Ferrari snub that created Ford’s greatest race car
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.
FORD V FERRARI OPENS THURSDAY
Christian Bale in a scene from Ford V Ferrari.