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  #1  
Old 07-24-2011, 06:35 PM
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Default The Ford Retractable Story

Here is another article that buddy, Al Fromm provided to me regarding the history of how the retractable hardtop came into being.

Ford Retractable Story
By Tim Howley
While Ford Motor Co. did not invent the retractable hardtop, it was the first automaker to mass produce it. Deriving his inspiration from the Chrysler Thunderbolt, Fordís Gil Spear made a number of retractable hardtop sketches in the late Ď40s and early Ď50s. Spear found a supporter in William Clay Ford, who headed Fordís Special Projects Division. This division was founded in 1952 to develop the Continental Mark II. William Clay, along with his chief engineer, Harley Copp, felt that a retactable hardtop was just a novel enough idea to put the upcoming Continental Mark II on the map, so the company set aside $2.19 million for the Special Projects Division to perfect this unique idea. Head of the project was Fordís John R. Hollowell. Actual design work was carried out by Ben J. Smith, who had come over from General Motors.

Work was started in July, 1953. The task turned out to be a lot more difficult than originally expected. Several months of effort resulted in a three-eights-scale working model with a clamshell roof that separated into two parts so that it could fit into the trunk. Now came the big ceremony of presenting the working model to management. When the deck lid rose, it came off its pivots, shot straight up in the air, and landed in the hands of one of the engineers. Everyone laughed but Ben Smith, who blushingly put the deck lid back on its pivots. The second time the demonstration worked perfectly.

The first Continental retractable prototype was built up from a cobbled 1953 Lincoln body. There were four such bodies built on Mark II frames by Hess & Eisenhardt. Two of the cars were used to work out the Mark IIís handling and ride. A third car had a Mark II windshield and substructure and was used to prove body components. The fourth car, a convertible, was used in the retractable hardtop program and there are rumors that this car still exists.

The convertible had only one drive motor and one master cylinder switch. One of the toughest challenges was to find a way to lash the forward part of the top, or ďflipperĒ, to the windshield header. Smith, with engineer named Butler, worked up a patented system of screw locks. Early models were hydraulic. Later, there was an electric motor inside the flipper with flexible cables running too the header lock screws. Other screws locked the C-Pillars to the body. Development work ended in the summer of 1955, six months behind schedule, and much too late to be offered on the Continental Mark II at its introduction, October 21. By the summer of 1955 a prototype Continental Mark II standard convertible was in the works, but it was doubtful that even this could be sold at a price that would justify its development.

Thus, in order to recover the original $2.19 million invested in the retractable program, it was decided to turn the project over to the Ford Division which, hopefully, would mass produce the novel model. Before the retractable hardtop ever go into production as a 1957 mode, however, the Ford Division had spent another $18 million on its development. After three years and 48,394 retractables built, Ford still hadnít produced enough of these models to recover its research and development investment.

The concept then became incorporated into the standard Thunderbird convertible, which used the mechanism, less the steel top, from 1960 through 1966. In yet another incarnation the mechanism was used on the 1961-1967 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible. In fact, it might justifiably be said that the Lincoln Continental convertible was developed to help recover the investment costs of the original retractable program. In the end, neither the Thunderbird nor the Lincoln convertibles could be sold in quantities large enough to ensure their continuation.

April 1997 P153


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  #2  
Old 07-24-2011, 09:15 PM
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Very interesting.
I think the T-Birds and Lincolns with the retractable convertible tops are the best looking convertibles ever made.
I would love to have 61-63 T-Bird convertible or 64-66.
The atticle says:
The concept then became incorporated into the standard Thunderbird convertible, which used the mechanism, less the steel top, from 1960 through 1966.

Were some of the 60's built with this type top?
I had not heard that before.

I just ran a search and found that the 60 convert birds have a hideaway top.
I hadn't known that. I guess that makes a '60 T-Bird convert my first choice.

Last edited by REM : 07-24-2011 at 09:25 PM.
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Old 07-24-2011, 09:44 PM
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Default The Ford Retractable Story

Hi Richard,

There was no retractable hardtop manufactured for the 1958-1966 Tbirds that I am aware of. They used the engineering for the retractable hardtop in the design of the hideway soft or cloth top. In 1959, they had a somewhat manual hideway soft or cloth top set up. I think it took two people to put it up and put it down. It was a lot simpler system to use over the 1960 version, which is why some people say if you are going to get a convertible, get a 1959 and not a 1960 and save yourself a lot of time, money and problems. After all, that space age 1960 cloth system is 50 years old. You can still get parts for them though but they don't come cheap. There are companies who specialize in only parts for our convertible tops. It is thought that perhaps Ford was experimenting with putting a retractable top on the '58 Squarebird. Look down in other threads and I think I posted that picture that Alexander had of what looks to be a retractable top mounted on a Squarebird. It sure looks like one.
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Old 07-24-2011, 10:21 PM
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Thanks for the response.
I knew the 'Birds never had a retractable hard top but never paid enough attention to realize the convertibles used the hideaway design.
I guess the '59 had a manual top where the '60 had a power top.

Quote:
Originally Posted by YellowRose View Post
In 1959, they had a somewhat manual hideway soft or cloth top set up. I think it took two people to put it up and put it down. It was a lot simpler system to use over the 1960 version.
What was the '58 convertible top like?
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Old 07-24-2011, 11:25 PM
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Default The Ford Retractable Story

It is my understanding that the '58 & '59 convertibles have the same type of manual top. I am not sure that it takes two people to get it up and down. Someone who owns one should be able to tell us that. In 1960, they decided to go with the latest and "greatest" engineering for the top. This system, I understand, or variations of it, was used on the Bulletbirds, and the Flairbirds also. I know of members who have sold their '60 Tbirds that they loved so much because they got tired of being caught to many times with the top half up or half down and could not get it fully up or down and in place. When they work, they are really nice, but when you need it to work and it is at half mast, and you need it all the way up or down and it will not go.... well, you have a problem on your hands. It is often not something that you can just pull into an auto service shop and get fixed right away.
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Old 07-25-2011, 05:02 PM
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I thought the full-power tops came out in the last quarter 1959 T-Birds...?
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Old 07-25-2011, 06:08 PM
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Default The Ford Retractable Story

Hi Jon,

I checked through the VTCI OFS and could not find any mention of the powered top being installed on '59's late in the production. It only talks about 1960's. I also looked through the 1959 Automotive Mile Posts website and found no mention of the powered convertible top being installed on any '59 Tbirds. Maybe "Fuz" or Alan can shed some light on that when they next come up on the Forum.
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Old 08-09-2011, 05:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YellowRose View Post
It is my understanding that the '58 & '59 convertibles have the same type of manual top. I am not sure that it takes two people to get it up and down. Someone who owns one should be able to tell us that.
If by "manual" you mean that you had to get out of the driver's seat to operate the top, then you are right. The trunk lid has to be opened and there is a switch on the left trunk panel that controls the top. It is a one person operation. If the top is in the up position, the latches that secure the top to the windshield frame have to be unlocked, then press the trunk button down and the top will fold down into the trunk. The flipper panel then has to be rotated into the extended position and the truck lid closed. Voila.

To put the top up, reverse the procedure - open the trunk lid, rotate the flipper panel into the storage position, pull up on the switch until the top is fully raised, lock the latches, and close the trunk lid.
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Old 10-03-2012, 07:24 PM
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Doggonnit! My memory of the 1960 Thunderbird Convertible of my father's (I was ten years old at the time) that it was a HARDTOP, and I just made a $5 bet that on my otherwise flawless memory that it was so. Two full days on the internet trying to locate a photo of the roof partially retracted and I discovered your site where I was sure to find validation and secure my pot of gold........ALAS........if I understand the above correctly, my memory from youth has failed.

Is there any photo of a 1960 Thunderbird hardtop convertible with a partially retracted roof???
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Old 10-03-2012, 08:26 PM
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There's never been a prototype made of a Thunderbird with a metal retractable roof to my knowledge so there would be no photos. Funny how our memories can play tricks on us.

John
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