1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner

“Do the roof! Do the roof!” If you own a Skyliner, that’s all you hear

Photographers: Alastair Ritchie

After a quick phone call to Norway I soon realised I had the wrong number. Well, the number was right, I just got the country code a little off. Second time around I got it right and before long I was having a chat to Ian Neary, yet another Kiwi who has built a killer street machine that we just had to show you.

First published in the November 2007 issue of Street Machine

Most Aussies would be familiar with this era of big Fords from the more-door versions which were sold here from 1959 to ’61, lovingly referred to as Tank Fairlanes. But it’s not too often you see the top-of-the-line Skyliner retractable hardtop that, at the flick of a switch, goes from two-door coupe to convertible.

This Skyliner has had an interesting life. “It was bought new by a US General and shipped to Okinawa,” Ian says. “About 1980 he got de-commissioned and sold the car to a Japanese private collector who had quite a collection, including a ’59 Cadillac. A New Zealand Caddy freak heard about that but bought both cars!”

Ian’s a Gib board technician — plasterboard fixer — and it was while he was on a job that he spotted the Skyliner.

“It wasn’t for sale but I owned it by that night,” Ian says. “It was a tired three-owner car. I got it in 2002 and in January ’04 the heater core blew up. I pulled the carpets and it was a bit messy so I decided that if I pulled it apart it would go back together spot-on.”

A quick glance at the photos shows that Ian was true to his word. What’s even more amazing is that this is the first car Ian has built.

“I’ve had a lot of cars but they were all other people’s rejects. My ex-wife wouldn’t let me spend any money on them,” he says.

With the restrictive missus gone, Ian got stuck into the big old girl. He handled the bodywork himself, fixing a bit of rust and getting those acres of sheet metal straight as a die. He then sorted out the suspension by fitting Slam Specialties airbags front and rear that give the big cruiser six inches of adjustable travel.

“With the car slammed, the exhaust is 40mm off the ground but I usually drive it with three to four inches of clearance. The trick is to set up the caster and camber for whatever your ride height will be. If I get to a speed bump or steep driveway, I just lift it up a bit more.”

A big car needs a big motor and Ford didn’t disappoint. Three hundred and ninety inches of Henry’s finest fill the engine bay. The FE block was rebuilt by Wade Automotive and updated with an Edelbrock Performer intake and a 670cfm Holley Avenger carb. A mild cam, with 500thou lift and 280deg duration, was slotted in and she exhales through a 2.5-inch ceramic-coated twin system.

The C6 has been tightened up with a shift kit, and the nine-inch is fitted with cruisey 2.65:1 gears. Front brakes were upgraded from the standard boot polish tins to a Drop ’n’ Stop disc brake kit that, as the name suggests, included a two-inch dropped spindle. Factory drums still control the rear end. The last stop before Terra Firma is a set of Hankook 215/70/15 whitewalls wrapped around 15×7 chrome smoothies for a classic look.

Steve Levene of Imagin-Airing covered the big panels with a similar paint combination to the factory Colonial White and Torch Red, though he added a bit more attitude.

“The white is the original plus white pearl but the stock red looked a bit too tomato-ey, so we used HSV Sting Red and put gold pearl over that,” says Ian. The result doesn’t stray far from the factory hue yet manages a lot more impact and appeal.

Ian continued that theme with the interior. It looks stock but has $20K in audiovisual equipment hidden away!

Where Ian hid most of the AV gear — and the airbag plumbing — was in the spare-wheel well and the boot.

“The spare is now in the glovebox in a spray can! I spent two weeks sitting inside the luggage compartment laying everything out. It’s filled right to the top!

“There’s a centre-channel amp, twin three-gallon air tanks, a pair of two-channel amps, plus all the switching valves, plumbing and water traps for the airbag system. The two 12-inch Kicker CVX subs are powered by two 650SX amps and it’s a full Dolby 5.1 surround sound system,” says Ian.

There are also seven boxes of Dynamat making sure the sound waves don’t shake the car to bits, as well as helping with the crispness and clarity of the music. “When I was at the Beach Hop, you could hear my stereo from the other end of the cruise strip!”

The combination of 50s styling with more contemporary touches seems to have impressed the judges and punters alike. It’s won People’s Choice and Best Ford at Kumeu as well as Rodder’s Choice and Best Ford at Muscle Car Madness in Rangiora, among a swag of other awards.

But don’t for one minute think this is some kind of trailer queen that gets chauffered around in climate-controlled comfort. Since Ian finished the car in January ’07 it’s been driven more than 8000km and still looks brand new, earning Ian the nickname ‘Dr Detail’.

“I’ve always got a microfibre cloth in my pocket and I’ve always got some Mothers products nearby. The car is always immaculate — it doesn’t matter where or when you see her, she will always be spotless,” Ian insists.

Next time you see it, though, it might look a bit different. Ian’s toying with the idea of some large diameter wheels to give it more of a street machine look and possibly an under-bonnet blower. I don’t think anyone will complain about that.


If you ever stumble across an old Fairlane stuck in the back of some barn, take a close look for a seam running across the roof.

The front 12 inches or so of the roof fold down when it retracts. This allows it to fit between the back seat and bumper. As big as these cars are, there’s not much room for luggage with the roof down.

Be prepared to replace 610 feet of wiring and maybe the seven reversible motors, 10 relays, 13 switches and nine circuit breakers that make up the rest of the system!

If you find a dusty old Fairlane with a Sunliner badge on it, you’ve got the basic convertible model. Still desirable, just not quite as rare with 45,000 produced against the Skyliner’s 12,915. That said, we’re not tripping over them around here!


Colour:PPG Colonial White with white pearl, Sting Red with gold pearl
Brand:Ford FE 390ci
Intake:Edelbrock Performer
Carb:Holley Avenger 670
Heads:Ported, polished, chamber ground
Camshaft:500thou lift, 280deg duration
Rings:Clevite 77
Bearings:Clevite 77
Valve springs:Crower
Fuel pump:Carter high volume
Cooling:Standard radiator, six-blade flexifan, Davies Craig 14in electric fan
Exhaust:Standard manifolds, Lukey mufflers, ceramic-coated 2.5in system
Ignition:MSD billet electronic dizzy, Top Gun leads
Gearbox:Ford C6 with shift kit
Diff:Nine-inch with 2.65 gears
Springs:Slam Specialties 2500 airbags (f), 2600 airbags (r)
Shocks:Custom Bilstein (f&r)
Mods:Modified A-arms (f), ladder bar with Panhard bar (r)
Brakes:Drop ’n’ Stop 2in drop-spindle disc kit (f), standard drum (r)
Calipers:Aftermarket Ford
Master cylinder:Aftermarket dual circuit with booster
Seats:Standard, retrimmed
Shifter:Modified standard
Seatbelts:Aftermarket lap-sash
Stereo:Alpine DV310E Touchpulse DVD, CD, MP3
Speakers:Infinity 6.1 Perfects (f&r)
Tyres:Hankook, 215/70/15 (f&r)
Wheels:Chrome smoothies, 15×7 (f&r)

Daughters Kelsi-Leigh and Carmen for their patience; Peter and Allan at Mothers.