MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives, Chrysler Archives, GM Media Archives, Mecum Auctions and the Robert Tate Collection
Published 9.6.2023

1963 Corvette GM Media Archives 2The 1963 Chevrolet Corvette (GM Media Archives)

United States auto production for the year 1963 was the second largest in history. Total domestic production for automobiles and trucks was estimated at 9,098,966 units, second only to 1955.

In 1963, General Motors introduced the newly designed Buick Riviera, which turned out to be one of the top selling models of the year. The 1963 Riviera was designed under the direction of Bill Mitchell and categorized as a personal luxury car at a price of $4,333. It was designed to compete with the popular Ford Thunderbird. The new Riviera offered totally different styling from any of the other 1963 Buicks.  

1963 Buick Riviera GM Media Archives 1The 1963 Buick Riviera (GM Media Archives)

A special year continued as General Motors also introduced the all-new 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. The 1963 Corvette was a totally new design, which most drivers admired. It came in three body styles with a convertible model that had a removable hardtop. The Sport Coupe was designated as model 0837. The 1963 Corvettes also offered a radically shaped rear end design that created a huge stir in automotive circles. The interior also featured a great-looking design with instrument gauges placed directly in front of the driver for easy reading. The 1963 Corvette had a sticker price of $4,252 for the Sport Coupe models and $4,277 dollars for the convertibles with the popular removable top.

In 1963, the Chrysler 300 convertible was selected as the official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500. A total of 1,861 units of the pace setter convertibles were built, painted in blue/green to highlight its great looking features. The pace car models were the same as the 300 Sport Series models. They were designed under the direction of Elwood P. Engel, who replaced Virgil Exner as chief stylist for Chrysler in the early 1960s.

The 1963 Chrysler 300 Pace Car Chrysler Archives 3The 1963 Chrysler 300 Indy 500 Pace Car (Chrysler Archives)

Engel also oversaw the design and development of the 1963 Chrysler Turbine car. The limited-production Turbine car was a completely new design, painted Turbine Bronze with a Turbine Bronze interior. It was a two-door model that could carry one driver and three passengers. The Turbine car drew huge crowds when it debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The engine sounded like a Boeing jet. The Chrysler turbine cars were built at a rate of one per week until the last of the 50 models were completed in October 1964. Unfortunately, Chrysler chose not to widely release the car and continued researching the Turbine engine. Only a few of these cars have survived to this day.

The 1963 Chrysler Turbine Chrysler Archives RESIZED 4Two views of the 1963 Chrysler Turbine car (Chrysler Archives)

The 1963 Lincolns were great looking cars, but they were not changed significantly from their 1961 and 1962 models. They included a four-door sedan and a popular four-door convertible. The Lincoln Executive Limousine was popular for high-end consumers, including the President of the United States. Sticker prices for the four-door sedan were $6,270 and $6,916 for the Continental four-door convertible.

A 1963 Lincoln Continental sedan Ford Motor Company Archives CROPPED AND RESIZED 5A 1963 Lincoln Continental sedan (Ford Motor Company Archives)

In 1963, Motor Trend magazine gave its annual Car of the Year award to the American Motors’ Rambler for its engineering excellence and outstanding achievement in design. The 1963 Rambler models were completely redesigned for the model year and the first models to be influenced by Dick Teague. The 1963 Rambler Ambassador 990 models and the Classic 770 models were great looking and very well-received. On March 1, 1963, a new 198-hp V8 engine was also introduced as an option on all Rambler Classic models. 

The 1963 Rambler on the cover of Motor Trend Robert Tate Collection RESIZED 6The 1963 AMC Rambler on the cover of Motor Trend (Robert Tate Collection)

For 1963, the Studebaker Avanti offered a remarkably slippery design shape that was very different. Some automotive historians have said that Studebaker failed to get Avanti production started on time, which caused many problems in sales and marketing. Consumers who waited so long to purchase an Avanti model ended up moving on to other makes and models. Fewer than 4600 Avanti units were manufactured between 1963 and 1964. Despite the excitement around the new design of the Avanti models, the production problems led Studebaker sales to plunge in 1963. In December 1963, Studebaker ended production at its South Bend, Indiana plant, while their Hamilton, Ontario manufacturing facility remained in operation until March 1966.

The 1963 Studebaker Avanti Mecum Auto Auctions CROPPED AND RESIZED 7The 1963 Studebaker Avanti (Mecum Auto Auctions)

Finally, the 1963 Ford Thunderbird models were great looking vehicles and very popular. Ford’s signature rear taillights were a part of the design theme for 1963. The top of the line model was the Thunderbird Sports Roadster, which many drivers liked and admired. The new Thunderbirds also offered 100,000-mile lubrication. The Thunderbird hardtop was priced at $4,445, and the Sports Roadster had a sticker price of $5,565. Incidentally, Ford transported its 1963 models to Rome to be photographed for advertising purposes.

The 1963 Ford Thunderbird Ford Motor Company Archives RESIZED 8The 1963 Ford Thunderbird (Ford Motor Company Archives)

In conclusion, 1963 was a great year for U.S. car manufacturing, which will always be remembered as part of our automotive history.

 

Bibliography


Dammann, George H. “Seventy Years of Chrysler.” Crestline Publishing, 1974.  

Dammann, George H. “Fifty Years of Lincoln Mercury.” Crestline Publishing, 1971.

Dammann, George H. “Sixty Years of Chevrolet.” Crestline Publishing, 1972.

Langworth, Richard M. & Robson, Graham. “New Complete Book of Collectible Cars 1930-1980.” By the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. Crown Publishers, 1987.

American Motors Corporation Public Relations Department. “American Motors Family Album,” February 1969.