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1963 Ford Thunderbird Convertible shown in Patrician Green
1963 Ford Thunderbird Convertible in Patrician Green
JANUARY 1963: LIMITED EDITION LANDAU INTRODUCED
1963 Ford Thunderbird
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CONTENTS:

1963 Thunderbird Auctions

Production Numbers

ARTICLE:
The Story of A Classic

Mechanical Specifications

Exterior Paint Colors

Interior Trim

Standard Equipment

Optional Equipment

FEATURE:
1962-1963 Thunderbird
Sports Roadster: What Went Wrong?


FEATURE:
Limited Edition Landau

12-Mile Road Test

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1963 Buick Riviera
1963 Buick Riviera:
the new kid on the block, and GM's first real competition for the Thunderbird


OF INTEREST:
T-Bird Garage

Riv It Up!

This was the first year the Thunderbird faced true competition in the personal luxury car market, and the competitor was the 1963 Buick Riviera [links in this article open in a new window]. Sleek and sporty, the Riv was originally intended to be a Cadillac. But Cadillac didn't want it, because it already had its own personal luxury car (the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado) in development. Cadillac was also selling as many cars as it could make at the time, so there was no immediate urgency for a new model. Buick Division, on the other hand, had watched sales decline during the early sixties, and needed something special to bring people into its showrooms, even if they couldn't afford a Riviera. There was always the chance they might leave in another, perhaps less expensive Buick model. And it turned out that the Riv was just the spark that Buick Division needed!

Buick announced that first year production would be limited to only 40,000 cars. The Ford Thunderbird was in its last year of a three year styling cycle, but faced the new competition with a very becoming face lift. Buick didn't even come close to selling as many Rivs in 1963 as Ford did T-birds (63,313 T-birds built), and when Buick lifted its self-imposed production limits for 1964, it couldn't even maintain 1963's 40,000 units for a second year. This was just the beginning of new entries into the personal luxury car market, and there would be many new contenders for the Thunderbird's crown in the years to come.

One of the more curious aspects of the new Riviera was the fact that it included only one radio speaker with the Sonomatic AM Radio, and it was located in the center of the rear seat. No front speaker was available, as the somewhat confusing array of controls for the air vents, heater, air conditioning, etc., were all located in the center of the instrument panel, just under the padded edge. This didn't allow any room for a speaker in the instrument panel. These controls were all relocated for 1964, so an in-dash speaker was included at that time, but it does seem to be an unusual move to only offer one speaker and then place it in the back seat.

The 1963 Thunderbirds were introduced on September 28, 1962 and consisted of the same four models available in 1962. The Hardtop was the least expensive at $4,445 with 42,806 built; the Landau came next at $4,548 and 12,139 built; followed by the Convertible, which was priced at $4,912 with 5,913 built; last came the Sports Roadster, the most expensive model in standard form at $5,563 with just 455 built. Later in the year, a Special Landau model would be introduced with production limited to just 2,000 cars. Based on the Landau model, prices would start at $4,748 without options.

It was no secret at Ford that Buick would be announcing a new model for 1963, and faced with the fact that, based on slower than anticipated sales, the 1961-1962 styling wasn't being accepted by the public as well as Ford had planned on, a fairly major restyle effort was put in place. To overcome objections to the rounded, rocket ship-like styling, the front fenders were revised to include a new character line that would start at the tip of the fender where it met the front bumper, and continue rearward to the middle of the door, where it dipped down and trailed off. A series of three hash marks were placed on the door just under this line, forward of where it dipped down. The overall treatment was reminiscent of the 1958-1960 Thunderbirds. This design also squared off the front wheel well, making it more closely match the rear opening when fender shields weren't installed, which was a big improvement.

Up front, the Bird got a new grille that to many is the most beautiful of this series. A series of staggered chrome bars, its simplicity gave the Thunderbird new elegance. The script was moved to the rear of the quarter panel, and new taillamp lenses updated the appearance from the rear. New standard and deluxe wheel cover designs completed the exterior updates.

Inside, a new upholstery pattern graced the seats. Ford combined two different vinyl patterns to give the seats different textures on the seating surfaces and bolsters. Some interiors featured two tone colors, with a darker shade on the bolsters. Genuine leather was still an option, and a new silver stripe cloth insert was offered in four colors optionally at no additional charge.

The standard equipment list grew for 1963, with a couple of items that were formerly optional, but frequently ordered, made standard. These include the AM Radio and the MagicAire Heater-Defroster. Additionally, a remote control exterior rearview mirror, dual-lens door courtesy lights, variable-speed hydraulic windshield wipers, and simulated Walnut appliqué on the interiors of Landau models were included as well.

A few options were offered for the first time in 1963. Vacuum door locks, AM-FM pushbutton radio, rear seat speaker, concentric whitewall tires, and a new deluxe wheel cover with simulated knock-off spinners were all new. The factory brochures mentioned an automatic speed control, which would have been similar to the one offered on the Lincoln Continental, but it didn't make it to production until 1964, due to a few issues that needed to be resolved. And even early 1964 cars with the speed control option had to have it disabled after owners reported problems with it.

Buyers looking to purchase a new Thunderbird had a wider than ever choice of colors, trims, and options to choose from. In all, 22 different paint shades were available, teamed with 9 all-vinyl, 4 cloth and vinyl, and 5 genuine leather interiors. The Landau vinyl roof was available in 4 colors, black, white, blue, and brown, the latter two new for 1963. Convertible tops were available in black, white, or blue.

The 1963 Thunderbird Limited Edition Landau was truly a car with international appeal. Debuting in The Principality of Monaco, it was literally given a Royal reception, with Prince Rainier and Princess Grace both in attendance. In fact, the very first Limited Edition Landau built was given to the Royal couple as a gift from Ford Motor Company.

Finished in Corinthian White with a Rose Beige vinyl roof and white leather upholstery with Rose Beige appointments, the Limited Edition Landau stood out from all other 1963 Thunderbirds. Simulated Rosewood appeared on the console, instrument panel, and side trim panels. The steering wheel was white with a chromed insert that was shared with no other Thunderbird.

A television special Tour of Monaco aired on February 17,1963, and many of the new Ford cars were shown as part of the show. Special brochures were printed and mailed from Monaco to prospective buyers worldwide, a high fashion article in Vogue Magazine used the Thunderbird in several photographs, and a special television advertisement was filmed. (Details of this special televised event are provided at links above.) In all, it was one of the splashiest new model announcements ever.

The power train for 1963 was mostly carry over, except the Thunderbird Sports V-8 (referred to as the "M" option, due to its M designation in the vehicle serial number), was discontinued early in the model year. Complaints from new owners of poor gas mileage, rough idle, and backfiring were common, and many Birds had the three 2-barrel carburetors, intake manifold, and other related components removed and refitted with standard 4-barrel parts before they even hit the lot. The dealers knew they would have difficulty selling the car because of this option, so they just removed it the minute it arrived. (Read the story of the M-Bird That Got Away.)

As a result, even fewer are still equipped with this engine today. Its modest 40 horsepower increase over the standard engine didn't make all that much difference, really, and few Thunderbird owners bought the car for its performance. Styling and allure were the key factors, and the Thunderbird certainly excelled in both.

There are reports that the Sports Roadster was discontinued prior to the end of model year production, and the few people who wanted one had some difficulty locating a car to suit their needs late in the model year. Although the wire wheels and tonneau cover would be available for 1964, the Sports Roadster designation was not. No Sports Roadsters were made after 1963, which makes it a two year model. With just 1,882 made over its two year run, it is the rarest of the classic Thunderbirds, and as such is one of the Most Collectible Thunderbirds.


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