Q: Hi Greg and thanks for your interesting columns for us auto lovers. Which production car had the first moonroof? 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 five 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 minor drawback as it allowed about 8-degrees more 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. Back then, words like "sunroof" and "moonroof" were yet to be designated to a car.
Further, in 1954 Ford replaced the reliable Flathead V8 with its first ever Y-block overhead valve V8, 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 sunroof/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 as 1956 was its last year.
In ending, Dodge had a "LeFemm" full Plexiglas top model in 1955 which didn’t sell well, and Ford experimented with a full top as early as 1953 with a Lincoln show car 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.