1962 FORD Thunderbird- Art Print
Written by Double Dragon
Monday, 04 June 2012 20:25

1962 FORD Thunderbird- Art



Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown. Research on Courtesy Ford, Lape Ford and Westfield Ford conducted by Bill Nawrot. Special appreciation for Bill Nawrot's keen eye in unravelling the mystery of this Thunderbird's origins.


Thomas McCahill was one of the most unique auto writers of all time and his opinion was highly valued. In the Mail to McCahill column in the Oct, 1967 MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED McCahill states that he owned the very first production Thunderbird. This fact was worth bragging about because first incarnation Thunderbirds are very special cars. Within a few years of being released they were being called classics. All Thunderbirds have since gained a strong collector following over the years.

Serial number P5FH100005 is the first Thunderbird built on the production line. It was produced in the Dearborn, Michigan factory on Sep 9, 1954 as a 1955 model. When it turned up years later in rough shape its significance was recognized by its new owner, George Watts of Santa Ana, California who restored it.

The Thunderbird name was chosen Feb 15, 1954 and derives from a Southwest Indian legendary bird. A few days later Thunderbird debuted Feb 20th at the Detroit Autoshow. The Thunderbird was meant to compete with foreign sports cars but with an added touch of luxury, creating the first 'personal car' as Ford dubbed it. Chevrolet had already tried to address the influx of foreign sports cars with an American made sports car called the Corvette. Ford learned from the Chevy's fiberglass bodied Corvette shortcomings. The steel bodied Thunderbird with wind up glass windows gave buyers the same size, style and performance as the Corvette without subjecting users to rain leaks and a six cylinder engine.

Corvette faithful appreciate the Thunderbird for its own merits, but the majority of the respect derives from the role Thunderbird played in rescuing the Corvette from cancellation. The sales threat created by the Thunderbird motivated Chevrolet to stay in the game when the Corvette was in danger of being killed off. The Thunderbird started out with a V8 and this also spurred the Corvette to grow up in a hurry with its own V8. Soon the Corvette had surpassed the Thunderbird and then the foreign cars to become a bona fide sports car leader.

Thunderbird soared through three model years as a two door personal car using a 102 inch wheelbase and weighing a mere 2,833 pounds. Symbolic of wealth, daring and freedom, the Thunderbird had a lot of personality. So recognizable was the Thunderbird, it served as the signature vehicle for the sexually wild character portrayed by Dorothy Malone in the Douglas Sirk movie WRITTEN ON THE WIND. This grandiose soap opera in vivid Technicolor overtly used props and lighting to illustrate themes and characters. The Thunderbird was so distinctive that it is forever identified in people's minds with the Malone character.

Knowing that the four seat Bird was coming, Ford extended the 1957 production right until December 13, 1957 to milk the market for a two seat Tbird. In 1958 the fans of the original Thunderbird were horrified by the 'Squarebird' as it was dubbed. The Thunderbird became a four seat which carried forth some of the original styling themes as if seen through a distorted lens. 'Squarebirds' outsold the two seat Tbirds, leaving Ford indifferent to the screams of the purists. Time has healed the wound and now the second generation Thunderbirds from 1958-1960 are well regarded. The third generation was embraced right off the bat.


Redesign time for the 1961 model year produced a 'projectile' Thunderbird that united everyone in appreciation of its dramatic style. Sleek 'Jet age' cues were incorporated into the established Thunderbird proportions. The nose sloped into a point that looked like the car would just slice through the air on a superhighway.


Fake vents and twin tubular fenders leading to the round tail lights capitalized on the 'space age/ jet age' craze sweeping 1960s America. This car was so great looking that it prompted GM to scramble to create a competitive personal car. GM came out with one of the best looking cars of the 1960s with their 1963 Riviera, but that's another story. In 1961 and 1962 Thunderbird owned the playing field in this price range. Chrysler's Imperial was priced way out of this arena and the New Yorker wasn't as distinctive as the Thunderbird. When the 1962 model debuted Oct 12, 1961 it was essentially unchanged from the highly popular 1961 design.


Ford created a stunning interior for their new Thunderbird. The dash curved round and merged into the doors, while a console cut the car down the middle. Each person had their own 'pod' in this car. There is a lot of chrome, but the lines and design motifs are coherent. The jumble of confusion seen in ultra chromed 1950s interiors has given way to a 'futuristic' design. Linear lines join disparate items from the interior into one flowing whole.


The first owner of the OOCC 1962 Thunderbird was Police Chief of Berwyn, Illinois. Every few years he treated himself to a special brand new car come Springtime. The Police Chief visited Courtesy Ford in Chicago, Illinois in April, 1962. See a story on Courtesy Ford in the DEALERSHIPS section listed under ILLINOIS Dealers. The Chief was intent on getting a fancy new car. What he got was a stunning Raven Black Thunderbird with red interior.

The Police Chief stood pat with the standard engine, a powerful 390 4 barrel dual exhaust pumping 300 HP through a 3 speed automatic and 3.00:1 axle. The year following this, the engine was changed to a single exhaust, probably to save expense. Ford put a spin on it by saying single exhaust created a quieter car. The new single exhaust was constructed with double layers which made it last longer, but auto buffs much preferred the image and performance of the dual exhaust that came standard in 1961 and 1962.

The OOCC Thunderbird is equipped with tilt steering, power brakes, power steering, AM radio and whitewall tires. The VIN starts with '2Y83Z'. The production sequence number is omitted to protect owner privacy.

2= 1962 model year
Y= Wixom assembly plant
83= Two door hardtop
Z= 390-300 HP with 9.6:1 compression ratio

The other codes establish what the car looked like when it left the factory:

Body '63A'= two door hardtop
Color 'A'= Raven Black paint
Trim '55'= Red vinyl interior (Thunderbirds were available with all vinyl or a cloth and vinyl combination, but not for the color red. They did have red in leather, however)
Date 24D= Date of manufacture is April 24, 1962.
DSO 41= Chicago sales district office

The OOCC Thunderbird has exactly the same paint and interior now as when it was built back on April 24th. It was babied and used minimally. Eventually the Police Chief got bored with his 1962 Bird. In April, 1966 new car fever struck the Police Chief. It was four years to the month from the date of purchase for the 1962 Bird.

The virtually pristine 1962 Thunderbird was discarded in favor of a brand new 1966 Thunderbird. The Police Chief traded it in at Lape Ford in Countryside, Illinois. Lape Ford apparently removed the 'Courtesy Ford' dealer plate, breaking off the letters "ourtesy' and replacing the stylized "C" in order to cover the holes drilled in the trunk lid for the dealer plate. Lape Ford became Westfield Ford in 1985.

Luckily for history, the spurned 1962 Thunderbird went to a fastidious new owner named Art, who was a fire captain in a Chicago area laboratory. Art usually drove practical family sedans, but had become enamored with the new Thunderbirds. Once the hunt was on, it didn't take long to find this used Thunderbird on the Westfield Ford lot where it had been traded in. Art wasn't set on a particular year which made condition the defining criteria in this search. A newer 1964 that cost more just wasn't in as good shape as the Raven Black 1962, which Art chose for its pristine condition. Art got the price lowered to $1,250.00 and then traded in his 1957 Plymouth on the fantastic new Thunderbird.

On April 13, 1966 with a mere 25,600 miles the Thunderbird found its way to Art's home in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. The car was in perfect shape. Having always been garaged and well cared for it appeared to be a new car with no visible wear anywhere. Art managed to enjoy driving the car and simultaneously preserve its mint condition. Art's son, Art, Jr. was thrilled by the new addition to the family and carefully followed 'the Thunderbird rules' which included obvious things such as no food in the car.

The new Thunderbird was Art's dream car and he maintained the car carefully. Art was a mechanic in the Marines during WWII so taking care of machinery was second nature to him. The Thunderbird was always garaged. Art used the Thunderbird for his short work commute to the laboratory about three miles away from his home. Six miles round trip five days a week equals 30 miles per week during the five to six month annual period that the car was out of storage. The OOCC Thunderbird was in storage October through May to avoid salt and snow. The Thunderbird wasn't good in snow and this turned out to be a saving grace. Because of its less than stellar winter handling, the car never saw winter weather again. A series of beaters served duty for winters.

Of course, all of us with nice cars know how the beaters graduate from 'winter beaters' to "rain beaters' and then 'stop and go traffic beaters'. Before you know it, your beater is a full time driver and the nice car gets used solely on sunny days and in light traffic. Art of course fell into this mentality almost immediately. The Thunderbird led a pampered life protected by the true collector's well worn pattern of meticulous care and minimal pleasure use.

Art performed all the mechanical maintenance on the car himself. He had trouble keeping the paint perfect using tap water which left stains due to its mineral content. Art collected rainwater for the regular car washing ritual, which is a practice that Art, Jr. continues to this day.

The Thunderbird started out in great shape, was well cared for and didn't log many miles. In fact, the engine has never used any oil. The OOCC Thunderbird seems frozen in time since new. It won the top SURVIVOR car award, Zzenith. Below you can see an old insurance sticker on the driver's door jamb. Lack of winter or bad weather has preserved this fragile paper sticker over the years.


Aside from being limited to fair weather driving, another contributing factor in the Thunderbirds minimal wear and tear was prodigious fuel use. The OOCC Thunderbird barely broke into the 10 MPG bracket (12 was about the best it ever did). The gas hog qualities of the OOCC Thunderbird disqualified it from any long road trips. Without long trips the mileage was kept low and the Bird was spared stone chip damage to windshield and front nose.

Some regular maintenance items have been replaced such as heater hoses, upper and lower radiator hoses, fan belt and new exhaust. The Thunderbird has also been through a set of tires. The fuel line and brake lines were replaced as a safety precaution, not due to failure. The car currently shows 51,807 miles which isn't much more than it had when parked in 1999.

Art, Sr. stopped driving the Thunderbird in 1999, but kept it carefully stored until he passed away in 2007. Art, Jr. inherited the Thunderbird and follows the same careful rituals of cleaning and care taught to him by his father. Like his father he uses the car on nice days. Art, Jr. has the added bonus of taking a little trip back in time to revisit moments with his father every time he turns the key.



Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 March 2015 11:26 )