As a side note, the “Thunderbird” name was drawn from an in-house contest at Ford Motor Company. The winning employee, a Ford stylist, won a suit from Saks Fifth Avenue. The first 1955 Ford Thunderbird was built in September 1954 in Dearborn, Michigan.

1963 thunderbird
1963 Thunderbird

Another important thing to note was that the Ford Thunderbird was not really built solely as a sports car like the Chevy Corvette. They were competing head to head but Ford appeared to put more creature comfort features into their Thunderbird. In reality, the two cars were really two different machines from the exterior body material to the interior appointments. This fact probably led Ford to create a new automobile niche called the “personal luxury car“. Many collectors believe the third generation Thunderbird is where Ford really got their idea of a personal luxury cruiser together.

The Thunderbird development program was launched by Ford in February of 1953, just a month after the Corvette prototype’s debut at the General Motors Motorama. The first Thunderbirds carried over current Ford themes including the egg crate grille, single headlamps built into the front fenders, single circle taillights and stubby tail fins.

63 t bird
Sleek, aerodynamic design of the 1963 T-Bird. Photos, specs and model history. Third generation Thunderbird.

What the first Thunderbird highlighted was style and sophistication that used to be available only from expensive European imports like Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. Ford offered their Thunderbird with the simple construction and reasonable price tag of a Ford.

1963 Ford Thunderbird

1963 was not a knockout year for the T-Bird as only 63,313 were sold, about 15,000 less units than the prior year. Some of this was probably due to the fact that Thunderbird would have a comprehensive restyling for the upcoming 1964 model year. Of these units, 5,913 were convertibles and 455 were Sports Roadsters. Only 55 M-codes were sold with their high performance 340 horsepower engines. The base engine for Thunderbird remained a 390 cubic inch V8 rated at 300 horsepower.

1963 was the last year of Thunderbird’s third generation which began in 1961. Of special significance was 1961 was the year that the Swing-Away Steering Wheel was added as a new option. Since the 61 model had entirely new styling it was an opportune time to introduce the Swing-Away Steering Wheel. 

The third generation (61-63) Ford Thunderbirds featured new and much sleeker styling than the second generation cars.The car had an aerodynamic form that was easily 20 years ahead of its time. At the time the third generation T-Birds were designed, bigger seemed to be better. The oil crisis of the early 1970’s was far into the future and there was no reason to think that size and fuel efficiency would be an issue. Ford envisioned  the Thunderbird to stand alone to some degree and appeal to those who, while attracted to the car, were not really willing to admit they would drive a Ford. Lee Iacocca, Ford’s president at the time, knew that there were no limits to what some people could and would pay for prestige and the T-Bird gained a reputation of being above the general Ford line. 

The 1963 model had minor changes from 1962. Additions to the option list included vacuum assisted door locks and an AM/FM radio. The AM radio and a remote controlled driver’s side mirror were standard equipment.

1963 Ford Thunderbird Specifications

As mentioned above, the 63 Thunderbird came with a 390 cubic inch V8 rated at 300 horsepower. Optional was the high performance 340 horsepower engine with three Holley two-barrel carburetors.

Transmission was a three speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic.

Brakes were four wheel hydraulic drums.

Front suspension included upper and lower A-arms and coil springs. Rear suspension included a live axle and leaf springs.

1963 thunderbird specs
Thunderbirds rounded tail lights

Dimensions included a 113.0 inch wheelbase...205.0 inche overall length…76.5 inch width and 52.5 inch height. The convertible model height was about an inch higher. Weight was about 4,200 lbs. New car price was in a range of $4,500 to $5,500.

Total third generation Thunderbird production was 214,375 units. 1962 was the best year with 78,011 cars built.

Additional Auto Museum Online articles are found on the links below…

The 1955 Thunderbird

The 1960 Chevy Corvette

References for this article included….Thunderbird: An Odyssey in Automotive Design by author William P. Boyer…..Ford Motor Company Archives…..Edmunds Ford Thunderbird History.

1963 Ford Thunderbird Collector Cars

1963 thunderbird specsThere are plenty of fine vintage automobiles available for those on a budget and these early T-Birds can be an affordable way to start your vintage car collection.

As of this writing we see running 1963 Thunderbirds priced in a range from about $13,000 upward into the high twenties and some much more depending on overall condition, originality, mileage and exact model.

(Article and photos copyright Auto Museum Online)