The early 1960s were perhaps the finest hour for the 1961-1963 Ford Thunderbird. There was nothing radical about the third generation design that began in 1961; the radical ideas had been developed with the previous 1958-1960 series. Rather, the 1961-1963 Thunderbirds were soundly designed, well engineered and beautifully styled.
Two designs were considered, one by Elwood Engel and another by Bill Boyer, heading two separate styling teams. Engel's chiseled, squared-off shape was ultimately chosen for the 1961 Lincoln Continental, while Boyer's aircraft-oriented body with its big round "flowerpot" taillights got the nod for the Thunderbird.
"We wanted to keep it very youthful, and that meant aircraft and missile-like shapes," Boyer recalled. But the new Thunderbird and Continental still had a lot in common.
Both featured highly integrated bumper/grille combinations; there was similarity in the windshield and side glass; both cars had unit bodies; and they were built side-by-side in the Wixom, Michigan, plant that had also built the 1958-1960 Thunderbirds.
Both had a new "dual-unitized" structure in which separate front and rear sections were welded together at the cowl. Because these structures were dimensionally similar on both cars, great cost savings were realized.
Coupled to the dual-unit body was a new chassis featuring what Ford called "controlled wheel recession" -- rubber bushings allowing fore/aft as well as up/down wheel movement. Suspensions were revised and the power steering ratio reduced, requiring only three and a half turns lock-to-lock. Brakes were power assisted with vastly increased lining area.
Standard engine was a 390, bored and stroked from the Ford 352, which provided a significant increase in torque: 427 pounds/feet at 2800 rpm, up from 381 in 1960. The typical 1961 Thunderbird would do 0-60 in about 10.5 seconds and 115 mph flat out.
Interior designer Art Querfeld probably spent more time on the 1961 Thunderbird than any single model in his nearly 40-year tenure with Ford. "I wanted to emphasize and delineate the positions of the driver and front seat passenger," Querfeld said, "and I conceived of two individual compartments separated by a prominent console."
The console swept forward, where it curved left and right, meeting the doors and continuing around the sides. Querfeld actually eliminated the traditional glove box door because it would have introduced seams in his gracefully curved paneling.
A small glove box was placed in the center console. Also notable was the Swing-Away steering wheel, an invention of Ford's Stuart Fry: the steering column swung along a curved track fitted behind the dash, with a flexible coupling connecting it to the steering linkage.
Continue reading to learn more about the 1961-1963 Ford Thunderbird models.
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The 1961, 1962, 1963 Ford Thunderbird models were a smash hit. By the time a special gold model paced the 50th Anniversary Indy "500" in May, 1961, sales had already reached 50,000 for the model year.
Ultimately, Ford sold 73,051, of which 10,516 were convertibles and joyfully expanded the line with two new models in 1962. Most important among the 1962s was the Sports Roadster, a special convertible with Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and a fiberglass tonneau which covered the back seats and formed headrests for the front seats.
It wasn't intensely practical -- there was no place to put it if you wanted to remove it, and there was really only one front-seat position that properly mated the seat to the headrests -- but the Sports Roadster had glamor and allure, and has since become a prized collector's item.
A second new model was the Landau, a hardtop with a padded vinyl roof and dummy landau bars -- an attempt to upgrade the Thunderbird's luxury image. New features common to all 1962 models included a revised grille, different side trim, combination tail/stop/parking lights, a hand-controlled parking brake, standard Swing-Away steering wheel and other minor interior adjustments.
Aside from an aluminized muffler, larger master cylinder, and more sound insulation, there were few engineering changes, but an optional "M-Series" 340-bhp engine with three two-barrel carburetors was offered for $242 extra. The M Series would do 0-60 in 8.5 seconds and had a top speed of 120 mph. Most 340 engines went into Sports Roadsters: 120 in 1962, 37 in 1963.
After another successful year (over 78,000), Ford stood almost pat with the 1963s. Styling changes involved a molded creaseline on the front fender and door, new rear fender script, and a vertical-bar grille. Inside, the 1963 had door panel courtesy lights and a new AM/FM pushbutton radio.
The 1963 Landau could be ordered with a black, white, blue, or brown top, and had simulated walnut trim on the interior and steering wheel. Prices kept sales of convertibles (5,913 units) and Sports Roadsters (455) low. This was the last year the Roadster would appear as a distinct model.
In January, Ford ran off 2,000 Limited Edition Landaus, which premiered in Monaco and were known as the "Princess Grace" models. They featured white-on-white paint and trim with a rose-colored vinyl top, white steering wheel, simulated rosewood interior trim, landau bars set in a white background and knock-off style wire wheel covers.
This now highly collectible Bird cost $200 more than the standard Landau.
Continue reading to learn more about the 1961-1963 Ford Thunderbird specifications.
For more information on cars, see:
1961, 1962, 1963 Ford Thunderbird Specifications
The 1961, 1962, 1963 Ford Thunderbird specifications represented the successful blending of performance and high-style.
Engine: ohv V-8, 390 cid (4.05 x 3.78), 300-340 bhp
Transmission: 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic
Suspension, front: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: live axle, leaf springs
Brakes: front/rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 113.0
Weight (lbs.): 3,958-4,471
Top speed (mph): 115-120
0-60 (sec): 8.5-10.5