Text by Karl H. Kazaks
Photos by Tom Wallace
“Instantly, instinctively, you know.” So says the narrator of a 1959 television ad for Ford’s new top-of-the-line, full-size car, the Galaxie.
As a boy, Curtis Nolen saw those black-and-white ads and loved watching the footage of the Galaxie Skyliner with its retractable hardtop smoothly sinking into the rear compartment, slipping beneath the upraised rear deck lid. Someday, he somehow knew, he would drive one of those cars.
When he was old enough to get his first car, he did gravitate to 50s-era Fords ~ first a 1952 and then a 1959 hardtop. It was some time, though, before he had the chance to buy a 1959 Skyliner. He heard about a man in Danville who had a never-restored, 1959 Galaxie Skyliner in excellent condition.
“When he raised up his basement door and backed it out, I knew I’d take it home,” Nolen recalls. “I drove it back with a grin on my face that wouldn’t quit.”
Nolen lives in Floyd, retired from the U.S. Postal Service, capped by many years as postmaster of the Dugspur Post Office. Today, he works in sales at a Floyd auto dealer. Over time, Nolen has performed necessary maintenance on the Galaxie Skyliner, replacing the radiator and associated hoses, replacing seals, adding electric windshield wipers. The biggest work he’s had done on it, though, is redoing the seat upholstery (the door panels remain original) and having the car repainted. That the car has never needed a full restoration is a testament to the care that Nolen and previous owners have given it.
Ford made the Skyliner in just three model years, 1957, ‘58 and ‘59. It was part of the Fairlane range for the first two years and the very beginning of the 1959 model year, prior to the introduction of the Galaxie line. Just under 50,000 Skyliners were made in those three years, with 12,915 1959s produced.
The 1959 Galaxie is noticeable for its straight-line roof, curved windshield, an abundant amount of chrome and a three-tone interior cloth pattern. The design of the hood ornament and fender ornaments reflect the space-age style of the era. The hubcaps have sunburst centers in a red, blue and silver pattern.
The Skyliner is particularly noticeable for being a hardtop convertible, with a design which allows for the hardtop to be stowed in the trunk. The system for moving and storing the hardtop does not involve hydraulics, but instead relies on 10 solenoids, five motors (six motors in the 1957 and 1958 models), a number of switches and lift jacks and 610 feet of wire. In Nolen’s car, the entire mechanism is factory original, as well as the chrome and glass.
In the center of the rear compartment is a luggage tub, designed to corral bags or other items, preventing them from bumping into the retracted hardtop during travel or getting in the way of the car’s lifting mechanism. This particular car also features some of the year’s options, including a padded dash, sun visors and Ford’s Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission. The engine is the 300 hp 352.
A few years ago, at a rally of Ford retractable-hardtop owners, Nolen met Ford engineer Ben Smith, who designed the car. Smith has called the car a “steel-top convertible.” Nolen calls meeting Smith “pretty neat.”
As much as Nolen keeps his car in good condition, he’s not afraid to take it out of the garage. When he bought the car, it had 36,000 miles; today that’s 48,000. “The fun of having such a car is using it,” he says. Last year, he loaned it to friends for their wedding at Virginia Tech. He also drives it as the Grand Marshal every year in the Floyd Christmas Parade, and has carried honorees from aspiring politicians to homecoming queens in other parades and events.
In the warmer months, Nolen likes to grab lunch and drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic. “You want to start a conversation, just go out there and pop the top.”
“Someone asked me once, ‘Did you make that car?’
“‘No,’ I said, ‘Ford Motor Company did.’” Funny guy. In its ad for the 1959, Ford called its new model, “the glamour car of the year.”