November 15, 2023
The Fliptop That Never Was
In the early days of the Ford Mustang’s development, designers devoted extensive efforts to crafting numerous iterations of Ford Motor Company’s groundbreaking halo car. Unfortunately, the majority of these concepts never reached production; instead, prototypes underwent alterations to generate additional variations of the innovative pony car, or were outright destroyed at the end of each design study. Among the unused ideas was a concept featuring a retractable hardtop, drawing inspiration from the Ford Skyliner from the late 1950’s.
The front of the 1965 Ford Mustang Fliptop
Ben J. Smith, the visionary behind the Ford retractable hardtop, engineered the iconic Ford Skyliner, which graced the roads from 1957 to 1959. Entrusted with the mission of replicating the Skyliner’s success for the wildly successful Ford Mustang, Ben embarked on the creation of the concept, and ultimately functional prototype for the proposed “51A” option code. Despite these efforts, the concept never transitioned to production.
The rear of the 1965 Ford Mustang Fliptop
According to Ben Smith’s own account, the principle reason for the concept’s exclusion from production was his deliberate avoidance of overcomplicating the retracting hardtop with mechanical linkages, solenoids and excessive wiring–something that had plagued the Skyliners a decade prior. Rather than risking a recurrence of those challenges, the idea remained confined to the working conceptual stage. Ben retained the plans, and for over half a century, the Mustang has never seen the realisation of such an option.
The retractable top in its partially retracted show position
Years later, spurred on by the encouragement of his grandchildren, Ben Smith returned to the idea of a retractable hardtop. With financial support from friends, he founded the Retractables Unlimited company. Under his direction, the company began engineering an all-inclusive kit, providing enthusiasts with the means to transform their Mustangs from a conventional solid roof to the infamous retractable design originally conceived behind Ford’s closed doors.
Interior of the Fliptop Mustang
This 1965 Ford Mustang stands as one of the rare few equipped with Ben’s retractable kit, and only a handful of such examples known to exist. The kits, tailored for the initial five years of the pony car (1964½-1968), could be ordered for $10,000 USD. This comprehensive package included a two-piece fibreglass top, fibreglass trunk lid, specially crafted quarter panels, and all the necessary hardware to construct these distinctive retractable tops.
More details of the Fliptop
Spotted in Alberta, Canada, this particular Mustang, now under the care of its current owner, originated from the northeastern U.S.A. The caretaker occasionally showcases the pony car at various events in the region, eagerly sharing its intriguing history with curious onlookers. As the convertible top begins to fold, he explains the workings of the unique retractable design and sheds light on why Ford and Ben Smith ultimately decided against putting the idea into production.
The trunk lid was re-engineered to flip the opposite direction to allow the roof to fully retract into the trunk
This 1965 Ford Mustang stands as a remarkable embodiment of a “what if” concept brought to life. The retractable top Mustang was conceived by Ben J. Smith, the mind behind the famed Skyliner retractable top a decade prior to the prototype, was also the creator of the retractable top kit. The present custodian of this Mustang has made a modest yet meaningful impact on the local automotive enthusiast community by sharing this wildly unique car and the intriguing history that accompanies it.
The letter and some photos of development about the unique retractable roof
Until next time, do something completely different that hasn’t been done, you’ll never know the immense inspiration that it may lead others to have!
- Kyle Hanger of Searching for Classics