 1952 in association with the already successful Ford Crestline model. Five series of the vehicle were developed, each with slight “improvements” or adjustments over the other.

1952 – 1954: Ford Crestline Sunliner
1955 – 1956: Ford Fairlane Sunliner
1957 – 1959: Ford Fairlane Sunliner
1959: Ford Galaxie Sunliner
1960 – 1964: Ford Galaxie Sunliner

The primary driver was to produce a two-door full-size car with a retractable hardtop – one stylish enough to compete with Chevrolet as America’s favourite motor vehicle production line. Chevrolet had managed to embedded itself into American culture, sometimes changing it by knowing what people wanted to drive before they did – something that the Ford Motor Company desperately wanted to emulate, and eventually “do better”. 

In 1952, the Ford model lines were reshuffled, with the base model now called Mainline and mid-level called Customline. The already successful Crestline model now included the Sunliner convertible. To celebrate Ford’s 50th anniversary in 1953, the availability of power-assisted brakes and steering was introduced to the Ford Sunliner models, which was previously restricted to the Mercury and Lincoln production lines. In turn, all Fords released in 1953 also featured commemorative steering wheels marking fifty years in business for the company, and are now considered to be prized collectors items.

In order to keep up with the ever surging Chevrolet makes, Ford gave most of their releases a body refresh in 1955. Apart from the engine changes, new and existing Ford customers were sure to notice the newly released Fairlane model, which replaced the Crestline as the top trim level. Ford models  were completely redesigned with longer, lower and wider bodies, two-tone finishes, distinctive brightwork and striking interiors, and this look was incorporated into the full sized convertible Fairlane Sunliner of 1955. This was also produced by Ford Australia, which offered the model as a V8 Customline four door sedan and as a V8 Mainline two door coupe utility. The latter body style was developed in Australia utilising an imported convertible chassis strengthened for load carrying.

The Fords released in 1957 were given a new body frame, making them longer, lower and unmistakable with their long flanks and tailfins. The amendments were embraced by the American marketplace, and saw Ford overtake Chevrolet for the first time since 1935 for producing the nation’s best selling cars. The convertible version of Ford Fairlane 500, Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner (also called Skyliner Retractable Convertible or Sunliner), had sold well from 1957-1959, and was the most expensive vehicle offered by Ford. However, the release of the new Ford Galaxie in 1959 saw it positioned above the Ford Fairlane, culminating in the arrival of the Ford Galaxie Sunliner in 1960.

The new era of 1960 full size Fords abandoned the ostentatious ornamentation of the 1950s in favour of a more sleek, futuristic look. Round taillights were replaced by half-moon shaped tail lights, albeit only for the decade though. The tailfins were still present, but they were significantly smaller. Ford certainly embraced the trending space and science fiction theme with the 1961 Ford Galaxie Sunliner, with the scalloped hood disappearing and the addition of two giant circular tail lights at each rear corner. This model proved to be a hit across the country, and is now regarded as one of the great American classics and a predecessor to the muscle car era.

Although the convertible Ford Sunliner models of the 1950’s and 1960’s were certainly popular, other releases in the early 1960’s didn’t quite catch on as well. Perhaps it was the styling, where everything about that era tried to look like airplanes or spaceships, or perhaps buyers started to turn back to the competition? Either way, the convertible Ford Sunliner models have proven to be the exception to this rule, and are still embraced as one of the Ford Motor Company’s most popular releases.