Q: Hi, Greg, and thanks for your interesting columns for us auto lovers. Who do you feel gets the credit for introducing the initial “moonroof” on a production car? I know lots of cars have them these days, but when did Detroit first come up with the idea? Cal H., Pennsylvania.
A: Cal, I remember when I was 5 years old I was really taken in by Ford’s new 1954 Skyliner, which was a Crestline Victoria that featured a green, transparent, Plexiglas window roof right above the driver’s seat. Of all the cars on the road, I had seen nothing like this and was instantly on the look for any and all Skyliners!
However, the design did have a drawback as it allowed too much heat on those hot days to enter the cabin, while the evenings were no doubt novel and inviting. Still, in my book, this is the first moonroof of any style worthy of recognition as a founder.
Further, in 1954 Ford finally replaced the reliable Flathead V-8 with its first ever Y-block overhead valve V-8, which came in identical 239 cubic inch form. Ford also upped its six-cylinder engine size to 223 cubic inches at 115 horses. The Y-block produced 130 horses and the hot rodders loved it as it preceded the 265-inch Chevy small-block by one year. In 1955, the Crestline name was rebadged as a Fairlane, and the 239 Y-block grew to 272 inches putting out 182 horsepower. Thus, the horsepower race was officially on.
Getting back to the moonroof, the Skyliner name did not appear for 1955, but Ford didn’t give up on its original moonroof idea. It utilized the Fairlane Crown Victoria as its catalyst, offering both a Plexiglas insert (improved to reduce heat) or a full steel top with a bright chrome style stainless steel wrap angled to the B-pillars. It was a big seller, too, as 32,889 ordered the full top while just under 2,000 went for the green Plexiglas moonroof. These “Crown Vickys” were then retired from production by 1957.
In ending, Dodge had a LeFemm full Plexiglas top model in 1955 that didn’t sell well, and Ford experimented with a full top as early as 1953 with a show car Lincoln concept, called the XL500. Finally, sibling Mercury had its own Plexiglas moonroofer in 1954 called the Sun Valley, which had identical style aspects of the Skyliner. We wouldn’t want to go to press and miss Mercury’s effort, too, but as we all know, Mercury is Ford! (Or should I say was.)
Thanks for your great question.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and old-time racing at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.