A new engine, the 390 cu in (6.4 L) FE V8, was the standard and only engine initially offered in the Thunderbird. The V8 produced 300 horsepower (220 kW) and was mated to a 3-speed automatic transmission. The new Thunderbird was immediately well received with 73,051 sold for 1961. The car was 1961’s Indianapolis 500 pace car and was featured prominently in US President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade, probably helped along by the appointment of Ford executive Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense.
A vinyl-roofed Landau option with simulated S-bars was added to the Thunderbird for 1962 as was a Sports Roadster package for convertible models. The Sports Roadster included 48-spoke Kelsey Hayes-designed wire wheels and a special fiberglass tonneau cover for the rear seats which gave the car the appearance of a two-seat roadster like the original Thunderbird. The Sports Roadster package was slow-selling due the high price of the package and complexity of the tonneau cover, resulting in few Thunderbirds being equipped with it.
Newly optional for 1962 was an upgraded version of the 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 called the “M-Code” (a nickname used in reference to the letter M used as the engine code in the VIN in cars so equipped). The M-Code version of the 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 was equipped with three two-barrel Holley carburetors and could produce 340 horsepower (250 kW). M-Code V8 Thunderbirds are exceptionally rare with only 200 being sold between 1962 and 1963. For 1963 only, Y-code cars could come equipped with the same 390 cubic inch V-8 also equipped by the factory with tri-power carburetors only if the buyer desired air conditioning.
Few other changes were made to the Thunderbird for 1963 as Ford prepared to introduce a new version for 1964. A horizontal styling line was added that ran from the point where bumper and fender meet back through the door and angled down. Small diagonal chrome bars were added in this area on the door. Alternators rather than generators were a new feature on all 1963 Thunderbirds.