The Origins of Ford’s Retractable Hardtop
By Jim and Cheryl Farrell
Gil Spear was not solely artist, he had the flexibility to know and resolve complicated engineering points. He was straightforward going but in addition had a mischievous humorousness. On the best way to work one morning in late 1948 he pulled up alongside facet somebody driving a brand new ’49 Buick Riviera, considered one of GM’s first hardtop-convertibles. Spear thought calling the automobile a hardtop-convertible was false promoting, so he insisted the motive force put the highest down. The opposite driver obtained a perplexed expression on his face, the sunshine turned inexperienced, and Spear drove away chuckling to himself.
By the point he arrived at work that morning, Spear thought he may design a automobile with a roof that really retracted. His first design was a automobile with a prime that slid again over the deck lid, with the backlight parked over the rear license plate. Over the following few months, Spear got here up with a number of completely different strategies for collapsing the roof excessive of the deck lid, and he truly constructed a 1/8-sized mannequin of it. To attempt to curiosity administration in his Roof-O-Matic concept, Spear made a prime that might truly be retracted over the deck lid of the 1/8 mannequin by way of a wind-up paper clip—and he made up a booklet with all of the strategies he may consider for making an actual retracting roof. Quickly, the Ford brothers and the top of Ford Division, Lewis Crusoe, have been winding and unwinding the paper clip after which finding out his booklet. Within the meantime, assistant design supervisor Gene Bordinat satisfied Spear he had a greater likelihood of promoting his Roof-O-Matic idea to administration if the highest might be folded down contained in the trunk and never on prime of it. The subsequent factor Spear new, Earle MacPherson stopped by, learn the booklet, turned enthused, assigned a manufacturing quantity to the venture—and on the spot approved Spear to construct a 3/8-sized clay mannequin with a working Roof-O-Matic.
As a result of Spear thought Ford Division was most definitely to truly produce a Roof-O-Matic, he drew up plans for a Ford Roof-O-Matic, however the 3/8 sized clay mannequin he designed as a flashy idea automobile that may enchantment to all divisions. When the three/8-model was begun, Spear named it the Syrtis. Though the identify “Syrtis” refers an space of the moon or a spot within the Sahara Desert, Spear picked the identify as probably the most uncommon one he may consider so folks would ask about it. It labored.
Spear was assisted with the design of the Syrtis by designers Jim Huggins, George Krispinsky, and Ben Kroll. The clay modelers have been Larry Wilson and Michell Rukat, and the studio engineer was George Martin. Howard Fifield from the metallic store made the metallic prime for the three/8-sized mannequin. The outlets additionally rigged up a small electrical motor that ran the highest into the trunk and again up once more. The three/8-sized mannequin was completed in June 1952. At first there have been no plans to make the Syrtis public—till a photographer included a photograph of the 1/8-sized mannequin—paper clip and all—in a ebook for Ford’s fiftieth anniversary. The cat was out of the bag and a press launch quickly adopted.
Jim Huggins was quickly recruited by Chrysler, and a retractible idea automobile he designed there was supposedly constructed at Ghia. It was stated to be with the Norseman when the Andrea Doria sank whereas bringing the automobiles again from Italy. Invoice Ford needed the retractible idea for the Continental Mark II program he was simply beginning. Benson Ford additionally needed it for the XM-800 Mercury idea automobile, which was imagined to be the prototype for a brand new Mercury mannequin named the Monterey. Ford’s board of administrators backed Invoice, and that led to a Continental Mark II retractible prototype known as the Mechanical Prototype (MP) # 5. After MP#5 was efficiently accomplished, it was determined a manufacturing Mark II retractible was not within the playing cards. However a retractible mannequin known as the Ford Skyliner was produced from 1957-59.
In 1953, when it was determined to construct a Mark II retractible, the Syrtis 3/8-sized mannequin was moved to the placement the place the Mark II retractible being constructed. Someday in 1956–57, Spear obtained a name from Fifield, who was in tears. Fifield informed Spear the Syrtis was being busted up out on the loading dock. Spear obtained there simply in time to see a pile of rubble that was once the Syrtis, however he by no means discovered who ordered it destroyed.
The XM-800 idea automobile was constructed, but it surely wasn’t a retractible, and it by no means turned a brand new Mercury mannequin. As a substitute, it was changed by the Edsel—and everyone knows how that turned out.
Images: Ford Design