Christmas 1963


The year 1963 was a good one for the Jeep CJ-3B, and this page is a time trip back through some of the toys, cars, music and news stories that were getting attention in December of that year. It was a difficult Christmas season for many people, but there were also some bright spots. Information sources are in the footnotes. -- Derek Redmond

The first photo is one of those amazing pictures that don't turn up very often. The presence of Santa in his red suit meant that I couldn't resist colorizing the original grayscale photo (see Military Jeeps in the Congo, Part 6 on CJ3B.info.) It's also one of the few surviving pictures showing a CJ-3B with the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Congo in the early 1960s.(1)

CongoBy the end of 1963 U.N. forces had been able to prevent break-away portions of the Congo from seceding, and push out foreign mercenaries, but the Cold War would continue to stoke political instability, and the Simba rebellion was yet to come.(2)

Members of No. 57 Canadian Signals Unit, part of the ONUC peacekeeping force, visited villages near Leopoldville to give out candies and gifts at Christmas. This Jeep was driven by Private Kenneth Goble, with Corporal Maurice LeClair as Santa Claus.

BerlinAnother country divided, but showing a small sign of reconciliation, was Germany. For the first time since the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, residents of West Berlin could obtain one-day passes between 20 December and 5 January to cross into Communist-controlled East Berlin to visit family and friends. A million people made the short trip.

In this photo (3), East German border guards check documents on 28 December 1963. Many of the West Germans are driving the Volkswagen Käfer ("Beetle") which was first built in 1938. One unexploded bomb in a World War II air raid had saved vital VW tooling from being destroyed.(4)

Phoenix AZThe Volkswagen was perhaps Germany's equivalent of the Willys Jeep: both vehicles came out of the war as civiilian vehicles, found a market around the world, and were universally recognized, as the "Beetle" and the "Jeep".

Even in Phoenix AZ, during nighttime Christmas shopping at the Chris-Town Mall, a VW was the only import visible in a parking lot full of American cars.(5)

20 December 1963, South Bend, INBut in the domestic auto industry it had become hard for anyone to compete wth the big three automakers. Studebaker, which had been in business since 1852, closed its factory in South Bend, Indiana on 20 December 1963. Six thousand Studebaker employees lost their jobs, and some are seen here leaving the plant for the last time.(6)

Ironically, a feature article in the December issue of Car Life magazine described a huge press junket to the Bonneville Salt Flats where Studebaker had shown off its 1964 models, including the 200 MPH Avanti sports car.(7)

Allentown PAMost U.S. cars were big, but change was in the air in America, with tail fins on the way out, and civil rights for all citizens on the horizon.

The chrome on the 1960 Chevy El Camino pickup had been toned down from its 1959 debut, but the short-lived full-size Camino was still a great combination of flamboyant style and practical utility. It's seen here between a 1957 Dodge Coronet and a 1960 Pontiac Bonneville, in Allentown PA during the Christmas snowfall of 1963.(8)

Kansas City MOIt was difficult for the U.S. to get into the swing of Christmas shopping and celebration, just weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November. The decorations were up, but the mood was still sombre.

This is one of the huge crowns that hung above the intersections of downtown Kansas City during December, from the 1950s through the early 1980's.(9)

Boston CommonThis sign was added to the Nativity scene on Boston Common, in President Kennedy's home town, and the Christmas lights on the Massachusetts State House in the background remained switched off. (10)

The White House, 22 December 1963On Sunday, 22 December, the official 30-day period of mourning for John F. Kennedy was brought to a close. Flags were raised from half-mast, and President Johnson and his family lit the Christmas tree in front of the White House.(11)

On Christmas Eve, the New York International Airport, known unofficially as "Idlewild," was named "John F. Kennedy International Airport." (12)

Christmas stampThe tradition of a White House tree had begun forty years earlier, when First Lady Grace Coolidge had given permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a "National Christmas Tree" on the Ellipse south of the White House.(13)

Another tradition, that of a Christmas stamp from the U.S. Post Office, had begun only the year before, in 1962. This year's stamp featured the National Christmas Tree.

TSMS Lakonia, 22 December 1963Also on 22 December, bad news had come from Europe, where the Greek-owned cruise ship Lakonia, carrying British tourists on a Christmas cruise to the Canary Islands, caught fire and sank west of Gibraltar, with the loss of 128 lives. A fire in the ship's hair salon had spread quickly toward the passenger cabins. Alarms sounded too softly to be heard by most passengers.

LIFE magazine carried extensive photographic coverage of the disaster, but this photo was taken by a Royal Navy seaman on a boat launched from HMS Centaur, the ship which picked up many of the survivors and the dead.(14)

CyprusAt the other end of the Mediterranean, the British Army was called in to Cyprus after a similar number of people died during what became known as "Bloody Christmas." Fighting had broken out on 21 December when Greek Cypriot police shot and killed two Turkish Cypriots.(15)

Newspapers reported Turkish Cypriots forced out of predominantly Greek areas by shootings and arson in the days that followed. On Christmas Eve alone, 36 people were killed.(16) Eventually a UN peacekeeping force would be established in March 1964 (see UN Jeeps in Cyprus on CJ3B.info.)

1964 CJ-3BWillys Motors was officially renamed "Kaiser Jeep" in 1963, so the CJ-3B had lost the WILLYS stampings on its grille and hood. 1,583 3B's were built in Toledo in December, and production had been over 2,000 per month for much of the previous year. This followed a period in 1961-62 when it looked like the end might be near for the old flatfender, with numbers dropping below 200 in some months.(17)

Kaiser was encouraged by a big military order, and many of the 1964 CJ-3Bs headed for the Army and Navy were probably being painted in glossy olive drab during December. They were delivered during early 1964, and after February, production would drop off again. Photo by Dan Walton.(18)

WagoneerThe other big Jeep news for 1963 was the new Wagoneer, a vehicle that would later become popular among UN peacekeepers.(19) The 4x4 station wagon with passenger car comfort was perhaps the first true "SUV."

Production figures collected at the factory showed that the company had sold a respectable 15,721 Wagoneers in the 1963 model year.(20) This new "Full Size Jeep" and its sibling the Gladiator pickup accounted for more than half of the company's record sales during the year.(21)

Tonka Toys had sold a lot of its big Universal Jeep toys last Christmas, and the Minnesota toymaker was able to use its patented method of steel cab construction(22) to quickly design and build a bunch of little Wagoneers and Gladiators in time for Christmas 1963. They were in the Mini-Tonka series, roughly 1/22 scale, about two-thirds the scale of the original Tonka Jeep. (See Mini-Tonka Does the Full-Size-Jeep on CJ3B.info.)

Sears catalogueTonka continued to sell a lot of its larger Jeeps this year too. All of the department store and mail-order Christmas wishbooks featured a selection of Tonkas, usually alongside BuddyL and maybe Structo, Nylint or Marx. This 1963 Sears Christmas Catalogue page includes the Surrey, which got the most attention last year, for $2.49. (See The Original Tonka Surreys on CJ3B.info.)

But fire trucks were popular as usual, and Tonka had added a Jeep Pumper for 1963, which Sears listed for $3.39, equivalent to about $26.75 in 2016 dollars. (The Jeep Pumper is now perhaps the most desirable and expensive Tonka Jeep for collectors, and a really good one can easily sell for ten times that amount in 2016. See Tonka Jeep Pumper on CJ3B.info.)

Sears also had a smaller and less rugged Roy Rogers Playset from Marx, which included a Nellybelle Jeep, for $1.97. (See Nellybelle Toys on CJ3B.info.)

1963 Christmas boycottA group of artists lobbying for civil rights legislation published this article (23) in the Detroit Illustrated News in November, calling for a boycott of Christmas gifts and decorations, to protest the September terrorist bombing of a church in Birmingham AL, which killed four children.(24) The boycott hastened integration in Jackson MS, but despite support from Dr. Martin Luther King, it did not have the necessary organization to become effective nationally.(25)

Meanwhile, FBI officials met on Monday, 23 December to discuss plans for "neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader" by wiretapping hotel rooms to gather evidence of his extramarital affairs.(26)

Courtesy Brian MurphyBrian Murphy and his brothers were in Apshawa NJ, where they opened their Christmas presents in a scene repeated around the world. Two toys visible in this Polaroid photo are the brand new "Mouse Trap Game" from Ideal Toys, and a Tonka "Jeep Runabout" set.

Tonka Runabout
The Jeep Runabout came in blue or green, and the set included a trailer and plastic "Clipper" boat. In 1963 Tonka had begun painting Jeep windshields the same color as the rest of the body, so the Runabout with white windshield in the picture above may have been manufactured in 1962.

Mouse Trap game
The Mouse Trap board game was one of the first games to have a three-dimensional game board (140K JPEG). Players cooperated to build a working Rube Goldberg-inspired mousetrap, and then attempted to trap opponents' mouse-shaped game pieces. Mouse Trap was a success (and has sold well ever since 1963) but game designer Marvin Glass refused to pay royalties to Rube Goldberg. (27)

Beach BoysAnother set of brothers around the Christmas tree was The Beach Boys. They released their first Christmas song "Little Saint Nick" as a 45 RPM record on 9 December 1963. The song was based on "Little Deuce Coupe", the title track of their October 1963 hit LP, but with new lyrics.

Brian Wilson reportedly wrote "Little Saint Nick" after hearing that producer Phil Spector planned to record a Christmas album.

Beach Boys 45 and Spector LPA Christmas Gift for You, produced by Phil Spector and featuring several of his girl groups performing old and new Christmas songs, was one of the best examples of Spector's legendary "wall of sound." It included the song "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love, which Rolling Stone magazine ranked #1 on its list of "The Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Songs", in 2010.

The LP was unfortunately released on 22 November, the day of the assassination. It was not an imediate success, but later came to be considered a classic.

LP back coverElvis Presley's Christmas Album was still selling well, six years after its original release in 1957. It had been re-released with a new front cover (130K JPEG) and a new back cover (right) including two photos of Elvis with a Jeep during his Army service. (See Elvis Presley's Jeeps on CJ3B.info.)

Side one of the record had popular songs like "Blue Christmas," while side two had the Christmas hymns that Elvis loved, including "Silent Night" (which he had also sung in his barracks in Germany when he was in the Army -- see Christmas 1958 on CJ3B.info.)

17 December 1963More than 150 people jammed into the office of the mayor of Memphis TN on 17 December, to see Elvis hand out cheques totalling $55,000 for 58 charities.(28)

Another celebrity doing a Christmas charitable photo op was Elizabeth Taylor, who with Richard Burton was distributing clothes and toys (50K JPEG) to those in need in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where Burton was shooting Night of the Iguana.

Dewey WallaceSeven years after his first hit records (see Top 20 of 1956 on CJ3B.info) Elvis Presley was still the one performer who influenced everybody else, although that was about to change.

Dewey Wallace (left) was undoubtedly influenced by Elvis, when he asked Santa for his first guitar. Dewey identifies this as Christmas 1963, and I thought it was a wonderful picture for this article. But when I refreshed my memory on the "GI Joe Official Jeep" that Santa also brought, I realized the Jeep was first introduced by Hasbro in 1965, the year after GI Joe himself was a huge hit in 1964. (See 1:6 Scale Willys MB Toys on CJ3B.info.)

So maybe this isn't 1963, and I haven't been able to get in touch with Dewey to ask him about the date. As of 2016, he still plays guitar and has songs available for download.

The first GI Joe Jeep was an unusual model, actually based on the Willys M38, and with the spare tire mounted correctly for an M38 with recoilless rifle.

Beatles Christmas showAnother classic record released on the fateful 22 November 1963 was The Beatles' second British LP, With the Beatles (120K JPEG). Beatlemania was well underway in the UK, although the band was almost unknown in North America.

The Beatles sold 100,00 tickets to their Christmas Show in Finsbury Park, London (right) which ran from 24 December to 11 January.

On 26 December, Capitol Records in the U.S. released a 45 called "I Want to Hold Your Hand", and in February The Beatles would fly to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. America would be ready for them, ready for some fun.

Merry Christmas
Thanks to Federico Cavedo, and all the photographers, authors and information sources listed in the footnotes below.

Best wishes to everyone who has read and contributed to CJ3B.info during the first twenty years of the website. -- Derek Redmond, December 2016

See Christmas Over the Years for more Christmas features on CJ3B.info.

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  1. Original grayscale photo (370K JPEG) courtesy Government of Canada.
  2. "The Canadian Armed Forces in the Congo," at Veterans Affairs Canada. See also Canada, the Congo Crisis, and UN Peacekeeping, 1960-64 by Kevin A. Spooner, 2010, at Google Books.
  3. Photo by Eva Brüggmann, courtesy German Federal Archives via Creative Commons.
  4. "Volkswagen Beetle" at Wikipedia.
  5. From Chris-Town Retrospective, courtesy JPB Publishing.
  6. Photo courtesy of the Studebaker National Museum.
  7. "The Studebaker Avanti at Bonneville" from Car Life, December 1963, at Bob's Studebaker Resource.
  8. Public domain image. Photographer unknown.
  9. "12th and Walnut Streets", courtesy tacitus on reddit.com.
  10. Photo courtesy The Boston Globe.
  11. "Nov 22, 1963: Tragedy and Transition" at the LBJ Presidential Library.
  12. "December 1963" at Wikipedia.
  13. "National Christmas Tree" at the National Park Foundation.
  14. "The Lakonia Disaster" by Will Watson, courtesy The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines.
  15. "Bloody Christmas (1963)" at Wikipedia.
  16. "1963 is still a historical minefield", at the Cyprus Mail, 22 December 2013.
  17. Kaiser Jeep 1960-67 Serial Numbers on CJ3B.info.
  18. U.S. Army 1M0599 on CJ3B.info.
  19. UN Jeeps in the Sinai Peninsula, 1956-79 on CJ3B.info.
  20. Figures released by AMC in 1990 and published in Jim Allen's Illustrated Jeep Buyer's Guide put 1963 sales much higher, at 19,447 4x4 Wagoneers and 2,683 4x2 Wagoneers.
  21. Jeep Color History, by Steve Statham, p.90.
  22. Mini-Tonka Does the Full-Size-Jeep on CJ3B.info.
  23. Illustrated News, Detroit, November 1963, from the blog Finding Eliza by Kristin Cleage.
  24. "Six Dead After Church Bombing: Blast Kills Four Children; Riots Follow. Two Youths Slain; State Reinforces Birmingham Police." United Press International, at The Washington Post, 16 September 1963.
  25. "Black Christmas 1963" from the blog We Shall Not Be Moved by M.J O'Brien.
  26. The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s by Allen J. Matusow, 2009.
  27. "Mouse Trap (game)" at Wikipedia.
  28. Photo courtesy Elvis Australia.

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Last updated 1 December 2016 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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