Fer­rari snub that cre­ated Ford’s greatest race car

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER - DAVID MEDDOWS

Ford and Fer­rari. Two fam­ily names syn­ony­mous with mo­tor cars. That these two gi­ants of the auto world — now chalk and cheese in the ve­hi­cles they make — al­most be­came one big happy tribe in the early 1960s sounds the stuff of fic­tion. But Henry Ford Jr, the el­dest grand­son of Henry Ford and then CEO of the pow­er­ful Ford Mo­tor Com­pany, des­per­ately wanted to get into rac­ing, some­thing his com­pany hadn’t had a great in­ter­est in be­fore.

In­stead of start­ing from scratch he de­cided to make an of­fer to buy Fer­rari, an es­tab­lished and suc­cess­ful Ital­ian rac­ing out­fit, for $US10 mil­lion. The of­fer was agreed to by founder Enzo Fer­rari and the two com­pa­nies were about to com­plete the deal when the stub­born Ital­ian spot­ted some­thing in the con­tract he couldn’t al­low: Ford would take full con­trol of the rac­ing de­part­ment.

Ford Jr was in­censed when Fer­rari pulled the plug on their deal and vowed to cre­ate a race team with the sole pur­pose, at least in the be­gin­ning, of beat­ing their new arch ri­vals.

It’s this pe­riod that the new movie Ford V Fer­rari, star­ring Os­car win­ners Chris­tian Bale and Matt Da­mon, fo­cuses on.

The de­ci­sion by Ford Jr to start his own team and de­velop a ma­chine to com­pete with Fer­rari gave birth to one of Amer­ica’s greatest race cars — the GT40.

While Ford threw bucket loads of cash at the pro­ject and it got off the ground pretty quickly, suc­cess didn’t come im­me­di­ately.

Their ul­ti­mate goal was to beat Fer­rari at what is con­sid­ered the most pres­ti­gious race in the world — Le Mans. Enzo Fer­rari’s team had dom­i­nated the race for years and Ford was hell­bent on slam­ming the brakes on their suc­cess — un­for­tu­nately for them, it was their own brakes that were the prob­lem. Ford en­tered the race in 1964 and 1965 but ev­ery­thing that could go wrong, did, in­clud­ing a brake prob­lem that made it ex­cep­tion­ally dan­ger­ous.

Car­roll Shelby, one of Amer­ica’s top rac­ing car man­u­fac­tur­ers and a win­ner of Le Mans him­self, was brought in by Ford to turn the GT40 into a Fer­rari-beat­ing ma­chine.

Shelby, played by Da­mon in Ford V Fer­rari, was based in Los An­ge­les and had a gi­ant set-up next to the air­port, his driv­ers and en­gi­neers us­ing the run­ways at night to test their speed ma­chines.

One of the best rac­ers of the time, Ken Miles (Chris­tian Bale), would be driv­ing the GT40 in the lead-up to the big race at Le Mans and was heav­ily in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of the car with Shelby.

For­mer Play­boy edi­tor AJ Baime, who wrote the book Go Like Hell: Ford, Fer­rari, And Their Bat­tle For Speed and Glory at Le Mans, told of us­ing tech­nol­ogy usu­ally re­served for rock­ets.

“The Cal­i­for­nia-based out­fit em­ployed ex­perts in the in­stru­men­ta­tion and aero­dy­nam­ics of mis­siles that trav­elled 18,000mp/ h,” he wrote.

They would then use com­put­ers to de­ter­mine what they needed to change to make the GT faster.

In Ford V Fer­rari, you can see just how big these com­put­ers were — the size of a small hu­man do­ing the job that could prob­a­bly be han­dled on a tablet now.

Bring­ing in Shelby and his hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees was a smart move by Ford that paid al­most im­me­di­ate div­i­dends.

Miles proved why he was con­sid­ered to be one of the best driv­ers in the world.

But if you think this me­chan­i­cal fairy­tale ended how you might think given the lead-up, you’d be mis­taken. You’ll have to watch how to see ex­actly what hap­pened at Le Mans in 1966 and why the re­sult was con­tro­ver­sial.

Tragedy struck that same year when Miles was killed while test­ing what was meant to be the suc­ces­sor to the GT.

The car he was driv­ing flipped while driv­ing at more than 200mph and Miles was thrown from the ve­hi­cle and killed in­stantly.


Chris­tian Bale in a scene from Ford V Fer­rari.

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