We're going to skip over the Model T here. At this point in time, everybody knows it was the first big pivot point of the automobile industry. We'll also skip the Mustang, but if you want to know more about the Mustang then check out this article called Why Ford Got the Mustang Wrong for so Long.
That still leaves us a full roster of perfectly pitched vehicles that show why Ford is still such a prevalent name in the automotive industry...
The GT 40
The GT 40 nailed down Le Mans victories for an American manufacturer while also serving up the greatest middle finger salute to Ferrari since the Lamborghini Miura. The fuel for that middle finger was Enzo Ferrari withdrawing from the negotiation of the sale of the company to Henry Ford II out of spite. Legend has it that when Ford's point man for the deal returned to the U.S with the news, he was told by Henry Ford II to "go to Le Mans, and beat his ass."
Ford chose the race car engineering company Lola and formed a development team to build the chassis based around companies mid-engined Mk6 chassis and Ford's own 4.7-liter engine from the Ford Fairlane. The aim was to win at Le Mans and embaress Ferrari, and with the help of and design and racing luminaries such as Roy Lunn, ex-Aston Martin team boss John Wyer, Caroll Shelby, and Bruce McLaren, they did just that.
The result was an-hoc program that nailed down a 1-2-3 finish at Daytona and then the next year, Ford's GT 40 took a 1-2-3 finish at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans while the Ferrari cars retired one by one overnight. That wasn't the end of the GT 40's career, and it continued to be a thorn in Ferrari's side after that.
The Crown Victoria
The Crown Vic is one of the most recognizable vehicle silhouettes in automotive history. Even if you've never seen one in the flesh, then movies and TV shows have ensured that both the police interceptor version and the longer wheelbase commercial vehicle, in the form of taxi cabs, are firmly imprinted in our minds eye. Ultimately, what Ford gave the world is the recipe for building the ideal utilitarian 4-door sedan.
That recipe has a key ingredient that doesn't get talked about much though. Along with a simple and strong chassis and a ridiculously reliable and modular V8, the next key ingredient is comfort. Not luxurious comfort, although civilian spec could be optioned up, but the kind of comfort that means drivers can spend their workdays behind the wheel without ending the day with aches and pains.
Both cops and cab drivers loved the room and comfort as well as the relentless reliability. Taxi mechanics will tell you its not unusual to see a Crown Vic with 300,000 miles on the clock. Police mechanics will tell you they retired the Interceptor models at 150,000 because of the beating the frame gets. However, what the odometer doesn't tell you is the countless lifetime a cab or cop car will also spend simply idling.
Cop cars live a hard life on beefed up suspension to deal with rough ground and bumping up curbs. The Crown Vic never compromised though, and became the last body-on-frame sedan available in America What Ford nailed here is an iconic car that achieved that status based on simple and solid engineering. It's not sexy, it's not romantic. But, it is one of Americas greatest cars.
The Ford Escort RS Cosworth
When Stuart Turner was appointed as the head of Ford Motorsport in Europe, he went on to bring the world some very special cars. The first was in conjunction with the tuning company Cosworth to turn the family based Ford Sierra into a Group A rally demon. To race it in Group A, the rules required that 5,000 production models were built and sold to the public. The result was a wild and iconic road car built off the back of the then un-loved Sierra.
The formula carried over to the equally unlikely hero of Ford's Escort. The Escort had form in it's first two generations for rallying but, by the 5th generation, it was a bit of a front-wheel-drive slug. The reality of the Escort RS Cosworth is that it is, in fact, essentially a re-bodied and upgraded Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth complete with four-wheel-drive at a 34/66 front/rear split, a 227 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter Cosworth engine, and a Ferguson five-speed transmission.
The result on the road is something that passed on the experience of driving the Sierra Cosworth, but with more grunt and a look the Sierra could never quite pull off convincingly. As a drivers car, the road version balanced the line of being a car that begged to be driven hard, but won't punish the driver for the slightest of errors. That didn't stop people from wrapping them around trees and making the already rare Escort Cosworth get even rarer though. Only 7145 were made and the current most likely estimate seems to be that, between drivers running out of talent and thieves, there's a little less than 1000 left.
The Ford F-Series truck
Ford trucks are beyond cult status and approaching the level of religion in America. Sales in 2017 for the USA and Canada went over 1 million units and, at the time of writing, Ford has sold on average one every 35 seconds this year and is on track to beat it's 2004 record of 939,511 units sold in America alone. It's been Americas best selling truck for 40 years straight and, according to Ford, they've sold over 26 million since the model line emerged in 1977.
Ford has achieved those staggering sales numbers by evolving the F-Series models steadily and by understanding its customers at a truly fundamental level.
Check out the NFL advert from just a few years ago and you'll see the F-Series demographic:
It's not all talk though. Pick out any year F-Series truck and you've pointed at one very tough pickup truck. It's not unusual for a new generation of F-Series to log 10 million miles of testing as it crisscrosses the country hauling loads through deserts and mountain passes and the extreme temperatures they offer.
On top of that, F-Series trucks can be can equipped from basic workhorse fleet spec all the way up to SUV competing luxury spec. And, for those that want the most capable off-road truck imaginable, Ford's Special Vehicle Team has developed their own take with the F-150 SVT Raptor that, amongst other upgrades for off-roading, is built with a 6.2-liter V8 and Fox Racing shocks. For the dedicated lunatic, there is also a Shelby version of the Raptor available with an extra million horsepower and enough torque to restart the earth spinning on its axis should that ever need doing.
The Ford Model 18
If you don't already understand the importance of the Model 18, imagine the roofline being shorter, the windscreen raked back or removed, the front fenders removed to save weight, and a set of wider wheels and tires on it. It's not the first car to be turned into a hot rod, but it's the quintessential hot rodder car.
In 1932, the Model A was upgraded and designated the Model B, but Ford also developed a V8 engine. It wasn't the first V8 engine, but Henry Ford did what Henry Ford did best. He developed the first affordable V8, packaged it, and sold the everliving crap out of it. The 1932 Ford gained the moniker the Deuce as the "Rod Jockeys" had a habit of using cards as slang. Model A cars were Aces, and Deuce referred to the 2 in the 1932 model year.
The Model 18 gave us the first affordable V8 in the form of the Deuce's flathead, and also gave birth to the art of hot rodding as we know it now. The Model 18 came in a variety of stylses but the roadster and the coupe bodies were the favorites to modify and, as a result, a “Day One” condition Model 18 is an incredibly rare car to see.
The Transit first appeared in 1965 as the first product of freshly minted Ford of Europe, and was built to serve the Western Europe and Australian market. By the end of last century it was available just about everywhere except North America, which was served by the Ford E-Series, but in 2013 the Transit went to America where three years later it became the best-selling van of any type in the United States. If you were to line 50 years of Transit vans end-to-end, you would circle the globe with them.
Like the Crown Victoria and F-Series truck, the Transit a relentlessly reliable and strong vehicle. It's also available in list of possible configurations that would leave you hard pushed not to order the perfect transit for any job. Ford didn't intend it, but in the 1970s it was available in bank robber spec. According to the metropolitan Police in 1972: "Ford Transits are used in 95 per cent of bank raids. With the performance of a car, and space for 1.75 tonnes of loot, the Transit is proving to be the perfect getaway vehicle..."
The Ford transit doesn't need the criminal endorsement or the British police's begrudging respect though. It simply sells all year, every year because its a solid and practical worker. When Ford announced they were not going to sell cars in America anymore, there was a cry of concern that it would mean an end to Ford. The reality is that between trucks, vans, and SUVs, Ford is in no danger of going away anytime soon.
But she'll walk a Thunderbird like she's standing still
Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiest ST being included will no doubt have the whatabouters typing "Focus RS" in the comments, but If you want to talk about the purity of a Ford hot hatch, then Exhibit A is always going to be the Fiesta ST.
The blend of practicality and front-wheel-drive performance in a Fiesta ST is as close to the benchmark set by the MK2 Golf GTI as you'll get, but with both the Ford flavor and price of the XR2 badge of yesteryear. Nowadays, whether its the the last-gen five-cylinder engine or the newer 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder lump with 247bhp and 266lb ft, the power is both plentiful and manageable. Driving it around town remains a comfortable and civil affair that doesn't gain the wrong kind of attention. Unless you pick a paint color with a name like Tangerine Scream.
But, commuting and transporting friends or shopping is one half of the small hatch experience. You drive an ST because you take the long way home and that's where The remarkably focussed chassis comes into play. The ST is light and dances around doing the things front-wheel-drive cars do but, if you have a bit of technique, then the Fiesta ST is simple, grippy, and pure fun.
A Focus RS is so much more serious about its performance, but it gets away from the original ethos of a hot hatch - you should be able to get the most out of it as daily driver as well, and without spending so much money. And that's exactly what Ford nailed down with the Fiesta ST.
Americans will notice the Thunderbird is missing. Australians will also notice the Falcon has been neglected her. You can take the boy out of Essex, but you can't take the Fiesta out of that boy, and the Fiesta ST is my hometown hero. The American Galaxie could also have made it as well as Europe's Capri. The Lotus Cortina was absolutely in the running as well as the simple Anglia for establishing Ford as a worldwide company. Then the 1949 Ford Custom which can be considered as the engineering blueprint for American cars for the following couple of decades.
Fact is, this list could have ended up a book. Let us know what your favorite Ford is in the comments.