I own an HP mini 2140 netbook and as you might know the 1024x576 resolution is a little bit annoying. In order to gain some space I removed the bottom panel and decide to hide the top. I really don't like the autohide method and I needed something to do it manually. Then I open gconf-editor to figure out the settings that gnome using to apply these methods. When I found them I created 2 new custom keyboard shortcuts and wrote the followings:
Hide Top Panel
gconftool-2 --set "/apps/panel/toplevels/top_panel_screen0/auto_hide" --type boolean "true"
Show Top Panel
gconftool-2 --set "/apps/panel/toplevels/top_panel_screen0/auto_hide" --type boolean "false"
By default the size of the hidden panel is 6 so to gain even those 6 pixels make sure you run this first to resize it to 0.
gconftool-2 --set "/apps/panel/toplevels/top_panel_screen0/auto_hide_size" --type integer 0
Under Ubuntu everything works great!