Not In California: 1963 Ford Thunderbird

If great big FoMoCo personal luxury cars are your thing, this one might be worth checking out. It looks relatively straight, very solid and rust-free. It’s in Modesto, but nowhere near California. Two thousand miles away, in a tiny village in central Illinois. It’s advertised here on craigslist in Springfield, Illinois. The asking price is $1,900.

The seller says this Big Bird has been off the road for more than forty years. That’s a long, long time, but maybe it’s worth the wait. Big Thunderbirds, even of this early vintage, are not hard to find. Unmolested and indoor-kept examples, not so much. The fuselage-like styling was taken seriously here, including the very large jet turbine-nozzle tail lights. Note to self: Don’t stand directly behind those when the engine is running.

The seller’s incredibly brief description says the car is from South Carolina, and that it traveled only 83,000 miles before hibernation. Fortunately the missing fender skirts can be found in the trunk, with the front bumper and a few other items. Before buying, I’m sure I’d want to get a look under that crusty trunk carpet, to find out if the floor is as solid as the outer body.

One of the best parts of a Thunderbird from this era, is the fancy interior. Fords in general had much more elaborate and expensively constructed interiors than their GM and Chrysler counterparts, and the Thunderbird even more so. Who else offered high back rear seats and a swing away steering columns? (Does this one have that option?) Take a look at the fancy dash, console and all that chrome trim and bright work! The vinyl has seen better days of course, but red interior with a white body is a classic 1960s color combination, and it’s worth bringing back.

A look under the hood reveals the venerable 390 engine, with four barrel carburetor and a few other parts conspicuously absent. The engine is stuck, and the missing carb would likely be the reason why.

The seller doesn’t say, but I’d guess the paint is probably original. Even that might be worth trying to preserve after a little careful dent work is done to it. Most or all of the exterior trim appears present and accounted for.

So what do you think? Worthwhile restoration project or no? Even though it’s not a black-plate California car? Could it be a black-plate South Carolina car? Is that even a thing? Please share your thoughts below.


  1. 86 Vette Convertible

    I have to say early 60’s T-Birds are some of my favorites, especially convertibles with the toneau covers. I’ve had a couple of later ones (still have one) and they are joys to drive. Get this one back on the road and cruise on down to the malt shop ;-)

    Being it’s in Illinois, watch for road salt damage, that will eat the body up in short time.

  2. Rex Kahrs Member

    I’ve owned a couple of these, and they are fun to drive. But, I personally can’t see one reason to buy this car. It looks pretty rough. Even just getting it running and driving would cost probably 2 or 3K,, and many hours of work, then you have a running POS. And good luck with the electrics on these cars even if the mice haven’t chewed up the wires. Better to spend 10K on a decent driver example and save yourself the hassle.

  3. flmikey

    The reason many people buy a car like this is for the enjoyment of getting your hands dirty and getting something like this diamond in the rough road ready…I love this hobby and I’m not in it for profit…that being said, with what is wrong with this particular car, I would only spend about 700 clams on it…

  4. Steven

    From what I see , this would be a good spaced out project as cutting the top off and ground up doing a ” BUBBLE TOP also INSTALL by going further more than those other few guys did as Victor on Full Custom Garage did with his 63 bird , but configuration for a Pratt\Whitney PT6 Turbine engine in it..

  5. Doug Towsley

    I did a restoration for a shop customer back in the day on one of these Birds,,, man, they are expensive to restore. The rubber seal with metal impregnated in them that runs from the back 1/4 windows up to the front along the top window channell were $186.00 each. Back then the #1 place to get parts was here in Portland, Dick Martins Birds nest down in SE PDX. I way underbid it and lost my butt on it. I bet I worked for $3.00 per hour by the time you penciled it out. I can walk someone thru all the issues. Not my cup of tea. These things are like floating on cotton candy. Weird vague steering, balloonish tires, vague brakes… Made for grandpas who cruise well under the speed limit and dont give a rats ass.
    But I get the appeal,,, just not my cup of tea. But thats a good price,, but be real hard to work on it and resell and come out ahead. Truly a labor of love only.. not for $$$

  6. Phil

    I’ll never understand someone selling a car and not cleaning it first. We all know that it’s been sitting for years in someone’s garage or barn, but geez…make an effort to make it presentable. Seller too lazy to clean it up, then wants top dollar from you, when you know you have a couple weeks worth of cleaning to do just to get it to where you want to sit in it.

    Sorry, dude.

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