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When the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve back in 1962, little did people know that 1963 would go down in history as a year of monumental change. The course of history was altered dramatically, as America lost a president to assassination - and a big chunk of its heart, innocence and naivete. But there was no shortage of "heart" in Detroit that year. Fast cars, true "factory" hot rods, were beginning to appear on the streets in numbers never before seen, though the term musclecar wasn't yet part of the automotive jargon. Supercar was the typical term, because these were about as super as cars had ever been, as engine choices on the option sheets began to grow. But big engines in smaller bodies weren't yet the norm. Only Chrysler Corporation offered big-blocks in intermediate-size cars. And that was pretty much by accident, rather than as a marketing ploy.

A major restyling the year prior resulted in scaled down Plymouths and Dodges, a not too successful bucking of the trend toward larger cars by the competition. Fords, Chevys, Pontiacs and other factory hot rods came only in full-size packages, though that would soon change with the success of the GTO. Perhaps the most notable thing about the car fan's street scene back in 1963 was the quick but temporary end to the cubic-inch race that started in the late '50s. In '63, two of the largest race sanctioning organizations, NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association ( N H R A ) , clamped a maximum displacement limit of 7.0 liters, or 427.5 cubic inches, on passenger car engines eligible for competition. Both associations were alarmed at the swift rise in engine sizes in the early Super Stocks and could see no constructive purpose in letting the race go on. But it's still fun to think about how far it might've gone.

Result: Most of the companies that were active in the youth market 'took their last big bite of cubes and settled down to more subtle ways of getting the neck-snapping dig-out that was expected of the hottest factory models. Ford bored their 406 high-performance engine out to 42 7 cubes. Chrysler honed their 413 high-deck block out to 426 cubes for the Dodge and Plymouth Max Wedge cars. Chevrolet didn't change the bore and stroke of their 409 street engine, but they developed a special competition version of it, known as the Zll option, with 427 cubes and improved heads and manifold, while Pontiac stood pat with their 421 4-bolt. At least nobody could plead an unfair advantage in cubic inches anymore.

It was detente, Detroit style. A more serious balance of power was in question between Washington and Moscow. The early 1960s saw many people genuinely frightened of a Russian missile attack. The U.S. and USSR showed their own fear of a nuclear catastrophe, expressed by their move to secret arms negotiations and the installation of an emergency communication hotline between the two nations. A missile attack in the form of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale put the Dodgers on top of the National League in baseball and onto a slaughter ofthe feared Yankees in the World Series, four games straight. It was the first time that the two rivals had met since 1956 and proved the old argument about good pitching always overcoming good hitting.

Feminism was beginning to be a cultural and political movement, but its days of gaining serious attention were in the future. At Indianapolis, Parnelli Jones in "OF Calhoun," an Offy-powered Watson, was the first to break the 150-mph barrier around the Speedway, and he went on to win his only 500. As a portent, Jimmy Clark finished second in a rear-engined Lotus, a configuration that induced sweeping changes in race car design almost overnight. The Indy roadster's day in the sun had just about ended. Ford, taking the aggressive approach with motor racing, began having great success. Their new 1963 V2 fastback Galaxie model swept the Daytona 500. At the wheel was Tiny Lund, and what it proved was the importance of aerodynamics: The fastback roofline of the newly introduced Ford was more slippery through the air than the typical notchback of the day.

"Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" was the "in" theme in Dearborn. Ford's advertising punchline became "Total Performance." Though the average person didn't walk into a Ford dealership to purchase a 427, the supercar image transcended cubic-inch boundaries and boosted sales of 390s and 352s. Which car/engine combinations were the ones to beat on the street in 1963? Believe it or not, the picture changed quite a bit in the transition from '62 to '63 models. For one thing, Ford's entry in the stoplight chase not only got a booster shot of cubes from 406 to 427, but new 427 heads got bigger exhaust valves, and Ford's famous 6-barrel carburetion system was changed to dual 550 cfm Holley 4-barrels on a new, big-passage aluminum manifold. The increase in gross power rating from 405 to 425 hp at 6000 rpm hardly did justice to the improvement. Overnight, Ford fans had an engine that could go head to head with a well-tuned 409 dual-quad Chevy.

The new Zll 427 Chevy, on the other hand, was never available for street use. It was the most expensive RPO ever offered in a Chevrolet and included aluminum front sheet-metal and bumpers. Only about 55 were ever built, and all were used for racing. They were absolutely awesome automobiles. Dave Strickler and Bill Jenkins probably had the most famous Zll in the land. It was the "Old Reliable IV." The team won over 90 percent of the races they ran that year, classed in both A/FX and "Match" races. Plans for semi-volume production and eventual street use were blasted when the GM front office issued an edict in early 1963, banning all division activity in racing and even stopping the advertisement of speed and performance. This put an end to the development of both the Zll Chevy and the Super Duty 421 Pontiacs.

This was a bad time for GM fans, in NASCAR and drag racing as well. It created a situation in which long time Chevy and Pontiac drivers were forced to switch to other brands after the '63 season to continue their racing careers. "Dyno" Don went to Mercury, Fireball Roberts to Ford, Strickler and Jenkins to Dodge, and Butch Leal to Plymouth, just to name a few. Fortunately, Chevy engineers had done some homework on the regular409 street engine for '63—bigger cylinder heads, a stronger cam—so buyers of a new 409 that year were able to trim a '62 model by a couple of car lengths. Power rating was 425 hp at 6000 rpm, same as the 427 Ford. And though we focus on the big-blocks, there were plenty of 327 Chevys out on the street cleaning up in the typical stoplight drag.

Then, of course, there were the new 426-cube Max Wedge cars from Dodge and Plymouth. These engines also had other improvements besides the displacement. New connecting rods beefed up the bottom end (mostly for NASCAR track racing), and breathing was improved by machining around the valves in the combustion chambers. Without a doubt the most famous Mopar drag car was the "Candymatic" machine campaigned by the Ramchargers, though there were countless others coast to coast. Drag strip operators were quick to capitalize on the "factory" stacker trend by scheduling match races between rival brands and drivers. Dodge vs. Chevy? Oh, yeah! Dyno Don's Chevy against the Ramchargers in a best-out-of-five match would pack 'em in like sardines!

But perhaps the most important change for Mopar fans in 1963 was a new company policy to offer both street and all-out race versions of the Max Wedge cars. The street jobs had compression ratio reduced from 12.5 to 11.0:1, they had all-steel bodies (no light aluminum panels), and the standard axle ratio was dropped from 4.56 to 3.91:1. Admittedly, these "street" jobs were still pretty hairy to drive to the grocery store, but they did their job at the stoplight. Cruising, with some stoplight action thrown in, was still big in '63. Drive-in restaurants with car hop service were commonplace all across America, and there wasn't abetter place to show off your car or your date. It was the place to swap lies, trade stories or challenge someone to a race. Listening to rock "n" roll you would still be tuning into AM, but more and more FM stations were broadcasting in stereo.

Some of the biggest hits of the year included "Sugar Shack'" by Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs. "He's So Fine" by The Chiffons." Hey Paula" by Paul and Paula. "Fingertips (II)" by Little Stevie Wonder, "Walk Like a Man" by The Four Seasons and "Surfin' Safari" by California's Beach Boys. Back home in the living room, "The Beverly Hillbillies" held the No. 1 TV spot right into the 1964 season. Where four westerns had made TV's Top 10 list during the '59 to '60 season, only two, "Bonanza" (No. 4) and "Gunsmoke" (No. 10), were still pulling in big ratings in '63. Comedies, such as the "Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Red Skelton Show" and "Candid Camera," were increasing in popularity. Soupy Sales was still getting pies in the face, as Black Tooth, White Fang, Pookie and Hippy looked on. Gradually, more and more shows were being broadcast in "living" color, though color TVs were still a conversation piece.

Moviegoers made Cleopatra their favorite flick of the year, with The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia and Son of Flubber also earning big bucks. But Tom Jones took the Oscar for best picture, while Patricia Neal's performance in Hud won her the best actress award. Sidney Poitier won best actor for his portrayal in Lilies ofthe Field. Big bucks was the motivation behind factory hot rods. Winning races attracted attention, which sold more cars. The GM front office anti-racing edict of early 1963 had put a stop to development of the Super Duty 421 Pontiac cars and engines. But fortunately, the ever alert Pontiac design and marketing team - people like Jim Wangers, John De-Lorean and new manager Pete Estes - were one jump ahead with a brand-new street version of the 421 for the 1963 model year. This was the year of introduction for the famous 421 HO option, which turned out to be one of the strongest and sweetest Pontiac performance options. Essentially, it was a combination ofthe421 4-bolt block— but with the early 421 medium-valve heads, 10.5:1 compression, Tri-Power carburetion, new exhaust manifolds - with a new 288-degree hydraulic cam. A beautiful compromise between street flexibility and top-end power. The new 421 HO carried a gross power rating of 370 hp at 5200 rpm. As you can imagine, it was a huge improvement over the famous Trophy 425-A 389 engine that had served so well in the 1959 to 1962 period. Most serious Pontiac street racers ordered 421 HOs in the lightest Catalina coupes in 1963.

So which were the cars to beat that year? Easy. The Mopar Max Wedge street versions, obviously enough. They could turn low 13-sec-ond quarter miles at 110 mph with no more than uncapped exhausts and a set of 8.50-14 Bucron tires. It's too bad that Mopars were only beginning to gain a performance image in the early 1960s, so there weren't many buyers for the Max Wedges. The cars also carried a bit of an "ugly duckling" connotation, not the best thing for a solid street image. But no car had more respect at a light. Next would be the 409 Chevys and 427 Fords. And here it would be a toss-up. The 409 Che.vys had a slight advantage over the '62 406 Fords, but that edge melted when Ford went to 427 cubes and dual 4-barrels. It usually came down to how the cars were tuned and who was doing the driving. Finally, we have the 421 HO Pontiacs—not quite in the same league with the solid-lifter Fords and Chevys. They were heavier cars, so they had a built-in handicap.

While it's easy to imagine the excitement of car enthusiasts going into car dealerships to buy big-cube Detroit hot rods, one event put a damper on everybody's spirits that year—the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22. Twenty-four-vear-old ex-Marine Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged with the murder. Two days later, millions of Americans watched on live TV as Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald while police were transporting him to a county jail. America's innocence also died with Jack Kennedy that day. And more than two decades later, there are still many unanswered questions about what really happened that day by the Texas School Book Depository. 1963 could be thought of as the last year before the musclecar "explosion." The following year would see Pontiac releasing their GTO, the first "packaged," mass-market musclecar.

Explosive also aptly describes the era in general. The 80thU.S. soldier was killed in combat in Vietnam. About 50,000 more would follow. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led over 200,000 marchers in a civil rights demonstration in Washington, D.C., with a dream. The years that followed would witness even more turmoil, on both the domestic scene and abroad. The times were starting to unravel in a way quite unlike any other. A key focal point in all issues involved, including cars, was the youth of America. The baby boomers were now going through their teen years, hungry for fun, hungry for respect and, mostly, hungry for change. Fast cars and rock 'n' roll somehow just seemed to fit.

Formula One Championship:

Jim Clark (Britain) / Lotus-Climax

Wimbledon Women:

Margaret Smith d. B.J. Moffitt (6-3 6-4)

Wimbledon Men:

Chuck McKinley d. F. Stolle (9-7 6-1 6-4)

The Movies:

  • Tom Jones
  • Lilies of the Field
  • America, America
  • The Birds
  • Exodus

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - Tom Jones
  • Best Actor - Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field)
  • Best Actress - Patricia Neal (Hud)

The Charts:

  1. "End of the World," - Skeeter Davis
  2. "Blue Velvet," - Bobby Vinton
  3. "Rhythm of the Rain," - Cascades
  4. "Fingertips—Part II," - Little Stevie Wonder
  5. "Surfin' U.S.A.," - Beach Boys
  6. "He's So Fine," - Leslie Gore
  7. "Can't Get Used to Losing You," - Andy Williams
  8. "Hey Paula," - Paul and Paula
  9. "She's a Fool," - Leslie Gore
  10. "So Much in Love," - Tymes
  11. "It's All Right," - Impressions
  12. "I Will Follow Him," - Little Peggy March
  13. "My Boyfriend's Back," - Angels
  14. "Sugar Shack," - Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs
  15. "Puff," - Peter, Paul, and Mary


  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy (US President)
  • W.E.B. Du Bois (American civil-rights leader)
  • Robert Frost (Poet)
  • Rogers Hornsby (Baseballer)
  • Aldous Huxley (American Novelist)
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