It’s common knowledge that Ford is one of the most profitable and prolific auto manufacturers in the world. This started with the Ford Model T, which, by the time it went out of production in 1927, accounted for more than half of the cars in the world.
The original people’s car, the Ford Model T
Not only have they largely dominated the market by making comfortable, reliable and inexpensive cars for everyone and their mother, but they’ve also competed in numerous forms of motorsport, namely NASCAR and the European endurance race championship. So why should this working-class hero brand compete in Formula 1, which started as a pastime for wealthy playboys? Not exactly Ford’s market, I know. To discuss this, we need to explore Ford’s history in the European sports car racing scene.
Back in the 50s and 60s, Henry Ford II wanted to expand the Ford brand in Europe. He realized that the best way to gain recognition in Europe was through motorsport, so he decided he wanted to compete in the toughest form of motorsport of them all, the European endurance race championship. This is a series of races unlike any other; where drivers have to race for hours on end, and the cars have to be able to race for 24 hours straight. During the famous Le Mans race, the cars can change gears as many as 9,000 times. Even though Ford was one of the biggest and most successful carmakers in the world, they’d never faced a challenge like Le Mans. For help, Henry Ford II decided to go to the king of sports car racing, Enzo Ferrari.
For decades, Ferrari ruled the racing scene, Le Mans and Formula 1 especially. For all its success on the track, however, the company was in deep financial ruin. So, when Ford offered to buy Ferrari, Enzo initially agreed. Enzo and Ford hastily agreed on a price of $16,000,000, and on Independence Day 1963, Ford and Ferrari met in Ferrari’s home in Maranello, Italy, to finalize the sale.
Initially, things looked good. But halfway through the paperwork, Enzo paused and circled a certain clause in the agreement and said ‘That’s no good!’. Enzo wanted to control the motorsport division of his company, and the clause that angered him would give control of the Ferrari motorsport division to Ford. After cursing a blue streak in Italian, Enzo and his lawyer got up and walked out of the room, leaving Ford’s business professionals in stunned silence. The deal had fallen apart.
Ford was understandably furious, so he decided to do things without Ferrari’s help. He went to his engineers and told them ‘I want a car that will destroy Ferrari.’ It took them a few years to do it, but eventually, Ford’s first proper supercar, the GT40, did just that, taking home a 1-2-3 finish at the Le Mans race of 1966.
Ford sweeps the Le Mans podium in 1966
It was so successful that it continued this winning streak for 4 straight years, brutally humiliating Ferrari, who had won every race until 1966.
After Ford’s evisceration of Ferrari, Henry Ford II felt that he had accomplished his mission, and decided not to return to Le Mans until 2017, with the brand new Ford GT.
Ford’s newest track weapon, the GT
Ford vs Ferrari at Le Mans is one of the greatest automotive rivalries in history, and what better way to rekindle that than in Formula 1? Sports are mainly watched for the action, but rivalry adds a special x-factor to the mix. This is precisely what makes racing so exciting, and what better way to heat up the action of modern day racing than a potential 4 way duel between Ford, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes?
Title image: autosport.com
Image 2: FindingDulcinea.com
Image 3: drive-my.com
Image 4: motortrend.com