Ford Thunderbird (third generation)

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Ford Thunderbird
Third Generation
1962 Ford Thunderbird (14348366760).jpg
ManufacturerFord Motor Company
AssemblyUnited States: Wixom Assembly Plant, Wixom, Michigan
DesignerBill Boyer
Body and chassis
ClassPersonal luxury car
Body style
LayoutFront-engine, rear-wheel-drive
Engine390 cu in (6.4 L) FE V8[1]
406 cu in (6.7 L) FE V8[1]
427 cu in (7.0 L) FE V8[1]
Transmission3-speed Cruise-O Matic MX automatic
Wheelbase113.2 in (2,875 mm) [2]
Length205 in (5,207 mm)
Width75.9 in (1,928 mm)[2]
PredecessorFord Thunderbird (second generation)
SuccessorFord Thunderbird (fourth generation)

The third generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a personal luxury car produced by Ford for the 1961 to 1963 model years. It featured new and much sleeker styling (done by Bill Boyer)[3] than the second generation models. Sales were strong, if not quite up to record-breaking 1960, at 73,051 including 10,516 convertibles. A new, larger 390 cu in (6.4 L) FE-series V8 was the only engine available (in 1961). The Thunderbird was 1961's Indianapolis 500 pace car,[4] and featured prominently in US President John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade, probably aided by the appointment of Ford executive Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense.[5] It shared some styling cues with the much smaller European Ford Corsair.


1961 Ford Thunderbird interior with "Swing-Away" steering wheel

The Thunderbird for 1961 introduced several firsts for the automotive market. The most distinctive feature of the 1961 to 1963 Thunderbirds was the highly touted 'Swing Away' steering wheel.[6][7] With the steering column installed transmission gear selector in the park position the steering wheel would slide approximately 18 inches (460 mm) to the right allowing the driver to exit the vehicle easily. This would also prevent the gear selector to be functional until the steering wheel was returned to the center position. Other innovations include a floating rear view mirror, directly attached to the interior of the windshield. Common on almost all automobiles produced today, this feature was first found on 1961 Thunderbirds. Depending on variable options Thunderbirds for 1961 could be purchased with options like air conditioning, power windows, power seats, AM radio, fender skirts and white wall tires. Several standard features, like power steering and power brakes, back up lights and bucket seats were costly options on most other automobiles of the time. It briefly saw competition with the Studebaker Avanti.[8] and the Chrysler 300G before production ended in 1963. [1] For 1961 the listed retail price, before optional equipment, was US$4,170 ($37,813 in 2021 dollars [9]) and 62,535 were built.[1]


1962 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster
Ford Thunderbird (third generation).jpg

1962 saw strong sales figures of 78,011 units (including 9,884 convertibles) and the introduction of the Thunderbird Sports Roadster. The Sports Roadster was a limited production version of the convertible which added 48 spoke Kelsey-Hayes designed wire wheels, special badges to the front fenders and a passenger side grab bar to the front dashboard. The most striking addition to the Sports Roadster was a fiberglass tonneau cover which covered the back seat of the car and created a two seater appearance. 1,427 Sports Roadsters were produced in 1962, including 120 models with the special M Code option noted below. Early models suffered from problems related to their specially-designed wire wheels. The problem was quickly corrected when Elvis Presley was involved in an accident in which one of the Kelsey-Hayes wheels collapsed during hard turning.[10]

Another addition for 1962 was a special engine code (VIN engine code M) which added a "tripower" or three two barrel setup to a higher compression version of the 390 engine. This engine used 406 heads as well as the same carburetors that were found on the high performance 406 powered Ford Galaxie but with a modified version of the intake manifold to allow for proper air flow under the engine. The engine option was quietly discontinued halfway through the mid 1963 production run.

Also introduced in 1962 was the Landau model, with a vinyl roof and simulated S-bars on the rear pillars. This was the beginning of the 1960s/1970s fashion for vinyl roof treatments, and a vinyl roof was a popular Thunderbird feature for the next 20 years.


1963 Ford Thunderbird Landau
1963 Ford Thunderbird

Changes for 1963 were relatively mild. Some additions to the option list included vacuum assisted door locks and an AM/FM radio; an AM radio and a remote driver's side mirror became standard. 1963's sale numbers were down at 63,313 units. The Landau became the second most important model after the standard hardtop, at 12,193 sold. Landaus added simulated wood grain trim to go along with the landau top. In addition a Limited Edition "Principality of Monaco" Landau model was introduced. This Maroon vinyl roof with Corinthian White exterior body with a white leather interior, dark red carpeting with rosewood dashboard applique instead of the stainless steel insert was personalized with a plaque displaying the owner's name and the car's limited production number, was limited to and sold only 2,000 units.[1] Only 5,913 convertibles and 455 Sports Roadsters sold, indicating a decline in convertible popularity at the time.

Production totals[edit]

Year Production[11]
1961 73,051
1962 78,011
1963 63,313
Total 214,375


  1. ^ a b c d e f Gunnell, John, ed. (1987). The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946–1975. Kraus Publications. pp. 317–373. ISBN 0-87341-096-3.
  2. ^ a b "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1961_Ford_Thunderbird/1961_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  3. ^ "Howstuffworks "1961, 1962, 1963 Ford Thunderbird"". Archived from the original on 2008-05-17.
  4. ^ "1961 Ford Thunderbird Indy Pace Car". Hagerty Insider. Retrieved 2021-08-26.
  5. ^ "These Are The Cars That JFK Owned As President". HotCars. 2021-05-01. Retrieved 2021-08-26.
  6. ^ "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1961_Ford_Thunderbird/1961_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  7. ^ "History of Ford Swing-Away, Tilt-Away, and Tilt Steering Wheels". Automotive Mileposts. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  8. ^ "New Model". Newsweek. 59: 85. 1962. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  9. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  10. ^ "1962-1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster: What Went Wrong?". Automotive MilePosts. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  11. ^ Tast, Alan H. and David Newhardt. THUNDERBIRD FIFTY YEARS. Motorbooks. October 15, 2004.