1963 Thunderbird Survivor is a Family Heirloom

1963 Thunderbird Survivor is a Family Heirloom

1963 ThunderbirdBy John Gunnell

We first saw Joseph Aleven’s 1963 Thunderbird parked in the parking lot during a car show at the Grignon Mansion, a historic site in Kaukauna, Wis. Aleven, a resident of nearby Little Chute, didn’t know that the car show was open only to 1959 and earlier cars, but the rules were firm and the beautiful, unrestored Thunderbird hardtop had to stay with the modern cars in the parking lot. As you can imagine, the big Thunderbird stood out.

Aleven inherited the well-preserved car from his brother, who bought it brand new, in Rock Rapids, Iowa, close to Minnesota. “I believe he bought it in the fall of 1962, after the 1963 models came out,” said Aleven. “I don’t know the exact date. He was fascinated with cars and planes. They were kind of his hobbies.”

Aleven said his brother bought a little Cessna four-passenger airplane that he could land at their sister’s farm, in the alfalfa fields. “He was obsessed with flying,” Joseph stressed. “He would come in and land his plane and give us rides and such. He was obsessed with planes and cars and never married. In his will, he specified that his Thunderbird not be driven in January, because he didn’t want it used in winter.”

Aleven got the Thunderbird in 2008 and hasn’t driven it very much since then. “The Thunderbird has 86,467 actual miles,” he noted. “I got it just about nine years ago and I haven’t driven it much at all. It has the 390 V8, automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, a very nice Swing-Away steering wheel, an electric driver’s seat and an original Ford AM radio. Nothing has been monkied with. The trunk is so big you could put half a cow in there. The whole car is so large.”

1963 ThunderbirdThe car does not have air conditioning, according to Aleven. “It’s got the side vent windows,” he noted. “Pop them open and it’s a cross breeze. You didn’t have all the luxuries back in 1963. You didn’t need air conditioning. It’s an old car. It’s 53 years old. I enjoy it, but it’s expensive running these cars. They don’t get the best gas mileage. But I still liked it. In the summer, I’d take it out to go out. We used it in a wedding once. It’s in the family. It’s a family heirloom.”

The white sidewalls on the tires are yellowed, although in terms of tread wear, the tires look brand new. “That’s one thing my brother was really particular about,” said Aleven. “But he’s been gone for 11 years.” Joseph tried to keep after the car like his brother used to. “When it’s stored, I take the battery out and put in dryer sheets to keep mice away. I take care of it, but I’m moving to Brownsville, Texas and will have to sell it,”

Aleven isn’t a collector, but the Thunderbird was treated well and not used like an everyday car. “It was given to me because I was the only brother left in the family,” he explained. “I only had one sister still living in Holland. Our parents had nine children and I was the youngest. Almost everybody else died. My sister was living yet at that time – she has passed away since – and she asked me if I wanted the car. I said I would love it.”

During Aleven’s ownership, the car was taken only to the car show at the Grignon Mansion. “Once I was tempted to take it to the Octoberfest in Appleton, where they have hundreds of cars,” said Joseph. “That’s the most fun part for me, to go down on Friday night and just stroll the cars. It’s quite a success, I think. It’s always very, very busy.”

Aleven’s car and other 1963 Thunderbirds retained the previous styling with a new sculptured body side feature line, a modestly revised “electric shaver” grille, new taillights, new side trim and new wheel covers. Inside, buyers found medal-clad brake and accelerator pedals. This was the first T-Bird to use hydraulic windshield wipers powered by the power steering pump. The brakes were more fade-resistant and nearly 100 pounds of sound-deadening materials were added. Suspension and exhaust improvements, lifetime chassis lubrication and an alternator in place of a generator were other updates.

1963 ThunderbirdThe 1963 grille incorporated a concealed hood latch, eliminating the old cable-operated release. The front fenders had a horizontal crease line that started just behind the grille, passed over the front wheel opening and continued past the middle of the door where it slanted downwards for a few inches and faded into the door. Just below the crease line, near the centre of the door, were three groupings of forward-slanting chrome hash marks with five strips in each group. Motor Trend (October 1962) said these were supposed to remind one of turbine waste gates. Chrome Thunderbird scripts were moved to the rear fenders. New deep-dish wheel covers followed the turbine motif.

There were no big changes to the inside of basic models, although the inner door panels had new white and red courtesy lights for added safety when passengers were entering/exiting the car. The exhaust was supposedly a quieter and longer lasting system featuring 2.0-in. diameter laminated tubing (double pipes, one inside the other) and an asbestos-wrapped, aluminized steel muffler. A 1.78-in. diameter tailpipe was employed.

The 1963 T-Bird front suspension was lubricated for the “life of the car,” which Ford estimated as 100,000 miles or seven years. Road noise and vibrations were reduced through use of a newly-developed rubber compression-type shock mount for the steering box, plus a flexible coupling between the gear assembly and the steering shaft.

Standard Thunderbird equipment included built-in dual exhausts, a fuel filter, an oil filter, the 390-cid four-barrel V-8, a padded instrument panel, padded sun visors, an electric clock with sweep second hand, courtesy lights, turn signals, a deep-centre steering wheel, dual horns and horn rings, individually adjustable front seats, a day-night tilt type mirror, double-grip door locks, full wheel covers, built-in arm rests, floor carpet, full-width foam rubber seats, all-vinyl upholstery, an ash tray, a cigar lighter, an air cleaner, automatic transmission, power brakes, power steering, electric windshield wipers, undercoating, a parking brake, a glove box, an ash tray, luggage, back-up, and compartment lights, a heater and defroster, a movable steering column, a console between the front seats, an AM radio and antenna, a remote-control left-hand outside rear view mirror and five black 8.00 x 14 tubeless tires.

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