Post By Jim Smith:
The story of Ford’s failed attempt to buy Ferrari has been well documented and discussed for years. Enzo Ferrari’s decision to reject Ford’s offer has been a subject of debate for many years. The result of that rejection meant that Ford entered sports car racing with the sole purpose of beating Ferrari at 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The movie Ford V Ferrari is based on the true story of Fords desire to beat Ferrari at Le Mans in the middle 1960’s. The movie is story driven and revolves around race cars, mainly the Ford GT40, but the focus is also on the racing people of that era. This is not a critique of the movie, but a continuation of documented facts that goes beyond the movie. This is the rest of the story.
This story connects the stories of many famous and some not so famous racing personalities. It also ties together three famous racing venues. The 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe located in Le Mans, France, The Rolex 24 at Daytona at the Daytona International Speedway located in Daytona Beach, Florida and The Indianapolis 500 at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway located in Speedway, Indiana.
The Ford GT40 was created and developed to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. It was designed by Eric Broadley founder of Lola, the race car manufacturer. The car was only 40 inches high, hence the name GT40. Ironically, when Ford went looking for a potential builder of the GT40 they bypassed Colin Chapman who brought Ford its’ first Indianapolis 500 win in 1965 with World Champion Jimmy Clark driving a Lotus powered by Ford. They settled on John Wyer who was the most experienced team manager in endurance racing at the time.
John Wyer had been the Aston Martin team manager in the 1950’s and was the team manager when Carroll Shelby and co driver Roy Salvadori won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans driving an Aston Martin. In 1963 he was invited to set up the Ford racing program with Roy Lunn and the previously mentioned Eric Broadley. They were given little time to develop the Ford GT40 and with very little to show for their efforts in 1964 the program was turned over to Carroll Shelby and his company Shelby American.
Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon in the movie) had retired as a race driver in 1960 because of heart problems. He took over the ailing Ford GT40 program in early 1965, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans.
By 1966 Shelby had turned the program around and turned the losing corporate program into a winner. They completely dominated Ferrari and won the 1966 24 Hours with a 1-2-3 finish.
Phil Remington (played by Ray McKinnon in the movie) spent his lifetime working on race cars making them go faster. He was the engineer in charge at Shelby American and the Ford GT40 program. He is credited with the success of Shelby American as well as Ford’s GT40 sports car success. He moved to Holman – Moody of NASCAR fame for a short stint before moving back to California to work for Gurney’s All American Racers. He was in charge of their wide range of racing programs for 40 years before retiring in 2012 for health reasons. He died on February 9, 2013 at the age of 92.
Race driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale in the movie) was the chief development driver, and was teamed with Bruce McLaren at Le Mans in 1965. He won the 1966 24 hours of Daytona with co driver Lloyd Ruby. He also won the 1966 24 hours of Le Mans with co driver Denny Hulme.
Ford staged the controversial 1-2-3 finish with the cars crossing the finish line at the same time. A rules technicality robbed Miles and Hulme of their victory and gave the win to Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren.
Tragically, Ken Miles was killed on August 17, 1966 while testing a Ford GT40 at Riverside International Raceway. He was the second driver killed testing a Ford GT40.
Walt Hansgen was killed in France on April 7, 1966 while testing for the 1966 24 Hours Of Le Mans.
Carroll Shelby was famous for his creation of the Shelby Cobra and the Shelby Mustang both powered by Ford. He was also a fan of chili. He created the Carroll Shelby Chili Kit that can be still found on grocery store shelves today. It is highly recommended for all lovers of chili.
Carroll Shelby, a Texan, died on May 10,2012 at the age of 87.
If there were a sequel to the movie Ford V Ferrari the focus would shift to the late Dan Gurney and a new cast of characters. With Gurney’s creative mind Ford’s relentless pursuit of endurance racing would continue to spiral upward.
The 1967 racing season opened at Daytona with 24 hours of Daytona and Ferrari would dominate the race and stage their own 1-2-3 abreast finish. Ferrari was counting on its’ newly developed P4 to win the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was not meant to be as Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove their Ford GT40 to its’ second consecutive victory while setting a new distance record. Earlier in the year Foyt had claimed his third Indianapolis 500 win using a Ford power plant.
The 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans was highly anticipated because the Ford GT40 and the Ferrari P4 would be going head to head for the first time. It would mark the end of the Ford and Ferrari feud. It had the finest line up of world class drivers in history and the American contingent of drivers were among the finest of the day.
Ford had American drivers such as Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Roger McCluskey and Lloyd Ruby driving GT40’s.
The race was a race long battle between the Ford teams and Ferrari teams, Gurney and Foyt led from the second hour to the end and their sustained pace created a huge lead and they won by a large margin. The Ferrari’s finished second and third with another Ford GT40 finishing fourth.
After the race, on the winner’s podium Dan Gurney sprayed the adoring crowd with champagne from the winner’s bottle of champagne, starting a tradition that is continued today by many race drivers in Victory Lane.
Meanwhile, Dan Gurney had founded All American Racers (AAR) in 1965 with partner Carroll Shelby with funding from Goodyear tire manufacturer. They had aspirations of winning the Indianapolis 500. Gurney also wanted to win in Formula 1 with a car of his own design and name. That same year he met Harry Weslake and they made history at both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.
Harry Weslake was approaching his 70th birthday when he and Gurney first met. He was an Englishman who was already famous for his cylinder head work. He had contributed to Bentley’s 1-2-3-4 finish at the 1929 24 Hours of Le Mans and Jaguar’s five wins between 1951 and 1957. Much of his design work is still being used today.
Dan Gurney, who had been loyal to Ford for most of his career, wanted to develop a small block Ford to win at Indianapolis. He also wanted to win in Formula 1 using a Gurney-Weslake V12 developed for Formula 1. He and Weslake succeeded in developing their special heads for the small block Ford, but the V12 never met their expectations.
One week after the 24 Hours of Le Mans Dan Gurney won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa driving his Gurney Eagle powered by the Gurney-Weslake V12 motor. He became the first American race driver to win a Formula 1 race driving a car with his own name and manufacturer, All American Racers (AAR).
The 1968 world endurance sports car season opened at the 24 hours of Daytona. Once again there was a staged 1-2-3 finish only this time it was done by a Porsche 908. A change in regulations by the governing body in the middle of 1967 took away any advantage Ford and Ferrari may have had. Porsche was ready to take advantage of the changes in regulations.
I attended that race and other than the domination of Porsche 908 and the impressive 1-2-3 finish two things stand out. One was how cold I got during the night and the other was locating the late actor James Garner in the pits after the race. He had entered a race team and was still in the pits after the race.
The 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans was held in September for the first and only time in history. Gone were the thundering big block 427 Fords that captured the imagination of the European crowds. Ford replaced the 427’s with the Gurney-Weslake developed small block Ford. There were changes coming for the future of the race.
Within minutes of the traditional “ Le Mans “ start, with drivers running across the track to their respective cars, Willy Mairesse was seriously injured when his door, which hadn’t been properly closed, flew off. That accident would eventually end the traditional start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans was won by the Ford GT40 using chassis number P/1075 powered by the Gurney-Weslake Ford and driven by co drivers Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi. They led from the seventh hour to the end. Chassis number P/1075 would win again in 1969 and become the first car to win back to back at Le Mans.
Porsche with its’ first Le Mans entry would finish second and third. A Porsche 908 sat on the pole and led until the third hour when it retired with transmission problems. That helped pave the way for the Ford win.
Meanwhile a Gurney Eagle powered by the Gurney-Weslake stock block Ford and driven by Dan Gurney would finish second in 1968 and 1969. In 1968 he finished behind Bobby Unser in a Gurney Eagle powered by a turbo charged four cylinder Offenhauser. In 1969 he would finish behind Mario Andretti.
In 1969 there were no staged finishes at either 24 hour races. At Le Mans the Ford GT40 would finish first and third. The six year design was considered outdated, but they continued to win.
It would be the last year of the traditional “ Le Mans “ start. Jacky Ickx would protest the traditional start by walking to his car and slowly fastening his seat belts. He would still go on to win the race with co driver Jackie Oliver.
Sadly, privateer driver John Woolfe would flip his car on the first lap and would be killed because his seat belts were not yet properly strapped.
The 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans was the fourth victory in a row for Ford and became the closest non staged win in Le Mans history. Jacky Ickx in the Ford GT40 and Hans Hermann in a Porsche 908 traded the lead four or five times on the last lap with Ickx leading by about a hundred yards at the finish.
Ford and Ferrari have continued to race, but the feud has long been forgotten and if not for the movie today’s younger fans would not know of the feud and how it changed the history of endurance sports car racing.