Ford Thunderbird 1961-1963
Article by Mark Trotta
Transforming the two-seat T-bird to a four-seat personal luxury car had paid off for the Ford Motor Company. Sales had increased every year since 1958, and a third-generation Thunderbird, introduced in November of 1960, was well-received. With pointed nose, recessed head-lamps, twin round taillights and tail fins, the third-generation Thunderbird became known as the "bullet-bird".
The new hard-top model had softer roof lines than its "square-bird" predecessor. On the convertible models, the forward end of the trunk lid was still rear-hinged, which raised and lowered through hydraulic cylinders. With the top down and trunk lid lowered, there was no sight of the soft-top. The standard and only engine offered was Ford's 390-cid V8, rated at 300-horsepower. Transmission was a three-speed automatic.
1961 T-bird Interior
A restyled dashboard, curved at both ends, blended smoothly into the door panels. The traditional-dash mounted glove-box was gone and a center-console glove-box took its place. Optional in 1961, then becoming standard equipment, was the swing-away steering wheel feature. With the car in park and the driver's door opened, the wheel moved to the side to help entry and exit. Thunderbird sales figures for 1961 were 62,535 hardtops and 10,516 convertibles.
Indy 500 Pace Car
1961 was the 50th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 Race, and the redesigned Thunderbird was chosen to be the pace car. A white convertible top set off a unique shade of gold metallic paint. As Firestone was sponsoring the race this year, Thunderbird pace cars were fitted with that brand of tire. Ford provided a total of 34 Thunderbird Convertibles, including one official Pace Car, one alternate Pace Car, and thirty-two Indy 500 festival Cars. Power was from a 390 V8 producing 300 horsepower.
The Official Pace Car was given to Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt as part of his winnings.
New Ford General Manager Lee Iacocca believed that adding more models would attract customers to dealer showrooms. One of two new models for the Thunderbird was the Landau Edition. Based on the coupe, it featured a vinyl-covered roof, available in either black or white. Simulated S-bars appeared on the roof pillars and would become a Thunderbird trademark. Inserts at the center of the S-bar matched the color of the vinyl top. The Landau edition was one of the first cars to popularize the vinyl roof, which soon found its way on many makes and models.
Thunderbird Sports Roadster
Four years after the original T-bird was discontinued, Ford dealers were still hearing complaints and getting requests for another two-seat 'Bird. In response, Ford offered the Thunderbird Sports Roadster.
Read: Thunderbird Sports Roadster
1962 T-bird Production Figures
1962 Thunderbird sales were slightly higher than 1961. Production of 78,011 broke down into 68,127 hardtop and landau models and 9,884 convertibles and sports roadsters.
Ford 390 M-code Engine Option
Ford's Tri-power induction system, first available in 1961, became optional on Thunderbirds in 1962. Ordering the M-code option got the 390-cid motor topped with a factory 3x2 aluminum intake. Three Holley carburetors operated with a progressive, mechanical throttle linkage. M-Code Thunderbirds are quite rare, with about 200 sold between 1962 and 1963. Most of them were ordered with the Sports Roadster package.
Offering the same four models - hardtop, convertible, sports roadster and landau, Thunderbirds saw only minor improvements in 1963. Restyled front fenders, doors, and a new grille helped give a cleaner. less cluttered look. Standard equipment included a remote-control exterior rearview mirror and . New options included an AM-FM pushbutton radio, rear seat speaker, and vacuum-operated door locks.
Hydraulic Windshield Wipers
1963 was the first year of variable-speed hydraulic windshield wipers in Thunderbirds, and were used several years after that. Running off the power steering pump and it's fluid, at slower speeds they worked slower and went faster at faster speeds. The 1963 power steering pump is specific to that model year; the design changed in 1964 with the new body style and cowl design.
Limited Edition Landau
Above the Landau model was the limited edition "Principality of Monaco" Thunderbird. Offered only in Corinthian White with a rose-beige vinyl top, the interior featured a white steering wheel and white leather upholstery with rose-beige appointments. The console, instrument panel, and side trim panels were finished in simulated rosewood. Just 2,000 of these limited edition models were made, with car number one presented to Prince Ranier III of Monaco.
1963 Ford Thunderbird Production Figures
63,313 Thunderbirds were built in 1963, which included 5,913 convertibles and 455 Sports Roadsters. Competition from other car manufacturers, particularly General Motors, would bring about a restyled T-bird for 1964.
Read: Investing In Classic Cars