“You go to a big football game. Say there are 100,000 people there. But not one of them wants to buy a goddamn football. You go to an automobile race and there they are—all your potential customers.” — Ford racing executive JACQUE PASSINO.
It was February 24, 1963. Thousands of racing fans had filed in to their seats. Henry II’s brother Benson gets his spot trackside, and the Florida clouds graciously sit atop this magnificent ambiance. The stage was set for the 1963 Daytona 500 – America’s first speed competition following Henry II’s decision to pull the plug from the Detroit’s Safety Resolution.
The Press couldn’t have been louder, “A bitter controversy—beyond the point of intense sales competition—appears to be brewing in America’s automobile industry,” commented the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe today’s race will touch off total war within the domestic car building ranks.”
There were fourteen Ford cars available, and fourteen private teams bidding for glory in General Motors cars. At the wheels in Fords were top class drivers – Ned Jarrett, Fred Lorenzen, and Dan Gurney, up against the ranks of A.J Foyt, Junior Johnson, and Fireball Roberts in the Chevrolet and Pontiac team.
Off the mark and the speed machines greeted the speedway in style, blitzing around as spectators were treated to a hair-raising spectacle. Fifteen laps left, three racers in Ford cars were clearly in front, commanding a sensational lead at a frightening speed trumping 160mph. And on the last lap, South Carolina’s DeWayne “Tiny” Lund cruised to victory, followed by four other Ford drivers to ensure a perfect win for the Glass House.
As with European racing, glory on the racetrack translated to success at the showrooms. It was time to convert victory to dollars in the sales department. Iacocca was the perfect man for the job.
Media outfits countrywide echoed Ford’s superior performance at the Daytona 500, with over 2,800 newspapers featuring ads such as “In the open test that tears them apart—the Daytona 500—Ford’s durability conquered the field: first, second, third, fourth and fifth.”
Iacocca toured the country, raving about his assembly of unassailable Ford branded cars. Asked for his comment on GM’s attack on Ford’s racing investment, lacocca replied “If racing sells cars, what’s wrong with that?,” and wittily added that “It gives a guy who’s going to shell out $3,000 a chance to measure the car’s total performance,” ensuring he didn’t miss out on slipping in Ford’s new advertising motto – “total performance.”
In the spring of 1963, the team at Dearborn were rather shocked to find was Ford making the buzz in circles of sports car lovers. I mean, it wasn’t as if the company had rolled out a sports car, yet. That spring, though, a sports car called “the Cobra” was taking the racetrack by storm. Built by Carroll Shelby, the Cobra had a Ford engine inside, and while there was no substantial investment from Ford, Shelby’s build was making Ford garner even more massive publicity, thanks to its crushing performance in the Sports Car Club of America competition.