By Angelo Del Monte
Saturday, January 25, 2020 Ben J. Smith, the man credited with bringing life to the Ford Skyliner- the first production retractable hard top convertible, passed away at the age of 97.
Ben started his automotive career at Ford both before and after his time in the US Navy. After he returned to Ford he then moved to Nash for a short stint and then went to work at the Fisher Body division of GM. In 1953 he was recruited back to Ford Motor Co. to work on a secret project the XC-1500-R. This project was to be a retractable roof prototype for their upcoming prestige automobile the Continental Mark II. Surveys proved that a true hardtop convertible would be desirable but it was deemed too risky for for a car of this stature. So Ben and the project moved the project over to the 1957 Ford who's design was already well under way.
Ben made the retractable roof work on the full size Ford and it was produced for the 1957-59 model years as the Skyliner. After the retractable project he held several positions at Ford and Lincoln. He attempted to introduce a manually operated retractable Mustang design but surveys said customers wouldn’t accept it if it wasn’t automatic. He said there was no need to complicate it so he refused to work on it further. Years later he developed this design and marketed it with his son as an aftermarket conversion.
Ben retired early in 1968. He was very active with the International Ford Retractable Club and traveled around the country in a sort of mobile museum and shared his life and accomplishments.