The Prototype

Taking his turn to deliver the delivering the keynote speech of the annual meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Henry II raised concerns about America’s position in the racing world.

“This is a year like other years in which America will arrive at a series of crossroads in the long journey in search of our national destiny,” he began. “For generations our technology has been the most advanced and progressive in the world. It is the basis of our standard of living, of our national security, of our position in the community of nations. We have grown accustomed to thinking of ourselves as the unchallenged masters of the machine age.”

“Fifteen years ago, such self-confidence was fully justified. The rest of the world came here to learn how to make things better and cheaper and faster. More recently, in industry after industry, we have seen new processes developed abroad and then adopted here. We have seen foreign products challenging our own, even in our domestic market, not only because the foreign products are cheaper but also because they are often better and more advanced. Signs such as these suggest that we should be asking ourselves some important questions.

“Do we still have more to teach the world than it has to teach us?”

Thousands of miles away, in Slough, London, Ford was about to have a prototype Le Mans car ready for the big stage. The task involved a gathering of the best brains, led by Roy Lunn in the engineering department.

There was also Carroll Shelby and John Wyer in the mix. Wyer, Shelby’s former boss at Aston Martin, had joined Ford in 1963 in an offer that more than doubled his earnings at Aston Martin. Iacocca’s number two, Don Frey, went scouting for an engineering consultant. His search would bring in ex-architect Eric Broadley into the team. Broadley founded Lola, a racing company that raced at Le Mans with a Ford-type prototype. He was more likely to think the Ford way and had access to suppliers the team needed. He joined on a two-year contract.  Shelby’s chief engineer Phil Remington completed Ford’s army of experts.

Le Mans was fast approaching – some 250 days away from Ford’s showdown with Ferrari. It was 12 hour workdays at Slough. No weekends and holidays. The car in the making was one with frightening speed and durability on the race track. Getting all parts in America was difficult, and so Lunn embarked on a European tour cashing in on the most sophisticated components available. Girling brake calipers and metalastic driveshaft couplings were available in England, Borrani fifteen-inch wire-spoked wheels and Colotti transaxles came from Italy, and other parts were supplied by Dearborn engineering laboratories.

Comments from Paul… Roy Lunn, the father of the GT40… we all owe him a lot!

Roy Lunn… Father of the GT40

Surtees and Ferrari

John Surtees was a motorcycling World Champion, but with only one racing season under his belt, he wasn’t as proven on four wheels. Surtee’s lack of experience in race cars was compensated by his pure aggression, and boldness, the kind that reminded Ferrari of “The Flying Mantuan” Tazio Nuvolari. Without thinking further, Ferrari went for the contract, “I would like you to drive for us next year,” Ferrari said, offering Surtees the chance to race in “Formula 1, sports cars, and anything else we might decide to race.” It was surely a big offer, but Surtees didn’t see himself ready, yet, to take on this challenge. He turned down the offer, opting to ramp up his experience on the race track instead. Rebuilding his team a year later, Ferrari acquired the services of a new manager. He also hired an  engineering expert in the person of Mauro Forghieri, but he was short of options in the driving department and turned to Surtees again. The time was right, and Surtees took the job.

Born in 1934 to a talented motorcycle racer, Surtees grew up learning the ropes of racing under his father. The latter would eventually train dispatch riders for the British army during World War II. These riders had to be acutely skilled and insanely fast to safely pass across messages to soldiers on the front lines. By twenty-six, Surtees was a national hero abroad, in Italy. He was already seven-time winner of the Grand Prix World Championships and was well on course to become the world’s fastest man on two wheels.

Surtees’ first Formula One race was in Lotus. And while he had little experience with cars, he would go on to win his third Grand Prix in Portugal.  It was clear he’d meet the needs of Ferrari when he joined in 1963. His first race was the 12 Hours of Sebring, where his retainer contract and financial remuneration from wins were enough to get by. Surtees had a solid relationship with Ferrari from the get-go. The pair launched together in town and showed a close bond starkly different from the Phil Hill-Ferrari one.  Ferrari set out to test the Englishman’s success on the team. Already World Champion on two wheels, Surtees was bidding to set an unprecedented record on four wheels.

In his first season, Surtees traveled west to the United States, where he competed in Riverside, California. He saw in America a thriving world of sports cars where a fusion of European style and American thinking shone through the experimental lightweight cars rolled out of production lines. The big engines were obvious, championed by Carroll Shelby’s Cobra and Jim Hall’s Chaparral.  On his return, Surtees made his observations known. “We cannot compete with the big engines being used in America,” he warned Ferrari. Another worry was that the Ferrari team that had dominated the Italian racing scene wasn’t evolving quite dynamically as it should. If the cutting-edge innovation, now driven by English teams, and the big engines in America were anything to go by, Surtees feared that Ferrari’s dominance may be put to an unprecedented test in the future. The need to innovate and think young couldn’t be more important. Ferrari had to come up with a plan, and fast.

In 1964, Ferrari rolled out the 1964 Ferrari 330 P. An update of the prototype sports car that won Le Mans the prior year, Ferrari’s new build was a blend of every ounce of imagination from the brightest mechanical experts in Italy. Featuring a four-liter V12 with six twin-choke Weber carburetors, the race engine delivered approximately 370 horsepower, simply surreal for a car less than 1,665 pounds in weight.

Brimming with confidence that his new weapon would be unrivalled by any other sports car maker, Ferrari was unfazed by the combined threat of Ford Motor Company and the Shelby Cobras.  The new release was about five kilograms less in weight and added 60 horsepower to its predecessor. Besides, Ferrari cars won Le Mans the last five years. And while his Formula One duels were not perfect, Ferrari was confident that his established superiority in sports car racing – that turned spectators to paying customers in the showroom – was virtually sealed.

Surtees and Enzo

Il Grande John

Setting out of his Modena home on a winter morning in 1964, Enzo Ferrari has his loyal chauffeur Pepino waiting at the wheel of a purring Fiat 1100. Now sixty-six, Ferrari was fast approaching his twilight years. The automobile genius having seen out many successes and challenges for years on end was finally finding some comfort. His new home was both comfy and spacious enough for his wife, and his mother Mama Adalgasia. He’d rather be driven at this age, but his undying love for Fiats remained. Pepino’s morning commute eventually lands them at the factory.

Ferrari had enjoyed virtually all successes race cars could win.  But by 1964, the quest for speed and design of sports cars had become global and competition for customers was increasingly fierce. From Porsche 911 to Jaguar’s E-type and Lamborghini 350 GT, there were more than a handful of competitors vying for global dominance.

Still, Ferrari’s two new 1964 models were truly amazing. Dubbed “the Sophia Loren of supercars,” the 275 GTB was blindingly elegant, yet fully designed for speed. And the new customer car – high-end 500 Superfast – had enough steam to hit 170mph. There was limited supply of Ferrari’s Superfasts – only thirty-six made, but purchases came pouring in, with the Shah of Iran cashing in on two, and Peter Sellers buying one. If anyone was more popular than Ferrari in Italy, it had to be the Pope. His popularity swayed 40% of his sales to America. Clients included New York’s governor Nelson Rockefeller, William Holden and the Dupont and Dulles families.

Following the death of Von Trips, race champion Phil Hill eventually took the exit route from Ferrari’s team. He didn’t click with new manager Eugenio Dragoni.  Hill didn’t regret his departure, though, stating that Ferrari never really gave him his full support. “I wasn’t sorry to leave. Enzo Ferrari never understood me … He always favored the man who would take that extra risk in a live-or die situation. I wasn’t willing to die for Enzo Ferrari. I wasn’t willing to become one of his sacrifices.” Hill said in an interview.

Following Hill’s exit, Englishman John Surtees soon became the leading figure in Italian racing. A contract driver with Ferrari, Surtees got off to a sensational start and was endeared Il Grande John by fans. His first meeting with the boss was a remarkable one. “It was a curious feeling as I walked through the door of Ferrari’s office that morning, as if I was stepping into another world,” Surtees noted. “It seemed as though everybody was going about their jobs with a reverential earnestness which was almost unnatural. I was experiencing for the first time the unique magnetism of Ferrari.”

Comments from Paul… John Surtees, the only man to win world titles both on motorbikes and cars! Don’t think that will happen again in a hurry….

Means and Motives

Carroll Shelby

Ford II’s resolve to take on Enzo Ferrari was unquestionable, but American cars hadn’t the best of records in Europe, with the only success coming forty-two years earlier in 1921, when San Francisco’s Jimmy Murphy rode the Duesenberg to victory at the French Grand Prix.  On the big stage at Le Mans, the closest an American car came was second, in 1928. Failure to beat the red Ferrari’s would be a massive dent on the Ford Motor Company, and could potentially jeopardize Ford II’s bid to become a global force in the automotive space.

Soon after the Ford-Ferrari deal broke down, it unfolded that Ferrari was negotiating a deal with Fiat, an unexpected move seeing as discussions with Ford almost seemed done and dusted. Fazed by the development, the Deuce’s resolve was now fueled with vengeance. It became obvious Ferrari was never truly interested in trading off his entity, not to the Americans at least, who had earlier brought his factory to ruins in World War II.

W. O. Bentley was the first to reckon the importance of Le Mans. The thrill of winning the 24-hour duel, the national pride, and the commercial gains the car maker stood to gain was something he’d enjoyed. His English racing cars won the competition from 1927 to 1930. Alfa Romeo followed from 1931 to 1934 races, and Ettore Bugatti’s French cars dominated the scene before the Second World War.

Following World War II, Enzo Ferrari rose to become the most revered constructor in Le Mans history. Victory for manufacturers skyrocketed sales in the showroom. The 24 hours of Le Mans was, according to Ferrari “The Race of Truth,” were two men paired – one at the wheel at any point in time, and  the other waiting in the wings – to race other competitors bidding to lap the 8.36-mile circuit the most times. The competition had grown so popular it was divided into two classes: Grand Touring cars or GT’s (production cars available for customer purchase) and Prototypes. Sure, cars in both categories had to meet design standards: two-seat cockpit, headlights and trunk space. But the Prototypes significantly edged out GT’s in speed, as much as 70mph in some cases. The Prototypes brought future sports cars to close view. Building these prototype cars was the task at hand in Dearborn, a challenge led by engineering expert Roy Lunn at the new Ford Advanced Vehicles division.

The goal was to have a car rolled out in one year, just in time for the 1964 Le Mans. Meanwhile, Lunn reflected on what transpired at the 1963 Le Mans. Speed machines in red coasted to perfect glory, as Ferrari’s cars finished first to sixth. Lunn noted that beating Ferrari would require a car with a superior speed topping 200 mph, and the durability to last the entire race. This speed far exceeded the take-off speed of most aircraft. Keeping those cars on the ground, then, would be a major challenge. Lunn noted that “with the exception of land-speed record cars, no vehicle has ever been developed to travel at speeds in excess of 200 mph on normal highways.” A fusion of superior sophisticated technology and unrivalled innovation would be needed to have a Ford prototype up and running for the next Le Mans.  Lunn came up with a budget of seven-figures. Iacocca approved the figure and the entire plan as a whole.

However, there was one problem; only few of the specialized components needed were available in the United States since no auto outfit had ever embarked on such ambitious project. One man also had to be brought into the discussion. His name – Carroll Shelby. Shelby’s automotive thinking drove the manufacturing of “Powered by Ford” Cobras by the summer of 1963. And just like Ferrari’s business model, the success of Shelby’s cars depended on their performance at the track. That summer, Shelby’s Cobras were smashing away other cars in the Sports Car Club of America competition. Winning overseas was the next on Shelby’s checklist if he was going to claim king of the road. And so America went all in, launching an unprecedented fight featuring Shelby’s Cobra and Ford’s prototype against Ferrari’s fleet of cars in both categories at Le Mans.

Comments from Paul… Carroll Shelby, what an icon! One of those guys that just got things done. Things start hotting up now…

The deal breaks down

With discussions well advanced, Frey got back in touch with Henry II. On May 21, the two teams from either side of the discussion table sat down to a final draft to close the deal. Two entities were going to be created, Ford-Ferrari: A customer car company, 90 percent of which would be owned by Ford, and Ferrari-Ford: The racing team, 90 percent of which would be owned by Ferrari.

Dearborn negotiators knew the latter company was the real deal. Le Mans was the biggest stage in European racing. A win at Le Mans was commercially more important than all other European races combined. Ferrari was king of Europe, and his commercial success was rivalled. If the Ford Motor Company were to successfully penetrate Europe, and dominate it, they had to capture Le Mans, and so they made moves to secure the deal to Ford’s advantage.

Reading the final agreement, something caught Ferrari’s attention. Dearborn representatives knew something didn’t go down well with Ferrari when he drew a large exclamation point at the margin of certain pages.

Turning to Frey “But here, Ferrari said, It is written that if I want to spend more for racing I have to request authorization to do so from America! Is it also written that way in the official English text? Where is the freedom that I demanded right from the start to make programs, select men and decide on money? But Mr. Ferrari, you’re selling your firm, and you pretend still to dispose of it to your pleasure,” Frey replied.

Ferrari questioned, “so if I wish to enter cars at Indianapolis and you do not wish me to enter cars at Indianapolis, do we go or do we not go? You do not go,” Frey replied.

This was a deal breaker for Ferrari. He had worked his entire life bringing sports cars to life and calling the shots on the race track, a deal that would see him stifled out of control was simply out of the discussion. Furious, “My rights, my integrity, my very being as a manufacturer, as an entrepreneur, cannot work under the enormous machine, the suffocating bureaucracy of the Ford Motor Company!” Ferrari shouted. The deal was off.

After months and long hours of talks, Frey couldn’t be more disappointed heading back to the Glass House having lost the deal. He departed Italy for Dearborn the following day, leaving with a copy of The Enzo Ferrari Memoirs: My Terrible Joys, as a parting gift. Back in town, he would find himself in the same room with the Glass House boss. “I failed,” Frey told Ford II.

The duo made their way to the dining room of the penthouse before Frey before provided an in-depth briefing on how discussions panned out in Italy. It was “the longest lunch I ever had in my life,” Frey would later describe the meeting with Henry II.

Listening, Henry II was bottled-up in fury. The unsavoury turn was not expected. But his mission in Europe was not going to be truncated by anyone, including Ferrari.

“All right,” Henry II said. “We’ll beat his ass, we’re going to race him.” Frey knew something big was about to unfold, and he’d play an integral role in it.

“How much money do you want to spend?” then, Frey asked his boss.

“I didn’t say anything about money,” Henry II responded.

The point was clear to Frey. Henry II was ready for the challenge no matter the cost, bankrolling the project was not a problem, and finishing second was not an option. Aware of Ford II’s next move, lacocca assembled his team and developed a proposal for a new special-vehicles department. Its purpose – to design and build the fastest, most reliable and technologically advanced racing car in history.  Another fight was born; Ford II was leading America to an unchartered territory – a quest to beat Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans.