The Day Ford Beats Ferrari

6 min read

Why is it so easy to sell stories of underdogs taking revenge? You know, movies when a person was not fairly treated, but in spite of all the unfortunate circumstance, would rise up later in power to demand justice from the oppressors? Those kinds of stories excite the Filipino blood in our veins. That’s why tales of beating the odds even in the context of automotive success stirs up the car guy emotion within us.

Because Ferrari has arguably been the king of the racing world since its birth, it is such a thrill to learn that some time in the not so distant history, in spite of their advancement in technology and experience in racing, they bowed down to simple garage hot rodders and tuners of its time in one of the most prestigious race in the world.

With the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend, let us revisit some of the most outrageous races in the series’ history. The Day when Ford, who never designed legitimate sports cars before gave Ferrari an in-your-face victory. After a chain of events, Ford made a statement and a reputation that they too can build the best race cars in the world and can race toe to toe against the racing Goliath of its day. Think of it as Ford’s vengeance after a humiliating experience with Ferrari. But don’t think of this article as a spoiler to the film. I have not seen the movie Ford v Ferrari

Well, Ford in itself is way far from being a little company. Therefore, it’s not exactly the company that made the story interesting, but we celebrate the relatively ordinary people that worked their butts off to achieve this monumental triumph

It all started in 1963. In as much as Ford wanted a performance division, developing a sports car from ground up may not be too feasible for the company for lack of experience. After all, the Ford name was never equated to sports cars anyway. So, Henry Ford II came up with a bright idea. The formula is plain and simple. Find a struggling car company that specializes in race cars and buy it. No complications. And at that time, Ferrari, a little car company in Italy that was dominating all the big racing series in the world is striving hard just to make ends meet. While the typical marketing approach for any car company was to race on Sundays so that they will be able to sell their cars on Mondays, it was the other way around for the Italian company. Yes, Ferrari sell cars in order to fund their racing program. Not the best business strategy out there if you would ask me. But for Enzo Ferrari, it was the passion that counts, not the dollars they make along the way. However, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that it doesn’t work that way in the business world. It was just a matter of time for Ferrari to ran out of resources and so Enzo, who almost was in the brink of bankruptcy, didn’t really have much of a choice when Ford offered a bail out. Why not? After all, Enzo only sells the Ferrari name brand to Ford, but he still keeps the racing team. Best of both worlds, great trade off, all it needs now is Enzo’s signature and it’s a done deal.

Not so fast, Enzo! Read the fine prints!

The contract says when he sells Ferrari to Ford, he sells everything. That means both the road car division, and the entire racing program. But Enzo will never let go of his passion in racing. Now that made the Italian extremely furious and stormed out against the Ford executives. He stood up, walked out and didn’t come back, practically giving Ford the middle finger. He backed out from the whole deal and left the Ford executives scratching their heads.

Meanwhile, Ford vowed that they will not let Ferrari step over their pride. Henry Ford II gathered his most trusted engineers and designers to brainstorm the sports car they will be building to give Enzo’s Ferrari team a run for their (lack of) money. Ford then approached European company Lola, who was already using Ford’s 289ci in their race cars. Ford developed the GT40 Mark I using the Lola chassis. However, it was not a very successful stint for Ford when they raced Le Mans in 1964. All three Ford GT40s ended up in DNF. It was a sinking ship for Ford and one heck of a good laugh for good ole’ Enzo.

But Ford still has its ace that they have not used yet. After another humiliating defeat from Ferrari, Ford contacted Texan chicken farmer who was the brains behind the class winning Shelby Daytona at the time the GT40s were breaking down. Ford figured that if they need to beat the heck out of Ferrari, a hot rodder would be the key.

Enter Carroll Shelby. After getting commissioned by Ford, he started tinkering on the Ford GT40. Shelby tested the car and realized that it is losing a lot of horsepower from airflow alone. He then went back to the drawing board to redesign both the inlets and outlets, changed bigger brakes for better late braking abilities and he hotrodded the motor to increase it to 450hp. The massaged GT40 then was raced at Daytona and won. However, it was only because Ferrari blew a tire and cost them so much time. Not the most convincing win for Ford. It did not prove anything. To add insult to injury, it was the only win for Ford that year, and Ferrari once again dominated Le Mans. Ford need to do something drastic to beat Ferrari.

Carroll Shelby then decided to stuff in the biggest motor Ford has to offer in the GT40, the 427 ci. It was same motor that is being used by Ford in NASCAR. That year, two factory GT40s built by Shelby competed in Le Mans. Also, Henry Ford II thought that it would be healthy if the Ford factory will have a competition from within. So Henry included a third “non factory” team led by Holman Moody, the person in charge of his NASCAR program. While the competition among these GT40s have been fierce, there is only one objective. To beat Ferrari in their own backyard. Yes, the Fords dominated the race, and by the 24th hour, the 2 factory GT40 and 1 Holman Moody GT40 crossed the checked flag in a triangular fashion. They finally beat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966. The GT40 scored 3 more consecutive Le Mans wins from 1967 to 1969.

Ford stopped racing Le Mans after proving their point that they could beat Ferrari. Ford also stopped building true sports cars for decades. It was not until 2004 when the GT40 was revived as a Ford GT. These Fords were equipped with a 5.4L aluminum V8 that produces 550hp in a mid-engine configuration. However, there were no factory involvement for Ford in any racing series for the GT other than racing privateers. Production ended in 2006.

But then Ford wants to remind the world of their victory against Ferrari. So 10 years after the Ford GT was discontinued from the market, the new Ford GT was revealed in 2016, this time Ford intended to actively involve themselves in sports car racing for the purpose of once again racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car is all carbon fiber and is powered by a twin turbo Ecoboost mid mounted V-6 that produces north of 600 horsepower and weighs only 3000 lbs. Talk about power to weight ratio. Ford beats dominating rival Corvette, but there is one bigger plan. Ford’s aim was to celebrate its 50th anniversary win against Ferrari by another win, and guess what, history has repeated itself half a century later. Ford once again beat Ferrari in Le Mans.

So why do we love stories about underdogs’ victories? Well, that is human nature I believe. Rising from the dirt to claim victory is something we could all identify with. Speaking of dirt, keep working on those old cars of yours. Don’t be afraid to make your hands dirty. Keep playing with those old engines. Who knows, someday, you will be the next big name in racing – Need for Speed that is. O, and be sure to watch the coming movie Ford v Ferrari, and tell me if I got the history correct.
Happy Lumang Oto Motoring!

Lumang Oto

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The Day Ford Beats Ferrari