390 Cubic Inch V-8 (275 Horsepower)
4-Barrel Holley Carburetor/Single Exhaust System (Export only; low octane)
Thunderbird 390 Special V-8 (300 Horsepower)
4-Barrel Holley Carburetor/Single Exhaust System (See note below)
Thunderbird High Performance 390 Sports V-8 (340 Horsepower)
3 x 2-Barrel Holley Carburetors/Dual Exhaust System
|Note: A dual exhaust system was optional with "Z" code engine during first part of model year, and was made standard mid-year due to a compression ratio increase from 9.6:1 to 10.8:1.|
Cruise-O-Matic (Automatic, 3-Speed)
Cruise-O-Matic (Automatic, 3-Speed) (Apparently a typo, usually found on units with "M" code High Performance 390 Sports V-8 Engine option.)
REAR AXLE CODES
3.10:1 Equa Lock
3.00:1 Equa Lock
3.10:1 Equa Lock
205 Inches (Overall)
52.5 Inches (Hardtop/Landau)
53.3 (Convertible/Sports Roadster)
4,195 Pounds (Hardtop)
4,205 Pounds (Landau)
4,320 Pounds (Convertible)
4,395 Pounds (Sports Roadster)
During the Fall of 1974, I spotted a 1963 Thunderbird Landau sitting next to an old gas station on the outskirts of the city where I lived. The car was black with a white vinyl roof. It appeared to be complete, minus the wheel covers and fender skirts (if it were so equipped.) I stopped to look, and noticed that it was for sale. The body was in good shape, no dents or rust, and the original paint was somewhat faded, but could have been brought back to life with a little TLC. Upon closer inspection, I noticed it had a Light Pearl Beige Leather interior. The driver's seat had the cracks one would expect, but the passenger seat looked great, as did the back seat. This Landau was hard loaded—AM/FM, rear speaker, power windows, power seats on both sides, tinted glass, SelectAire, front seat belts, automatic door locks, the remainder of what were once pristine white front and rear floor mats—with black T-Bird emblems—were on the floor, covering dirty, beige carpeting that would have looked nice with a thorough vacuuming and shampoo. A stainless nameplate, mounted on the console, had the original owner's name covered up by a black sticky label that came from one of those cheap label guns.
About this time, an old man emerged from the gas station. He greeted me with, "She runs". I responded, "Hi, does everything work?" The old man didn't know, but reached out with the keys to the car. He said, "I see you like these old Birds," glancing at my 1966 Brittany Blue Thunderbird Town Landau. "Go ahead and drive her, she needs new tires and a muffler, but the original wheel covers and skirts are in the trunk." I hesitated, not really wanting to get hooked on this car. "I just put new brakes on it, and tuned 'er up," the man said, "she's a little cranky cold, but runs great when she gets warmed up".
I took the keys, opened the door, and sat down in the driver's seat. The car had that smell that only old cars with leather upholstery have. The wood paneling on the console, dash, and door panels looked really nice. You forget the way the door panels and dash wrap around, if you haven't sat in one of these cars for awhile. The off-white headliner and visors were in perfect shape. I looked back, and noticed the overhead (courtesy) spotlights above the rear window both worked. I had to replace the courtesy light door switches on my '66 to get the lights working, and when I looked at the switch on the '63, I noticed it still had the black rubber boot covering it. Hadn't seen that before.
"Pump the gas a few times, and keep your foot on it a little until she's warm. She'll go like crazy warmed up," the man said as he closed the door for me. Apparently, I was going to take a test drive. I pumped the gas a few times, put the key in the ignition—it felt strange to have the ignition on the left—and turned the key. The "OIL" and "GEN" lights both came on. The battery had the power to turn the car over pretty fast, and the starter sounded good. The engine caught after about 3 turns, but immediately choked down and stalled. I pumped the gas a few more times, turned the key again, and the engine caught on the third turn. This time I was ready, and fed it gas to keep it going. The engine tappets were noisy at first, but quieted down after about 6 or 7 seconds, and I remember the car was quiet, except for that hole in the muffler, which wasn't really that loud.
The power windows worked, except the gear was split on the passenger door window. The fuel gage showed half full, and I applied the parking brake to see if the light under the dash would come on. It did. I moved the lever on the air conditioning outlet to "MAX", and moved the fan switch to "1". A hissing noise came from somewhere behind the chrome outlet. Some dust blew out from the vent, but it was followed by cold air. The radio worked, so did both speakers, except you could tell the speaker cones were bad. The odometer showed 79,000-something miles. I remember thinking that wasn't such bad mileage for an 11 year old car. I turned off the A/C, adjusted the mirrors and seat, and pushed on the accelerator a little. It choked a bit, but didn't act like it was going to stall. I continued to rev the engine until it didn't choke down. I took my foot off the accelerator, and the engine slowed to an idle. A little rough, but not bad. And totally silent, except for that muffler.
The temperature needle was just beginning to move into the normal temperature band, and I stepped on the brake pedal and moved the transmission lever to the big dot under "DRIVE". I felt a slight engagement, but still no noise. I gently touched the accelerator, and the Thunderbird moved gracefully away from its parking spot. The road the gas station was on was a two lane road, with a few small houses set back away from it. The T-Bird just floated along, perfectly happy to be driven again. I thought how proud the original owner must have felt driving this car home for the first time. It had to have been a real head turner when it was new!
Within a few minutes, the temperature gauge needle was up into the normal operating band, and I pressed down on the accelerator—not all the way, but pretty hard. The Bird immediately revved up, then choked down a bit, but came back strong. You really felt like you were being pushed back into the seat. I looked at the instrument panel, and noticed that the clock was working. Not the correct time, but the sweep second hand was moving. Just at that moment, the contacts in the clock touched, making that distinctive "click" sound as it rewound itself. Then I noticed that I was going about 85 mph. I slowed down, taking note that the brakes did seem to work very well. They were a bit touchy, but you could anticipate their action, and after only a few minutes behind the wheel, they seemed to be quite effective and predictable.
It was close to dusk, so I decided I'd better go back to the gas station. I signaled, (the green right turn arrow on the instrument panel was really bright in the fading daylight), and turned into the next driveway, which was really just a gravel area off the shoulder of the road. It was big enough that I could turn hard left and head back. I stopped before pulling out to take another look at the car. I turned on the parking lights, placed the transmission in park, slid the steering wheel over to the right, and got out. Walking around the car, all of the lights worked, and I stopped to look at how big and bright those taillights were! Even the license plate, which had expired a year earlier, was illuminated. The engine, now at normal temperature, was running beautifully. The stereo sounds of the exhaust from the dual tailpipes was low and powerful. I was getting hooked. I got back in and headed west toward the gas station. The soft glow from the three shiny round instrument pods was almost as wondrous as the sun setting on the horizon ahead.
As I pulled into the station, the reflection of the Bird's headlights illuminated my '66 Town Landau, obediently waiting for me to return. There was no sign of the old man. I left the car running, and got out to look at the engine. It took a second or two to find the latch, but I soon had the hood open. Wow! Even though the engine compartment was really dirty, the chrome on the engine stood out against the black fender wells. There were signs of someone recently working on the engine, as the dirt and grease were smeared in places on the valve covers. I noticed how massive the air cleaner was. It was the only thing that was completely clean and shiny under the hood! And the T-Bird emblem on the air cleaner, complete with plastic turquoise insert, still looked new.
The old man appeared about this time, and told me that the carbs probably could stand to be rebuilt. He thought that would eliminate the hard starts when cold, and the hesitation on acceleration. He removed the air cleaner, and I saw the three two barrel carbs. They looked dirty, but you could see black numbers on the side of each carb. The suction noise from the carbs was really loud with the air cleaner removed. The oily smell of an old engine warmed up was pretty strong as well.
The man installed the air cleaner, and I walked around to turn off the car. The lights at the bottom of the driver's door panel lit the ground below, almost as if to beckon me inside for another drive. I turned off the ignition, taking another look around the interior. The Swing-Away Steering Wheel, pushed to the right, also seemed to be inviting me in. The interior would look really nice cleaned up, I thought. I wonder if the leather on this driver's seat would clean up? If it doesn't, maybe I could still get a new seat cover from Ford. I handed the keys to the man, and he walked around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. I followed. Inside the trunk were 4 Deluxe Wheel Covers with Simulated Knock-Off Hubs, and 2 black fender skirts. The trunk liner was dirty, but with a little work...
I thanked the man, told him I wanted to think about it, and closed the driver's door. He said to just stop back by any time, that the car belonged to someone else, and he was "just helping them get it ready to sell".
I thought about that car a lot over the next few days, but I really wasn't in a position to buy another old Thunderbird at that point. And I knew if I went to look at it again, I was going to find a way to bring it home. Besides, my '66 was a wonderful car. 428 engine, stereo tape, etc., why did I need another one? But there are so many differences between the '63 and '66 models. Somehow, I resisted the temptation to go for another look.
A couple of months later, I drove by that gas station. No Thunderbird. No old man. I never saw either again, and I convinced myself that there would be a lot more T-Birds like that one. Of course, there haven't been. And certainly not at the price he was asking: $475.00!
I can only guess as to what became of that car, and the memory of the hour or so I spent with that car is one of my favorites. That black 1963 Thunderbird is just as alive and beautiful in my memory today as it was on the day the original owner took it home for the first time. So, next time you come across a Raven Black 1963 Thunderbird Landau, with White Vinyl Roof, Pearl Beige Leather interior, and just about every option available, take a second look for me. Maybe it's still around, awaiting another opportunity to demonstrate that roads are never quite the same, once Thunderbird comes their way.
- Submitted Anonymously
Sorry, we couldn't find a black and white one...
1963 Thunderbird Landau shown in Corinthian White, with Blue
Vinyl Roof and optional Light Blue Metallic Leather interior trim.