The V8 Engine Prototype

The new car had a massive 427-cubic-inch V8 mounted behind the cockpit. It was the biggest engine Ford had ever tucked into a production car. Lunn explained what the car was all about and the modifications they made. The engine was equipped with high-compression cylinder heads, a special high-rpm camshaft, and aluminium intake manifolds. The seating position was brought forward, and the front end was redesigned; the nose was longer, with a gentler slope and blade-like sharpness, unlike the one in Shelby’s design. Frey was impressed. It was May, and Le Mans was only a month away. Up until then, both men never thought they’d be able to build a formidable prototype for the 24hr race.

They had to put the car to the test though. Lunn got a test driver named Tom Payne for the task. The drive on Ford’s Dearborn track impressed Payne. So Lunn moved things further. They’d see how the car performed on a high-speed test track in Romeo, Michigan. Ken Miles and Phil Remington made the trip from Los Angeles. There was also Tom Payne. Payne was first to put the car to the test, clocking a personal-best lap speed of 180mph. Miles was next. He was more experienced than Payne. Lap after lap, adjustments were made. Rocketing his way down the straight and past the crew, Miles hit a 201.5 mph lap speed, and 210mph on the straights – more than tripling Michigan’s speed limit.

Done with test day, the team headed to a hotel for a debriefing. “What does everybody think?” Lunn asked. “That’s the car I want to drive at Le Mans this year,” Miles replied. The new build was dubbed Ford Mk II, and an agreement was reached to have two of the 427-cubic-inch engine cars ready in time for the 24hr duel – now a fortnight away.

One morning, a week before the team departed for Le Mans, the Deuce and the entire Board of Directors visited Shelby. The Glass House Boss was in good mood, everything seemed to be falling into place ahead of the clash with Ferrari. It was only days earlier that “The Flying Scot” Jimmy Clark won the Indianapolis 500 in a Lotus-Ford, leading the pack in 190 of 200 laps and brushing aside A. J. Foyt’s record with an average of 150.686 mph. Sealing the big one at Le Mans was all that was left, and this was Shelby’s task.

Meanwhile, the Ferrari team was also making its final preparations for the showpiece. The team headed to Monza. The mission was to replicate all conditions synonymous with the 24hr race. Surtees was on hand as usual, as was Bruno Deserti – a new recruit. Team manager had brought Deserti in for a trial. Surtees drove off in the 330P2. Lap after lap, it was another easy day for the champion. Deserti was hoping to win Ferrari’s heart, to achieve his dream of racing a Ferrari on the big stage. He had to prove himself, and there couldn’t be a better chance. Taking his turn at the wheel, Deserti slipped on his white helmet and zoomed off, lapping comfortably at 1:58, then 1:52, then 1:50. Surtees’ record time on the day was 1:32. Then there was silence, the red car was out of sight. Only Lorenzo Bandini saw what happened, Deserti had veered off the track into the woods.

“He’s out!” Bandini screamed. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” The car was found 50 meters into the woods. Wrecked. Inside was Deserti, the young man’s dream to become a Ferrari racer came to an end disastrously. He struggled but lost the fight for his life, dying a few minutes after 7:00 P.M. The test day was anything but successful. The 330P2 was fast, no doubt. But would it survive 24hrs? The gearbox, suspension, and engine? With race day only days away, there was enough time to address these concerns. The Ferrari team was left with critical questions unanswered heading into the 1965 Le Mans.

Ford 427

The Road to Le Mans 1965

In Modena, Surtees was a top favorite. The world champion attracted locals and signed autographs as he walked the streets. However, as the 1965 season gained momentum, tension grew at the Ferrari factory. From broken engines to bent metal, Surtees suffered a turbulent start to the season. To compound his woes, team manager Dragoni was not on his side, the latter preferring his Italian compatriot Lorenzo Bandini as Ferrari’s number one driver. Surtees felt the Formula One team’s poor performance wasn’t about him but the fierce rivalry with the Americans. For Ferrari, it was all about his sports cars. There was little attention on the F1 campaign, a move that didn’t go down well with Surtees.

Before his clash with the Americans at Le Mans, the 12hrs of Sebring was a good test to see how his cars fared against his American opponents. Ferrari was aware Henry II had made huge financial decisions getting his Ford ready for Le Mans. He wasn’t going to allow any hothead from Dearborn to dethrone him as King. Beating them was top priority. At his factory, the team was busy making arrangements for the journey across the Atlantic. Sebring was another racing competition Ferrari dominated. But heading into the 1965 duel, he heard a rumor, one that truncated his plans. It was about the Chapparral, a car built by Jim Hall. The Chapparral was by no means legal for the race, it had no trunk space and weighed less than FIA requirements. However, it was one of the fastest racing cars around. Ferrari didn’t want to be embarrassed by a car that flouted official regulations. He opted out.

And it turned out the Moranello boss was right, no car could match the Chapparal in speed. Right out of the gate in the opening laps, the Chaparral took an unassailable lead. Torrential rain came halfway through the race, slowing things down and making visibility difficult. Phil Hill took his Ford GT40 into the pit, and as soon as he’d open the door, water came pouring out. Punching the floorboard to drain the water, a mechanic came to his rescue. The race continued. Meanwhile, in the paddock, Shelby’s truck driver Red Pierce was spotted unconscious, he’d been electrocuted by a soaked generator. The race was anything but successful. By the time the race ended, four drivers, two spectators, and one truck driver were nursing wounds in a nearby hospital. There was little Shelby’s cars could do to stop Jim Hall’s Chaparral, the latter stealing the show in a comfortable win. Ferrari was dethroned at Sebring. Although Ford racers Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren were given the prototype-class trophy, Media rave was all about the Chapparal. 

The Le Mans test weekend was next. And John Surtees continued from where he stopped the previous year, setting a new lap record in Ferrari’s newest build – the 330P2. The Inter-Europa Cup 1,000 Kilometers at Monza and the Nürburgring 1,000 Kilometers in Germany followed. Ferraris were winning across the board. The Ford/Ferrari duel ahead was the talk of the media.

Don Frey’s secretary informed him that Roy Lunn was on the phone. He was calling from his shop Kar Kraft, where he’d spent most of his days working on Ford’s next-generation cars for Le Mans.

“I got something I’d like to show you,” Lunn said.

“Do you want me to come over there or can you bring it here?” Frey asked.

“I’d rather you came over. You’ve never seen what we’re doing down here.”

On his arrival, Frey took a tour of the facility at Kar Kraft. While the GT40s were in Shelby’s hands, Lunn and his team of technicians, draftsmen, and secretary where busy building the new prototype for Le Mans.

Ferrari 330 P2

Henry II, Shelby and Daytona

The American speed revolution continued to blossom in 1965. Now open to the thrills they could only dream of a few years earlier, the young kids of the 50s craved for adventure, and speed. Ford responded with the Mustang – a big hit. Equally popular were the Pontiac GTOs and Plymouth’s Barracuda. In 1964, racing competitions were attended by fifty million spectators, eclipsing baseball games in popularity and only behind horse racing in spectator numbers.

By 1965, Ford’s quest for speed and dominance yielded unprecedented gains. “The company is now enjoying the most successful operations in its long history,” Ford II announced in a stockholders meeting. Sales reached an unprecedented high- $9.67 billion worldwide over twelve months, with profit at an all time-record of $505.6 million. Some 333,841 people were now in the company’s payroll. The Mustang was on course to becoming the most successful car launch of all time. The racing version was already in the works with Shelby in charge. Iacocca’s hard work paid off, he was rewarded with a promotion to vice president of Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln cars and trucks. Don Frey was also installed as head of the Ford division, a promotion that brought him to limelight after an extended period working behind the scenes. But other news soon followed. It had to do with the boss himself; Henry II had filed for divorce. “Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford II have decided upon legal separation,” his lawyer’s statement read. Not long after the split, on February 19, 1965, Henry II married the same Italian woman long believed to have swayed the boss’s attention to Europe.

At a press conference unveiling the company’s plan for the new season, Leo Beebe announced that Shelby American would be taking over the building of all sports cars Ford would be racing in the coming season. The move, according to Beebe was “to consolidate the construction and racing of all our GT-type vehicles within the same specialist organization.”

Built to race across major competitions in America and Europe throughout the season, the GT 40 was every inch America’s Ferrari fighter. It was designed specifically to challenge for the big three – the Daytona Continental, the 12 Hours of Sebring and LeMans. Having debuted his car, the Cobra, at the New York Auto Show three years earlier, Shelby’s reputation soared in the racing scene; his car sales toppled all other independent manufacturers in the country, employing nearly 200 people in the process.

It was eight weeks left for Shelby’s men to have a ready GT40 for the Daytona 500. The team took the existing car apart, starting from the ground up to redesign a winning race car. Over the next weeks, they rebuilt the air ducting system and lubricating systems, Halibrand magnesium wheels in place of the Italian wire-spoked tires, fixed larger front brakes, and installed an engine delivering 450 horsepower. “We have several advantages over other people who have played with the car,” Miles said addressing a reporter days before Daytona. “We can react to a suggestion—we can do something right now. We don’t have to go through elaborate procedures of putting through formal design changes. If we decide we don’t like something, we can take a hacksaw and cut it off. Practically everything we do is a panic operation. But if anyone can do it, we can.” Laid out over a 3.81-mile road course, the Daytona Continental 2,000 Kilometers was America’s longest race.

On morning of raceday, Shelby summoned his team, dishing out instructions and pep talk. Leo Beebe made the trip from Dearborn.  “This is a team effort,” Shelby began, and “The goal is to finish as many cars as high up as possible. Just let things take their natural course. If you happen to be in front, fine. If you happen to have an extra-long pit stop that puts you back to fourth, I’ll give you instructions as to whether you should try to pick up time or hold your position.”

Thousands gathered to watch from the grandstands. By 10:00 am, three dozen cars thundered down the opening straight. If there was one man to keep an eye on, it was Surtees, who comfortably took the lead. Shelby knew stopping him would require something unusual. And it happened: Surtees blew one of his tires on the bank, fishtailing in a cloud of smoke and dirt, away from the track and onto the grass. With the car’s bodywork damaged, the Ferrari man was done for the day, giving Miles and his Ford teammate Ruby an advantage. The sight of Miles speeding past the grandstand at 190mph was simply surreal. The race came to an end after 10:00 pm, and as the checkered flag waved, Shelby’s cars finished first through fifth. It only took eight weeks, and the elusive checkered flag was finally delivered to Ford II.

Daytona 1965


The Ford team gathered at the Hotel de Paris the Monday morning following race day. Awaiting them was Ford executive Leo Beebe. The forty-six-year-old was Ford II’s trusted man for progress reports. Sure, the prototypes didn’t hit a home run, but Wyer believed there were positives to take from the team’s debut at Le Mans. Leo Beebe didn’t think so.

“I don’t know anything about racing,” he began. The transmissions failed, “You could lay it to a gearbox,” Beebe said, “but if the gearbox didn’t work how can we know anything else would work?”

They had to remember Henry II parted with a lot of dollars on the prototypes. Anything less than a win was a bad performance. The team had another chance, though – the 12 Hours of Reims. It was only a fortnight away. This came too early for the drivers. If they were going to race against Ferrari’s men without enough time to fix the car, results couldn’t be any different. Besides, the 12-hour race started at midnight with many undulating straights to contend with. The chances of success were simply stacked too high on the negative. But Beebe’s word was final.

And so two weeks later, the Ford team, led by Phi Hill, took on the challenge at Reims. Again halfway through the race, by sunrise, the Ford team was done. Mechanical failure after mechanical failure, all three cars pulled out of the race. Enzo Ferrari coasted to success, his cars finishing first to fourth.

But Ferrari wasn’t done, yet. The Grand Prix at Monza was in his sight, followed by the Italian Grand Prix. Politics played out leading to the 1964 Grand Prix, though. Surtees was Ferrari’s flagship driver, Lorenzo Bandini was number two. Having come up through the ranks working in Milan, the hometown of team manager Eugenio Dragoni, Bandini was naturally more favoured than Surtees.

Surtees’ quest to win the Grand Prix on two wheels and four saw him up against his teammate late in the season, with barely any press support from his own team manager.“Any right-thinking Italian should be able to see that in Bandini, Italy has a true World Champion,” Dragoni said to reporters. Still, Surtees fought his way through, winning the Monza battle in record speed and with Bandini finishing third. His quest achieved, Surtees headed to the podium with chants of Il Grande John from the crowd.

Back in Dearborn. There were brewing concerns over the GT40s. None had finished a race, even after the third attempt. The only consolation was Shelby’s Cobra success in the GT class. Beebe wanted a change, something had to be done if they stood a chance to stop Ferrari the following year.

An idea came up, there was a 427-cubic-inch engine available, the same engine that had displaced other racers at the 1963 Daytona 500. The engine had a size more than twice the one Surtees raced at Reims. But Wyer didn’t feel the problem was all in the engine department. No constructor had ever injected such massive engine in a lightweight sports car. Sure, “More power is always welcome,” Wyer said, “but not at the expense of development and durability. I understand the 427 engine weighs 600 pounds. This would result in a car weighing 3,000 pounds. For practical purposes it would be a new car. We’d be putting back the clock exactly 12 months and running the risk of going to Le Mans again with a car that was untested and untried.” From fuel consumption to the braking system and the transmission, a number of problems also had to be addressed if the idea was to materialize.

The Nassau Speed Week was only weeks away, and so Wyer headed back to London to get two Fords ready in time for the duel in Bahamas. It was a minor race, and the Ferrari threat wasn’t there, a win was all but expected this time. But things only got worse under the pounding Carribean sun; mechanical failures ushered Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren to an early exit.

This was the peak of it all for Leo Beebe. Beginning his post race meeting “I don’t know anything about racing.” He said addressing Wyer, “But there is one thing that has become increasingly apparent to me in the past few months. You don’t either!” Beebe went for the change, stripping the responsibility of constructing Ford’s Le Mans prototype off Wyer’s hands and handing it over to Carroll Shelby. Shelby brought in his trusted technician Phil Remington, hired Carroll Smith as project manager and signed on Ken Miles as competition manager.

With the 1964 season coming to an end, all eyes turned to Mexico City for the Mexican Grand Prix. Surtees only needed to finish second or better and he’d be World Champion. As the race entered it’s final lap,  Surtees trailed in third, but he still had enough muscle to outrun his teammate Lorenzo Bandini to finish in second. And that did it! He officially became the first man to be crowned World Champion on two wheels and four. So many hands awaited Surtees, including those of Prince Philip of England. He was also given a Longines watch by the president of Mexico. But dinners and pleasantries over, Surtees switched focus. Ahead lay the 1965 season.

Ferrari LM250 at Reims 1964

Attrition, Speed and the Finish

Led by Dan Gurney, Shelby’s Cobras were outperforming other cars in the GT class. But would his cars hold up until the end? The Texan could only hope so. Shortly after the race entered its fourth hour, a concern sprung up for Wyer’s team. A GT40 had caught fire on the Mulsanne Straight. But there were, thankfully, no casualties as driver Richard Attwood had climbed out safely before getting hurt. It was over for one of the three prototypes Ford entered into the race. The fuel hoses were later identified as the culprit. They were made of plain nylon instead of an ultra durable synthetic material. “It was a miracle the other cars were not affected,” Wyer later commented.

Meanwhile, the race for first was heating up between Surtees and Gregory. Gregory soon overtook Surtees as he blitzed past the grandstands again, fuelling morale in the Ford pit. Leaning to Wyer, “It is enough” Frey said. “If we do nothing more in this race, I am satisfied.” But things another twist – Gregory pulled into the pit minutes later, there was problem with the transmission. Efforts to get the car back on track proved fruitless, and so Wyer was forced to withdraw the second Ford. Hill was in the last Ford, but he was trailing the leaders by a long stretch with 19 hours racing hours left. Disappointing!

With increasing loss of visibility, there was more danger in the mix as racing entered night time. Hill came down for McLaren at midnight, the former later describing the four-hour shift as “the best 500 racing mile I’ve ever covered.” The gathered mass turned to sausages, oysters, and French fries served in the busy sideshows to ward off boredom at night. Others curled up in their cars, and some slept in the fields turned camping ground.

ABC’s Jim McKay was still woke though, screaming “It’s the middle of the night here, and the leader is the favored car, the factory Ferrari driven by John Surtees and his partner Lorenzo Bandini, who was one of the two winning drivers last year. That first-place car is followed by two more Ferrari’s. However, of very much interest is the fourth-place car, the #5 Cobra driven by Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant of the United States. That car is not only in fourth place but is leading the GT division. And in fifth place, a remarkable story is the one remaining Ford in this race, driven by Phil Hill and his partner Bruce McLaren from New Zealand. That car has moved up from forty-fourth place. It’s going faster than any other car by far, lapping faster and faster every time …”

It had been a largely safe race until midnight, but an accident soon occurred. The clash involved a Cobra V8 and a Ferrari V12. Both drivers were struggling for position when things went out of control. The drivers miraculously survived, not so the three young men that were entangled under the wrecked cobra.

The race continued. At 5:20 am and despite the morning fog, Hill set a race lap record of 3:49.2. Not long after, he faced gearbox problems and pulled into the Ford pit. The Italian-made transmission was the culprit, again. The race was only reaching halfway, and Ford had to pull out its last car. It was over for the Americans. 

Not long after Hill’s exit, Surtees pulled into the pit, his 330 P was leading the race until then. By the time technicians would get his car fit again, he was trailing in third. Moving in fourth place was a Shelby American Cobra. Dan Gurney was signaled to pull in the #5 Cobra into the pit for repairs and driver change. Gurney was ahead of the pack in the GT class, slamming a new lap record in the process. In his place following some mechanical work was Bon Bondurant.

As the 24hr race slowly ticked away, the order of finish was all but assured. Drivers cruised slowly to seal their finish. The car in first-place was five laps ahead of the one in second, and the second was seven laps ahead of the third. There was nothing to fight for as the fiercest automobile race in the world came down to its final minutes. The weary spectators only awaited the waive of the checkered flag and the crowning of the new champions.

First to roll over the finish line was Ferrari’s Sicilian Nino Vaccarella and Frenchman Jean Guichet. Surtees was third. Five Ferrari cars finished in the top six, with a Shelby Cobra coming in fourth – and winning the GT class. Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren could only watch as spectators. National pride restored, it was five in a row at Le Mans for Enzo Ferrari.

Shelby and his men surrounded the winning Cobra, and ABC’s Stirling Moss was on hand to interview drivers Gurney and Bondurant.

“Congratulations, Bob,” Moss said. “History I reckon has been made here today. How are you feeling, how much sleep did you get?”

“About five hours,” replied Bondurant. Turning to Gurney “How about you?” Moss said, “About three, I think.”

It soon became obvious it wasn’t only the Americans that wanted to beat Enzo Ferrari. Huschke von Hanstein, competition manager of the Porsche team couldn’t but express his delight: “Thank you for beating them,” he said hugging Bondurant.

Shelby Daytona