The toughest rivalry in Le Mans - Ford VS Ferrari.
How a cancelled deal sparked one of the biggest rivalries in racing history.
In the early 1960s, Henry Ford II wanted the world to know what his company was capable of in the realm of motorsport. In order to make a grand opening, they decided to compete at the most grueling, intense and competitive race ever known to man, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford had big, big plans ahead of him, along with ambitious dreams to be realized ahead of him. At the time, the Europeans were dominating the racetrack, with prominent names such as Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. Ford planned to purchase one of these marques in order to give a massive boost their racing program.
At the time, Ferrari was the prominent name at Le Mans, with their striking Ferrari 330 winning titles for them. It immediately drew the attention of the crowd every time it drove past the paddocks, as it was regarded as one of the most beautiful cars of all time. Ford decided to buy Ferrari because of their prominence and their success at Le Mans. Ferrari's CEO, Enzo Ferrari had also shared keen interest in the deal. Henry Ford II traveled to Italy and spent around several million dollars conducting an audit of Ferrari.
Rejection, Rage and Revenge
Enzo Ferrari's strong response to the deal written on the contract.
When Enzo Ferrari read through the contract, he noticed a small detail that he did not expect which would affect his company in a big way. The contract stated that Ford will take over both Ferrari's racing and automotive division. Enzo Ferrari did not like it one bit. He underlined them with purple ink, and next to it, wrote "unacceptable" before throwing a string of insults at Ford executives that Ferrari's secretary who was with him at the time, Franco Gozzi described it as "'words you would not find in any dictionary."
Ferrari, Gozzi, and other Ferrari executives stormed out of the conference room, leaving Henry Ford II and his team baffled and confused. After that failed deal, Ford tried to negotiate with other teams such as Lotus, Lola and Cooper. All three companies were concluded as not eligible to boost Ford's presence in motorsport. Because no options were available, Ford returned to the US empty handed.
Henry Ford II was fuming with anger. He gathered Ford's top executives into a conference room and said this sentence that would become the beginning of the one of the most intense, tough and biggest rivalries in the history of Le Mans. Henry Ford II had given a very clear and direct order to Ford's chief engineer, Don Frey, with one goal in mind.
"Go to Le Mans, and beat Ferrari's ass."
The successful Ferrari 250 P racer.
Ferrari was the biggest name in Le Mans at the time, with their newest race car at the time, the Ferrari 330 coming from a long line of a series of cars Ferrari made for one specific purpose, endurance racing. Ferrari's P series were dominant on the racetrack, from the 250 P to all the way to the 275 P. They all shared the same championship winning DNA from the World Sports Car Championship in 1963, all the way to Le Mans.
Ferrari's 330 P3 was the newest and the shiniest star of the brand, a powerful, V12 powered, beautifully designed, aerodynamic and innovative racing prototype, implementing technologies such as fuel injection and a custom made gearbox in to maintain its ongoing dominance at Le Mans. It had loads and loads of potential, and was just waiting to be unleashed onto the track. Ferrari's P series had secured Ferrari six wins by the end of 1963, the most wins achieved by an auto manufacturer at the time.
However, Ferrari's glory would not last long, as the Americans were cooking up something that is really worthy of a competitor to the 330 P3.
Development of Ford's Ferrari killer
The Lola Mark 6
Meanwhile across the pond, Ford were still developing their first car to race at Le Mans. Luckily, Ford had an existing partner which had experience racing at Le Mans, Lola Racing, as they had sourced their engines from Ford. Their car, the Lola Mark 6 was known to be one of the most advanced racing cars of all time, and had proven what it could do in 1963. Unfortunately, they were marked as DNF, when the car broke down at the Mulsanne Straight due to low gearing and low revs.
Lola's boss, Eric Broadley had agreed to a personal contribution to help Ford build their Ferrari 330 killer. He would collaborate with Ford for a year, with the sale of two Lola Mark 6 cars for Ford's research and development. Ford had also hired Aston Martin's ex-team manager John Wyer. Chief engineer Roy Lunn was also put in charge, as he was the designer of the mid-engined Mustang I concept car. He was the only engineer in the workforce to have experience with a mid-engined car.
The team moved to London and had established a new company to develop their Ferrari 330 killer, called Ford Advanced Vehicles, overseen by John Wyer. Now based in England, they were closer to their rival, Ferrari.
The Ford GT40
An early prototype of the Ford GT
On the first of April 1964, in England, Ford's Ferrari killer was unveiled to the world. Known as the Ford GT40, the GT in its name stands for Grand Touring, and the number 40 stands for the overall height of the car, 40 inches. The car was powered by the 4.7-liter Fairlane engine with a Colotti transaxle, a similar powertrain to the cars it was based on, the Lola GT and the Lotus 29. Ohter modifications included Gurney-Weslake cyliner heads, and an increase of 0.2-liters in displacement. Ford was truly proud of what they had achieved.
Earlier cars were named either the Ford GT, or the Ford GT40. The first 12 prototype vehicles were built soon after, with serial numbers GT-101 to GT-112. It might not have been designed as beautifully as its competitor, the 330 P3, but it was definetly designed to win against Ferrari at Le Mans, in revenge of the deal that Enzo had cancelled four years before. All it had to do is prove itself on the track to earn Ford's seal of approval.
Problems and Doubt
The Ford GT40 during the 1000 km of Nurburgring.
The GT40 was plagued with many, many technical problems. In May 164, during the 1000 kilometers of Nurburgring endurance race, the car jumped to second place during the early stages of the race. It looked like all the effort Ford's development team had put into had finally paid off. Unfortunately, it had experienced a suspension failure, forcing the car to be pulled off the track early.
The GT40 entered its first race at Le Mans on the same year, which is also the car's first time competing against its arch nemesis and sole rival, Ferrari. Of course, the crowds were gunning for Ferrari, as they had won many races before with their powerful, beautiful and elegant looking P series cars. No one was going to gun for a boxy, truck-engine powered Ford who had just joined their first race at Le Mans.
1964 had become a huge embarrassment to Ford, retiring all three cars after just two laps around the circuit. Meanwhile, Ferrari had taken the title for championship at Le Mans with their Ferrari 275P. Henry Ford II's dream of destroying Ferrari had crumbled in front of his own eyes. Doubts were increasing whether the project would be a success, as Ford had invested a lot of money into the project. However, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud, as one man would give the entire project a new light, and his name was Caroll Shelby.
Under Caroll Shelby's Leadership
Caroll Shelby and the Ford GT40 Mark II
After those abysmal results at Le Mans, American motorsport and auto performance legend Caroll Shelby took over. Caroll Shelby was the Ford GT40's saving grace, as he was known to be an innovator in the auto industry. After what he had done with Britain's AC Motors, along with having his brainchild, the Shelby Daytona Coupe win in its class at the same time the Fords broke down behind, Ford knew that they could only win through him.
Shelby had uncovered many, many problems with the GT40. Due to really bad aerodynamics, the car was losing at least 75 horsepower. If it sounds like a lot of horsepower lost today, well back then it was monumental. Shelby had also complained that the cars were poorly maintained, along with being way under powered compared to competition. If Ford wanted to beat Ferrari, they have got the right man to do it.
The Ford team went back to the drawing board, and redesigned the car's inlets and exhausts to reduce the car's already massive drag coefficient down to around 0.37. Caroll Shelby had performed his magic on the car's V8 engine, increasing power from 350 horsepower to around 450 horsepower. Ford was back in the game, more powerful than ever, thanks to Caroll Shelby. They now had an even higher chance of beating Ferrari once and for all.
The Ford GT40 at Daytona.
Ford made a comeback to endurance racing one more time, this time, under the watchful eye of Caroll Shelby, during the Daytona 2000 in February of 1965. With their new GT40 now bigger, faster, stronger and more aerodynamic, it was more ready to take on the best giants could offer than ever. Ford had prepped their best drivers, Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby to race for two thousand kilometers around Daytona non-stop, in their pursuit of beating their arch nemesis, Ferrari.
Ford had won the Daytona 2000, which was a huge turnaround for the program as previous results have been appalling. One month later, Ken Miles, along with Kiwi racing driver Bruce McLaren, secured second place overall, just shy of the race winning Chaparral in the sports class. Despite that, Ford had won first place in the prototype class. However, the rest of the season was a disappointment, with Ferrari winning once more in the year 1965 at Le Mans.
The Ferrari 330 P4
The beautiful Ferrari 330 P4
Meanwhile, Ferrari continued their dominance over Le Mans, adding two more wins to their trophy rack after beating Ford twice in 1964 and 1965. Their biggest rival seemed to not catch up with them, after losing two races straight with disastrous results and unlucky circumstances. It looked like their rival did not know how to build an endurance racing car after witnessing their embarrassing breakdowns. However, Ferrari knew not to underestimate their opponents, and developed an entirely new car to maintain the throne at Le Mans.
In 1966, Ferrari had developed the 330 P4, a heavy step above the car it was based on, the P3. Enzo Ferrari had developed an entirely new V12 engine for the car, with cylinder heads modeled after those of Italian Grand Prix winning Formula One race cars. The P4, along with its predecessor, the P3 had proven itself at the 1000 kilometers of Monza, crossing the finish line in first place. Ferrari had a competitive edge over the competition thanks to their new car.
The 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans
The Ford GT40's iconic 1-2-3 photo finish.
During the 1966 World Endurance Championship, Ford and Ferrari's competition grew tougher and tougher by the hours. Ford had won the first race on the calendar, the 24 hours of Daytona with a photo finish. Ford had also made another photo finish during the 1966 12 hours of Sebring, also finishing first, second and third. Ferrari was also no slouch during the championship either, winning the 1000 kilometers of Monza, along with Targa Florio, the Nurburgring, and Spa.
However, the big race had arrived, the 24 hours of Le Mans, the race that Ford had dreamt of beating Ferrari in. Ford's biggest chane of redemption had come, after years of humiliation by Ferrari, along with their biggest opportunity to put their name on the realm of racing, letting the world know that Ford is truly capable of motorsport. Henry Ford II's dreams of dethroning Ferrari had become more close to reality than ever, after seeing what their newest car could do on the racetrack, under the wing of American racing legend Caroll Shelby, with Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon behind the wheel...
At exactly 12:00 PM, the race was on. Ford and Ferrari raced towards victory with a fierce competition between them, with the leading car fluctuating between either the Ford GT40, or the Ferrari 330 P4. At the end of the first hour, however, Ford had dominated the race, leading in positions 1-2-3 by a massive 24 seconds. During nightfall, Ferrari took the lead, with Ford fiercely catching up behind. However, due to massive rainfall, two Ferrari 330s that were behind had spun and crashed, leaving only the leading 330 left...
After sunrise, Ferrari had maintained lead position throughout the race. One of the Ford GT40s had crashed as a result of slipping due to spilled petrol. The leading Ferrari kept on leading the 24 Hours of Le Mans until one moment that would turn the tables on the entire race. The leading 330 P3 had burst a tire, making the entire Ferrari team marked as DNF. That gave Ford such a big opportunity to win. Finally, after trailing behind the Ferrari for so long, the GT40 had overtaken it and lead the race till the end.
The Ford GT40 had won a photo finish at Le Mans, with first, second and third place. Ford had beaten Ferrari in the biggest way possible, as they took the top three positions at Le Mans, while none of the Ferraris had even finished the race. All that hard work Ford's racing development team had put into the project had finally paid off. Most importantly, Ford had finally realized their dream of beating Ferrari...
The Number 2 Ford GT, the winner of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.
After 1966, Ford continued to beat Ferrari in not only Le Mans, but throughout the entire International Prototype Sports Cars from 1966 to 1968. They kept on winning in races such as Daytona, Sebring, and Spa, winning the champion manufacturer title three times. Ford took continued to maintain its title as champion, and dominated Le Mans from 1966 to 1969, winning four times in the process. It wasn't until the year 1970 when Ford was finally beaten by Porsche at Le Mans.
Ferrari had not won a single race at Le Mans since 1966, soon withdrawing from the competition in 1973 so they can solely focus on winning in Formula 1. The last time they had won a title at the World Sports Car Championship was in 1972, winning 10 out of 11 races.
Ford and Ferrari Today
The Ford GTLM Race Car ahead of the 488 LM GTE at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Ford vs Ferrari rivalry continued to be remembered throughout time, with several books, documentaries, and even a movie produced based on it. The book "Go Like Hell" written by A.J. Baime, along with the documentary film directed by Nate Adams called "The 24 Hour War" were based on it. A movie is currently under production called "Ford VS Ferrari", starring Tracy Letts as Henry Ford II, Matt Damon as Caroll Shelby, and Remo Girone as Enzo Ferrari, expected to make its debut mid-2019.
In 2005, Ford had released the Ford GT, a homage to the original Ford GT40 that had won Le Mans. The car's design was reminiscent of the original, still powered by Ford V8, only supercharged. The car would accelerate from 0-100 kph in under 3.8 seconds, reaching a top speed of 328 kph, or 205 mph. Around 4,000 of them were built and sold worldwide. In 2015, Ford had released a second generation Ford GT, marking 50 years since the GT had won at Le Mans. Now powered by a twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 engine making 647 horsepower, it went from 0-100 kph in 2.8 seconds, reaching a top speed of 345 kph, or 216 mph.
Both Ferrari and Ford still race at Le Mans, this time racing in the GTLM Pro class. Ferrari with their 488 LM GTE, along with Ford with their GTLM race car. Ever since Ford's return to endurance racing in 2016, 50 years after their first victory against Ferrari in 1966, the rivalry lives on.