Born to the echo of Henry Ford's primitive racing car, old 999, the Ford Motor Company—after a lapse of 60 years—is embarking upon a bold program in sport that would have elated old Henry's mettlesome soul. In scope it is an assault without precedent in American automotive history. Within two months its most dramatic aspects will begin to be revealed when Ford invades Europe's Monte Carlo rally—the first American factory team ever to do so. The event is of the first rank in foreign sport, a rugged, over-the-roads scramble in deepest winter. Then, in May, with all the nation looking on, Ford will enter the premier U.S. auto race—the Indianapolis "500."
But there is a great deal more in Ford's sporting future:
•Having just reached the top in major stock-car races, Ford Galaxies will be driven hard in 1963 in an effort to further diminish Pontiac's general supremacy.
•A special Grand Touring car based on the Ford Falcon will be tossed into next month's international sports-car race meeting at Nassau in the Bahamas—and probably the world-class endurance races in Sebring, Fla. in March.
•Ford engineers will build every ounce of oomph at their command into the high-performance Fairlane V-8 engine sold to Carroll Shelby for his new AC Cobra sports two-seater in the hope that in American road races it will be a real menace to the archrival Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.
•Pleasantly astonished by the attraction of hot-rod and custom-car shows for American youth—a recent one in New York drew 38,000—Ford will be conspicuously present at some two dozen major rod and custom affairs in the coming year.
•In big-time powerboat racing, August's record-breaking Miami-to-New York run by a Ford-engined hull will be followed next spring by a thrust for victory in the Miami-to-Nassau ocean race.
Meanwhile, Ford is keeping its engineers on their sporting toes, at the experimental level, by handing them such projects as the Mustang sports roadster. Extraordinarily handsome, technically advanced and possessed of racing potential, the Mustang was introduced publicly last month at the U.S. Grand Prix, where, significantly, the international driving elite were provided Ford sedans as personal off-course transportation.
All these interrelated activities represent a sharp departure from conventional Ford and American industry practice. They are, perhaps, puzzling. Why, at this moment, when American cars are selling at record levels and the market looks strong for months ahead, should the nation's third-largest industrial concern and No. 2 automaker make so heavy a commitment to sport?
The reasons are several. The carmakers are ruled by statistics, but of all of them two are paramount. The first is that nearly 75% of all new-car buyers decide upon a particular make before visiting a dealer. The second is that in the present decade the number of American young people between 20 and 24 will increase by 6.5 million and those 15 to 19 by 6 million. The importance Detroit places upon winning customer loyalty and capturing the young can scarcely be overstressed.
To go further, Ford and its competitors know that buyers between 18 and 24 purchase six times as many used cars as new ones. They are winning jobs and forming families and in the main haven't the means yet to swing a new car. If their used car has been trouble-free they are likely to select the same make when a new car becomes feasible. That is one of the cardinal reasons for the recent competition among the automakers to upgrade quality and therefore be able to extend warranty periods and normal service intervals. (After a half-century of the hallowed "90-day deal," Ford in 1960 started a warranty race by increasing the terms to 12 months or 12,000 miles. Today warranty offers vary, but 24 months is the most usual.
This same youthful market is sportier than older ones. Detroit knows that racing, rallying and other forms of competition have historically provided a means of identifying one's cars with sport and status, and this is particularly true of the young in spirit. Such appurtenances as bucket seats and floor-mounted gearshift levers—in which the industry is awash these days—provided another means. The carmaker, Ford feels, that catches the fancy of the mushrooming youth market—and has already built for the young a sturdy car to take them acceptably through the used-car phase—can regard its future with serenity.
As followers of motor sports are well aware, Detroit in 1957 renounced the automakers' time-honored privilege of participating in races and other speed events. The horsepower race of that day had precipitated talk of restrictive legislation in Congress. Detroit was alarmed; the manufacturers announced a pact not to engage in high-performance events. But it soon became apparent that mighty General Motors was strengthening its appeal to youth. Ford men mainly attributed this to: 1) a remarkable string of Pontiac privately-sponsored stock-car racing victories and 2) the emergence of the Chevrolet Corvette as a formidable racer on American road courses.
Ford men believed that Pontiac was indulging in undercover factory-aided racing. Ford also believed the Pontiac blitz must be countered, pact or no pact. Last June, Henry Ford II, chairman and chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Company, pulled Ford out of the no-racing agreement. The Chrysler Corporation immediately followed, but General Motors stood pat.
In announcing Ford's decision, Henry II candidly admitted that "some passenger car divisions, including our own, interpreted the resolution [the pact] somewhat freely.... Today we feel the resolution has come to have neither purpose nor effect."
In the Ford Division's contemporary glass-and-steel headquarters building in Dearborn there was a new sense of challenge and opportunity. General Manager Lee A. Iacocca, 38, one of Ford's notably young executives, snapped more and yet more orders for passenger-car sports accessories into his "brown book"—a looseleaf collection of matériel requests for a period six months ahead. Several times a day Herbert Misch, corporate chief for engineering and research, glanced quizzically at a small stuffed alligator, jaws toothily agape, that he keeps in his office. It had come to remind him of Iacocca, a prodder who wanted action—day before yesterday. But as the sporting pace accelerated, Misch and his engineers exuded esprit de corps. They had, as Misch said, already gleaned a fistful of "tremendous trifles" from the lessons of racing. Iacocca wanted more.
And so Ford began to move up impressive new ordnance in the always diverting battle of Detroit. The most intriguing of all its projects is that for Indianapolis. The company has not as yet confirmed the "500" push, but it amounts to an open secret. It may be said with reasonable confidence that there will be at least two Ford single-seaters for the "500" next Memorial Day and that these will be driven by America's Dan Gurney and Britain's Jimmy Clark. They are master drivers. Admittedly, they have grown up in road racing, not Indianapolis-style track driving. However, Gurney proved in his first "500" this year that he is a Speedway natural. Clark recently impressed Indianapolis hands by sizzling an underpowered little Grand Prix racer around the track at 140 mph. The absolute record is but 10 mph faster. Clark, by the way, will be the world champion driver for 1962 if he captures the season's last race, the South African Grand Prix, on December 29. What a feather in Ford's bonnet that would be.
It is reliably reported that the Ford "500" cars are being designed by Colin Chapman, the moustached young Englishman who builds Clark's Lotus racers (and other racing and sports cars), and that Ford will subcontract to Chapman the job of managing its Indianapolis team. As Chapman himself said when Clark passed his Indy driver's test, he has "close ties" with Ford of England. Modified English Ford engines have powered many of Chapman's dazzlingly swift, road-hugging creations. The latest is a twin-overhead-camshaft version of the 1.5-liter Ford Classic production engine for his just-announced sports car, the Lotus Elan.
By fascinating coincidence, next year marks the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford's birth. It will be surprising if the Ford Motor Company does not bust a few gussets at Indianapolis over that milestone.
In its competition activities Ford uses stock components whenever possible. For some time the task of making the most of them has been given to the small (28 employees) speed specialist firm of John Holman and Ralph Moody in Charlotte, N.C. Their toughest assignment is to put into battle trim three Falcons for the Monte Carlo Rally. Ford has hired English Rallyman Jeffrey Uren to manage the exploit.
For Americans who do not know the Monte Carlo and think of rallies in terms of the tame domestic variety, a few words of background information: it is one of the most taxing, car-breaking automotive tests on earth. Europeans attend its progress alertly. Starting from various European cities, more than 300 cars, which have undergone extensive and thorough beefing-up and pre-testing, dash virtually nonstop for three days and nights. They go some 2,600 miles over roads often made treacherous by ice or snow. The last leg for all is 570 miles up and dizzily down icy Alpine switchbacks. There is a tricky final run through Princess Grace's streets over the Grand Prix course.
Ford's purpose in the rally is to dramatize and bolster the Falcon's position as America's bestselling compact car. An outright Ford victory would, however, be miraculous. Ford has a jaunty way of shaking the bugs out of its competition stuff in actual frontline strife. Such is the case here. Ford will be gratified merely to finish.
Any kind of success, though, would make an indelible impression in Europe, conferring added status upon Ford's foreign-built cars. These are among the company's most liquid, profitable assets. And now Ford of Germany has the new Taunus 12M for the booming Common Market—the V-4-engined, front-drive car that might have been produced in the U.S. as the Cardinal. Ford of England boasts a sedan called the Cortina that is even newer, though orthodox.
For the races next month at Nassau, Holman & Moody have whipped out a shortened, lowered, hot V-8-engined, fastback model that began life as a Falcon. Christened Challenger III, it should be an attractive novelty in the Grand Touring division.
Students of racing already know that this year Holman & Moody-prepared Fords, entered in the biggest stock-car races, have caught up with the awesome Pontiacs. As Ford reads the 1962 score. Fords won four major NASCAR events to three for Pontiac (although Pontiac continued its overall dominance with 22 NASCAR wins to six for Ford). In races sanctioned by the other large rules-making body, USAC, the Ford-Pontiac scrap was dead even in 1962, each make winning 10 races.
Nationally, this was low-voltage news. Only in the South is stock-car racing a major league sport—but there it is tremendous. And when spectators attend in large numbers and, moreover, root like Billy-be-damned for their favorite makes, the automakers are enchanted.
"We are not naive," says Iacocca. "After Ford wins a race, Ford sales in the area go up. The customer who's seen the race doesn't necessarily pick a high-performance package. He might buy a six. What counts is that he buys a Ford."
It was Holman & Moody who also put Ford into powerboat racing, converting Ford's husky high-performance 406 V-8 to marine use. Three Ford-engined hulls were entered in last May's Miami-to-Nassau blue-water scamper, and all were defeated, but because of their high promise in this and a subsequent around Long Island marathon, Sam Griffith, the best deep-water powerboat racer in the world, removed a competitor's engines from his famous 31-foot Bertram hull, the Blue Moppie, and installed twin 406s.
Then, in August, he streaked in Blue Moppie to New York from Miami in dirty weather and over steep seas to erase a record so old as to be near legendary. It had been set 41 years before by Gar Wood, the No. 1 sea-racer of another generation. Blue Moppie's running time was 38 hours 28 minutes, Wood's had been 47 hours 15 minutes.
There are some things, of course, in which Holman & Moody do not have their busy hands. Texas-born Carroll Shelby, once the salty, drawling king of American sports-car racing, has turned from driving to the building of the Cobra. When, in its first outing, the Cobra with a Ford-supplied engine got in front of all four of the opposing Corvette Sting Rays (SI, Oct. 29), Dearborn was downright ecstatic. So an axle broke. Shelby could build a stronger one. Ford's Corvette trauma was beginning to ease.
That old malaise had really begun to show signs of curability precisely one week before. That was when the Mustang bowed in at Watkins Glen. This unusually clean-lined car, a joint product of Misch's engineers and Gene Bordinat's Ford styling staff, gave the fans much to discuss. A larger 1.5-liter version of the Taunus (Cardinal) V-4, plus transaxle, had in the Mustang been moved aft behind the driver. Suspension was independent all around.
Thus the sporting look at Ford. For the record, and for the minority which equates participation in speed events with a disregard for highway safety on the part of the manufacturer, one must add that Ford obviously concedes no such disability. On the contrary, Ford has some pretty good arguments that future Fords are certain to benefit from the sports program in terms of greater durability and improved handling qualities—factors that contribute to road safety.
However, Ford will undoubtedly stimulate its competitors to shape more energetic sports campaigns of their own. Some counterpunching already has begun. Chevrolet engines are to be in the hush-hush Indianapolis racers now being built by Mickey Thompson, the Bonneville Salt Flats speedster—and the man who electrified Indy last May with a sweet little Buick-powered special, driven by Dan Gurney. This is not to imply that the Chevrolet Division is at this time backing Thompson. But if the Fords outdo the Chevies at Indy...? The Chrysler Corporation's recent low-budget stock-car operation (Plymouth) has now been augmented by a Dodge team. Other commitments have been made that cannot yet be disclosed.
But at Ford the wraps are off and the game is on. A new era in motor sports is beginning.