The story is full of competitions. Most are caused by the abdication of a position of power or by the wounded pride – few come from a combination of both. But the most controversial relationships are those that create the biggest legends. Take for example the story of how Henry Ford II – the so-called “Hank the Deuce” – attempted to acquire Ferrari in 1963, sparking a 10-year dispute with Enzo Ferrari, the most powerful man in the Italian car industry.
In fact, the story of the Ferrari-Ford controversy (featured in the new Ford V. Ferrari film starring leading and award-winning actors such as Matt Damon and Christian Bale) shows how a business deal failed, as well as the persistent reactions a car entrepreneur who was willing to spend $ 25m to restore his pride. For Ford it meant winning the Ferrari in the most famous race of the day, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Ferrari dominated over time.
Our story begins in the early 1960s. American shopping habits have changed since the “Baby Boomers” (who were born in 1946) have grown up. For the first time, young people were more important than their parents in the market and in business. Representatives of this generation had enough income to spend on things like cars, clothes, and real estate, and unlike their parents (who had known the economic downturn of 1929 and FP II), were looking for something special in a new car. . They wanted cars that are more sporty and sexy, giving more weight to speed and performance rather than comfort. They were looking for sports cars, a trend that has not gone unnoticed by Ford Motor Co. executives.
In 1962, Ford faced a downturn in sales, mainly because of failed products (such as the Edsel model), but also because of competition from GM and Chrysler. The company’s CEO, Henry Ford II, Edsel Ford’s eldest son and grandson of Henry Ford, was desperately searching for a way to recover. Top executives such as Lido Anthony “Lee” Iacocca convinced him that the answer to the automobile crisis was a sports car.
But there was one major problem: Ford didn’t have a sports car in its collection, and there were no plans for that. (The legendary Iacocca Mustang would go into production a few years later.)
So at Ford’s headquarters, it was decided that the most cost-effective way to bring such a vehicle to market would be to buy it. Then came the idea of acquiring Ferrari, which in those years was a predominantly racing car company.
In the spring of 1963, after months of negotiations, an agreement appeared on the horizon. Ford would pay $ 10 million to Enzo Ferrari for his company and all of its assets. Enzo, an old racing car driver, seemed willing to conclude the deal with Ford, a move that would relieve him of managing the company. But shortly before the final signatures dropped, Ferrari withdrew due to a provision of the agreement that said Ford would control the budget and all decisions of the Ferrari racing team. Enzo was unstoppable: he did not want to give up his company racing program and even told Ford representatives that he would never sell Ferrari “to a bad company that makes bad cars, in a bad factory.” It is also said that Enzo personally insulted Ford, claiming that he had nothing to compare with his grandfather, Henry Ford.
Shortly thereafter, Enzo sold a majority stake in Ferrari to the Italian car maker Fiat. Some Ford executives, like Deuce, thought Enzo was never really willing to sell Ferrari, but simply negotiated to push Fiat to raise the price. Enzo’s plan succeeded, and Henry II was left without the car he was looking for …
To get his revenge, Deuce decided to build a racing car that would humiliate Ferrari where he cared the most – that is, at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. So Henry Ford II planted the seeds of the legendary racing GT40.
Originally, the Ferrari-based car maker was assigned to Ford’s UK-based division. They were already working on designing a vehicle that would incorporate the Ford Experimental Engine.
Although the first GT40s did not take long to be produced, they were still unreliable, and their braking system was, in particular, extremely dangerous.
According to Popular Mechanics, Ford engineers noticed brake instability when the brakes on the front brakes warmed so fast that their temperatures reached 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit in seconds. This was deadly dangerous for any driver trying to race in Le Mans 24 Hours.
Despite their efforts, Ford’s engineers could not even figure out how to make their racing on the asphalt more stable, and especially for 24 hours in a row – necessary prerequisites for a victory in Le Mans. After losing to Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, Ford turned to legendary car designer Carroll Shelby, the only American driver to have defeated Le Mans to take over the racing team. Shelby (played by Matt Damon in the film) was already involved in the project, but now took responsibility for the success or failure of the project.
After an adventurous start, Shelby and his trusted friend and partner, Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale), redesigned the GT40. And they didn’t do that from the beginning, but in collaboration with Ford’s specialized teams.
Shelby and Miles initially improved the vehicle’s control and stability systems by improving its aerodynamics. They also devised a brake system that could be changed quickly, allowing Ford’s crew to replace pads and discs in the pits when changing drivers. The other big innovation was in engine testing. Ford’s team was moving the dynamometer machines that were set up to simulate the conditions of the Le Mans race. They were powering a computer with the engine speed, gear changes, pits stops and running the engine until it burned. They saw what was wrong, corrected it and tried it again.
In the end, all their hard work worked, and the GT40 Mk. II was a fact. Ford not only defeated Ferrari in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, but humiliated all Italian companies. While no Ferrari was able to finish in this race, three GT40 Mk. II occupied the first three places.
Miles was far ahead of the competition as he “unleashed” Ferrari from Le Mans and became the only driver in the world to win the three biggest endurance races of the same year – Daytona’s 24 Hours, 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ford’s public relations officer, Leo Beebe, wanted to celebrate the victory with a photo of the three cars ending at the same time. However, it was not Miles who won the race but Bruce McLaren, because the former had been ordered to cut speed to get the photo that Beebe wanted.
Unfortunately, Miles died before he could fight again in Le Mans 24 Hours. In 1966, while trying a Ford racing car in California, he lost control of the vehicle and crashed into the safety bars. He didn’t survive.
Meanwhile, Deuce retaliated the next year in Le Mans in 1967, when a Ford GT40 Mk. IV (designed by Shelby, who died in 2012 at the age of 89) left Ferrari in second place.
As for the Ford GT40, the most important American supercar remains one of the most collectible cars in the world. The 2020 Ford GT starts at $ 500,000, and the Ford GT Mk. II Sold for $ 1.2 Million It seems that Ford continues to benefit from Deuce’s revenge.
Myths and truths in the film
Because no rivalry is ever attractive enough for Hollywood, the film’s screenwriters, John-Henry Butterworth, Jez Butterworth, and Jason Keller, made some … detours from real-life story.
First bypass: It appears that Henry Ford II was the one to address the Ford production line staff in Michigan.
-However, there are dozens of executives who would make that speech, not the CEO, between the staff and the CEO.
Second bypass: Deuce had a fun ride with Carroll Shelby in a GT40 Mk. II.
-However, there is no way the head of the group could get into such a car without the minimum safety measures.
Third bypass: Lee Iaccoca negotiated with Enzo Ferrari.
-A whole group traveled to Maranello, Italy to talk to Enzo, but Iaccoca wasn’t there.
Fourth bypass: Miles and Shelby caught hands as they prepared for Le Mans 24-hour day.
-It is certain that the two of them would have disagreed many times, but there is no evidence that they exchanged blows.
Fifth round: Ford’s people, after the 1966 victory, celebrated it by drinking alcohol.
- However, if that were the case, the judges would have eliminated the team.
This article was originally published on: https://www.capital.gr