How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Wed, Nov 23, 2016
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
UPDATE: On December 13, 2016 the Motor Press Guild Awarded author Preston Lerner it's 2016 Dean Batchelor Award for "Ford GT", AutoWeek editor Mark Vaughn presented the award at the motor journalism organization's annual dinner.
Ford’s GT40 is hardly without its chroniclers. Any racing vehicle this iconic, this successful, this recognizable, all but demands multiple views from a wide range of angles; and this beautiful new book, “FORD GT” for short, is surely one of the best of them.
Here, the talented teaming of Preston Lerner (words) and Dave Friedman (photos and first person recollections) have joined forces to delve deeply into the saga of Ford’s most famous racing car.
Early on Lerner relates the oft-told tale of Mister Ford (that’s Henry II) effectively wanting to buy the Ferrari operation outright and being unceremoniously blown off by Enzo Ferrari. (After which, it is said, all he wanted to do was, “…kick Ferrari’s ass.” on the racetrack of course). And that would be as good a place as any to fire off an engaging accounting of the long and fascinating road from that acrimonious meeting to the winner’s podium at Le Mans.
Lerner’s story of the technical development of the Ford GT along with the parallel political operational in-fighting is every bit as interesting as the car’s actual competition adventures.
Ford, the man and the company, wanted to win that long French race real bad and Lerner has no problem conveying that desire and the steps that were taken to accomplish it. The real secret of this book is the author’s expert relating of the actual sequence of events and how all the intrigues stacked up as they happened… There are no secrets, but a wealth of accurate, intricate, interesting (and above all) carefully structured and articulated details.
Veteran photographer Dave Friedman took nearly every one of the 300 photos in this well-illustrated book. He was there, present, part of the Shelby team and his photos are as flat “inside” as you can get.
Understand, this guy’s access was full-on, full-time and he was there (taking intimate photos and notes too) from day one until well after the object of the exercise (that being the conquest of the 24 hours of Le Mans) was accomplished.
Friedman’s work with the camera is totally direct, totally focused on the subject. The veteran photojournalist not only made it look easy, he also made it a big part of his life to be where the real action (both on track and off) was going and to get it all on film, a fact that will be better than self-evident within a first few pages of this one.
The photo history blends perfectly with Lerner’s well-paced and well-researched tale of the legendary 40-inch tall racing car. Lerner’s reputation as motorsports writer is for unflinching accuracy born of a deep respect for his subject matter. Lerner’s writing style is very “present”. The stories, whether deep background information or direct accounts of the action, are all written in a tempo that reads like fresh information.
Many racing fans know that the unlikely all-star, all-American paring of Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the 1967 Le Mans race for Ford aboard a Ford GT Mk2. And they know that Gurney, when passed a Champaign bottle on the victory podium, took a swig, smiled broadly, swung around and used the magnum as a sparkling alcoholic fire hose … dousing crew, media, and fans and giving winning drivers a whole new way of expressing their feelings. Lerner delves a bit deeper.
One must remember this adventure is all taking place in the heady atmosphere of winning Indy 500 with Jim Clark, the Cobra becoming a proven winner, and the company’s fortunes in stock car racing on the rise. The company was flush with racing talent and the stock car side of the blue oval was put in direct competition with the sports car side. It was Holman and Moody versus Carroll Shelby.
Some of the rather forced collaboration worked … there were some really big (700 horsepower engines that boosted the GTs to speeds approaching nearly 200 miles per hour … if 197 can be called “approaching”) and that burned up brake pads at a rate of a full set in about an hour or so.
But most of the real progress seems to have because of the actual on-track competition with other marques, not collaboration among rival Ford operations. The teams were often at odds and the confusion that their in-fighting wrought surely was not the best way to develop a world-beater. But, as we all know, sometimes the end and the means get a little cross-threaded in all forms of racing. They well and truly did that here.
Lerner’s narration takes his reader right into the pits and (at times) right under an ailing racing car. The drivers drove them hard and the guys like Phil Remington, Carroll Smith, and young Charlie Agapiou made them work and kept them working as long as any human effort could have … and then some. As an example Remington, one of the most respected racing mechanic/fabricators in the business; without a lick of formal schooling on the subject, reshapes the GT nose cone by dint of sheer native engineering skill and gives the car the confidence that it needs at the aforementioned 200 mph speeds.
The roll call of the men involved in the four years of this intense campaign reads as if it was an all-star list of some of the best and brightest of American racing of the day.
Andretti, Bondurant, Bucknum, Donahue, Foyt, Grant, Gurney, Hansgen, Phil Hill, McCluskey, Miles, and Ruby all drove. Of course Carroll Shelby and his incredible team are well-studied along with the Ford people like Henry II, Leo Beebe, and Don Frey. Frey was Ford’s man in Maranello and was the guy who had to break the news to his boss Lee Iacocca and, subsequently to Henry Ford. Enzo Ferrari, the Commendatore, after a long series of byzantine negotiations, had flat blown them off.
As one should always expect in any well-written history book, Lerner gives us a good bibliography, a nice set of end notes (pinning down all of the quotes that are cited in the text), and index. These are essential components that add grate value and authenticity and that can lead to a reader learning even more about the subject.
The two author’s personal acknowledgements are also revealing and the book’s Epilog looks ahead to the next generation of GT cars from the Blue Oval people. And, oh yes, the authors have also thoughtfully included the full racing record of the Ford GT as well.
In “Ford GT” the text and the photos support each other as well and a fully as any book that I’ve read in recent memory and that powerful combination adds measurably to the story of Ford’s amazing and unforgettable GT: Le Mans Winner. - Doug Stokes