The FREE Complete Bay Area Auto Enthusiast Guide

By KENNETH HALL – Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
The Ford Thunderbird is a truly iconic American automobile that was first introduced in 1955, ostensibly to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette. In spite of its sporty appearance and aggressive stance, the Thunderbird was marketed as a personal luxury vehicle, rather than a sports car. Built more for comfort and convenience than for performance, the Thunderbird actually outsold the Corvette in 1955 by a ratio of 23 to 1.
The 1963 Thunderbird was the last year of the third generation of the brand and is a true classic. The design of the low-slung coupe was inspired by the American fascination with jet aircraft. With its distinctive bullet-shaped front end, sleek body lines, long low fins and round tail lights that look like jet afterburners, the 1963 Thunderbird appeared like it was in motion even when it was standing still.
Bob Adair, of Lutz, owns a black 1963 Thunderbird that turns heads wherever it appears. It turned his head when he first saw it at a Zephyrhills swap meet in 2002.
“I just thought it was an attractive car,” Adair says. “The bullet shape is what attracted me more than anything, and I especially like the color because the black really makes all the chrome pop. If it had been any other color, I probably would not have wanted it as much.”
Many of the standard features on the 1963 Thunderbird would have been expensive options on other cars at the time, including power windows, power brakes and power steering. Even the back-up lights were not standard features on most cars in 1963. The T-Bird includes the optional factory air conditioning, which is pretty much a necessity in the Florida heat.
The car includes two unique features: hydraulic windshield wipers that operate off of the power steering pump and a steering wheel that pivots a full 18 inches to the right.
“The swing-away steering wheel pushes over towards the center of the car, which makes it easier to get in and out,” Adair explains. “It locks the car in park so that it cannot be shifted into gear while the steering wheel is swung over.”
Its stylish interior is black with brushed chrome accents and rose-beige seats. The switches for the power windows are located on the center console, although the shift lever is mounted on the steering column.
Adair says he had to do very little in the way of restoration, aside from a little cleaning and some cosmetic work.
“When I bought it, the car looked rather sad because a previous owner had put pink shag carpet in the trunk,” Adair recalls. “The areas of the rims that were not covered by the hubcaps had been painted pink as had the stripes in chrome trim on the doors. The first thing I did was change all of that back to what it was originally.”
The 1963 Thunderbird is powered by a 390 ci V-8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor and the Ford Cruise-O-Matic transmission. Originally rated to reach speeds of 123 miles-per-hour, Adair says he has not had his car anywhere near that speed. “It is not a real economy car,” he adds. “About the most you can squeeze out of it is about 10 to 12 miles per gallon.”
That would not have been much of a deterrent to potential buyers in 1963 when gasoline cost less than 35 cents a gallon. More prohibitive would have been the $5,500-plus price tag, at a time when the average car would set one back about $3,200. Still, that was a small premium to pay for such a head-turning classic.

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