History beholds plenty of rivalries which have affected the world in one way or the other. One such rivalry gave the world, one of the most collectable automobiles, the Ford GT40. The rivalry dates back to 1963 when Henry Ford II – a.k.a. Hank the Duece, tried to acquire Ferrari which led to a decade-long feud between him and Enzo Ferrari, the man behind the Italian carmaker.
The Hollywood movie, Ford-vs-Ferrari, starring academic award winner Matt Damon and Christian Bale, showcases how a business deal went wrong, forcing the egomaniacal industrialist to spend nearly $25 million and not less than a thousand engineering man-hours to avenge his pride. This could only be possible by beating Ferrari in the world’s most prestigious car race, the 24 Hours Of Le Mans, which was dominated by the Prancing Horse.
Where did Ford vs Ferrari start?
In the early 1960s, a generation of youth came into existence which was ready to spend a lot of money on luxury cars. This is when Ford Motor Co. had to bring in a sports car that would appeal the boomers to buy a Ford.
Ford Motor Co. was already facing tough competition in the global markets from the likes of GM and Chrysler. Moreover, the sales saw a steep decline due to the courtesy of the failed Ford Edsel. All this made Henry Ford II desperate to bring in fortune to the company. The Ford Division general manager, Lee Iacocca, presented a solution to him, which was, obviously, a sports car.
But Ford Motor Co. had no sports car in the array of offerings. The legendary Ford Mustang was still a couple of years from coming into existence.
So, Will Ford Build One?
It was then decided that the only pragmatic way to turn the table was to acquire a sports car company.
This is when the Italian Carmaker, Ferrari comes into the story. Ferrari at that time was primarily a race car company that sold street-legal cars to fund the racing division.
After months of negotiation, a deal was close to an agreement in the year 1963. Ford Motor Co. quoted a price of $10 million to Enzo Ferrari to acquire his company and all its assets. A racer by heart, Enzo wanted to close the deal as soon as possible, which would provide a getaway from the stress of running the company on a daily basis with a limited amount of funds.
Everything Seems To Go In Ford’s Favour. Then Why Ford vs Ferrari Rivalry?
A clause which stated that Ford would control the budget and thus all the decisions related to the Ferrari racing division became the reason for the agreement to be called of by Enzo Ferrari as he was not at all ready to give away company’s motorsport programme. He added fuel to the fire by saying that he would not sell to an ugly company that builds ugly cars in an ugly factory. If rumours are to be believed, Enzo also stated that Henry Ford II was not able to carry on the heritage of his grandfather, the real Henry Ford.
But this was not all. Enzo Ferrari sold a major stake of Ferrari to another Italian carmaker, Fiat. Hank the Duece and other Ford officials stated that Enzo Ferrari was never serious about their deal, but had only used the deal to pressurize Fiat to pay more. The tactic worked for Enzo Ferrari leaving Ford Motor Co. empty-handed.
Once again, Ford Henry II was left with no sports car in the portfolio and to add to the sorrow, the insult by Enzo Ferrari had to be answered. Instead of Ford and Ferrari, Ford vs Ferrari began. The legendary GT40 was soon going to be in the picture. Henry decided to take revenge by defeating Enzo Ferrari at his own game, the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
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A Failed Attempt!
Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Group in the United Kingdom was given the responsibility of building a beast that would beat Ferrari, nicknamed to be the Ferrari-Killer. They were already in tune with the responsibility as an engine created by Ford’s experimental engine group, Dearborn, Michigan.
But the hasty launch of the first batch of GT40 paved way for various issues such as issues with stability and unreliability. The braking system was not able to justify the muscular engine. According to Popular Mechanics, Ford engineers calculated that when a driver hit the brakes at the end of Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight, the front brake rotors would heat up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit within seconds, causing them to fail. This would be disastrous for any driver trying to compete in northwest France. Even the best driver from all around the world would fail with such a major issue.
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In due time, Ford’s inability to figure out a way to make their cars safer and run for a continuous 24 hours at the Le Mans, Ford had to face two consecutive defeats to Ferrari in 1964 and 1965.
Do-or-Die Situation For Duece! Shelby Comes Into The Picture
This made Ford turn to the only American car driver to ever win at LeMans, Caroll Shelby, to run the racing operations of the company. Caroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon in the movie, who was already a consultant on the project was now under immense pressure as the success or failure was in his hands.
Shelby with the help of his trusted friend, a driver and an automobile engineering expert, Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale on-screen), rebuilt the Ford GT40. They picked up where Advance Vehicle group and Ford’s experimental engine group left as the time frame was tight.
Shelby and Miles Did What Ford Was Not Able To!
Shelby and Miles worked around the clock in order to improve stability and handling. This was achieved by augmenting the aerodynamics through flow testing. The basic idea was that better a car paves through the air, easier it is for the engine as the load reduces. Thus less power is required.
This was done by taping yarn to the extrinsic parts of the car. If the yarn laid flat, the design was good. If not, it was induced that there were requirements of changes in the design of the car. This helped Shelby and Miles to modify suspensions and body to finesse movement on the track.
Phil Remington came to rescue Ford GT40 from the braking issues. Instead of making brakes that would allow the GT40 last for the entire race, he devised a quick change brake system that would allow the mechanics to replace the worn-out pads and rotors with a new one during the driver change. A great move!
The dynamometer was used to rectify the reliability issues. Testing an engine on a Dyno is standard practice nowadays, at that time, it was radical. A dynamometer is a device which simultaneously measures the torque and rotational speed (RPM) of an engine so that its instantaneous power may be calculated and usually displayed by the dynamometer itself as kW or bhp. The team ran the engine on the dyno for 24 to 48 hours recreating what engine will face in the real race.
Ford GT40 MK II Is Born!
The next-generation Ford GT40 was unleashed. The new muscle defeated the Ferrari at the LeMans in 1966. Ferrari was not able to complete the race. But that was not all. Ford GT40 MK II captured all the three top positions. The revenge was taken. The ego was satisfied. The 24 hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring were among other races Ford GT 40 MK II won.
But what is a win without a controversy?
Ford’s PR specialist, Leo Beebe, wanted to celebrate the win with all the three muscles crossing the finish line in one frame. So Shelby asked Miles to slow down and let the other GT40 drivers cope up. After the race was finished, Miles was disappointed as he was not the one who finished in the first place. It was Bruce Mclaren who stood at first. So in the Ford vs Ferrari rivalry, Ford emerged as a winner.
Ken Miles | the man, the legend!
Ken’s dream to come first at the LeMans race came to end due to his sad demise while he was testing another Ford racecar at Riverside International Raceway in California when he lost the control over the vehicle and crashed. He was not lucky enough to survive the accident.
Duece, on the other hand, had a moment when the Ford GT40 MK IV, built by Shelby, defeated Ferrari in 1967.
The movie, Ford vs Ferrari has portrayed the rivalry as it was, to a great extent. Watch the trailer of the movie here: