In the 1950s, there seemed to be a natural order to the automotive world. Car companies such as Ford mass-produced heavy cars for commuters, American ovals, and car companies much like Ferrari produced elegant road racing cars that were meant for carving up twisted roadways and race tracks – and never the twain should meet.
When Ferrari put its production sports car company up for sale however, Ford was seeking to blur that line by acquiring the prancing horse to satisfy Henry Ford II's European racing ambitions. Enzo's rebuke of Ford led to the Detroit giant to step out of its comfort box and create what was not only an iconic endurance race car, but one of the best racing rivalries of all time.
From 1960 to 1969, Ford and Ferrari dueled in the south of France for supremacy. Here's some things you might not know about the epic rivalry that's now the subject of a major motion picture.
19 Full Stop
During the 1967 Le Mans, when Ford went to repeat their surprise 1966 win, the biggest drama happened in the middle of the night.
Five laps down, the second place Ferrari – driven by Mike Parkes – hoped to unsettle Dan Gurney in the first place Ford while gaining a lap back staying behind him and flashing his lights. Frustrated, Gurney eventually pulled to the side and came to a full stop with the Ferrari behind him. Eventually, Parkes pulled back on the track and the race resumed.
18 Champagne Celebration
After Ferrari had answered the 1966 Ford 1-2-3 win at Le Mans with their own 1-2-3 win at Daytona and all the drama in the middle of the night, Dan Gurney was understandably pretty emotional about the team's Le Mans win in 1967. So emotional, in fact, that he took the prize champagne and sprayed team boss Henry Ford II, starting the tradition of spraying champagne that continues to this day.
17 Lola Origins
The GT40 wasn't Ford's first attempt to make a mark at La Sarthe. Initially it was thought that the best way to put the blue oval on the endurance map was to supply an engine to an already successful chassis maker. Ford already had a partnership with Lola who had an advanced chassis in their Lola Mk.6, but the combo failed to crack Ferrari's winning streak.
Initially the project Ford had a fairly straight forward name. Sports car racing's roots go all the way back to the first cars to line up and see who was the fastest and went by several names. One of the longest lasting names is 'gran turismo' or 'grand tour' for endurance racing cars. The 40 was added in reference to the overall height of the car.
15 Chassis P1705
Le Mans, like many of the races that started at the time, was a proving ground for emerging car manufacturers to prove that this new invention of the automobile could stand up to abuse. It's meant to be a race of innovation – what won one year shouldn't be able to win the next.
In 1969, however, GT40 chassis P-1705 became the second only chassis to win more than one 24 Hours of Le Mans.
14 Bruce McLaren
Carroll Shelby started out as a driver before he made his name shoving big horsepower into small packages with creations such as the Sunbeam Tiger and Shelby Cobra based on the AC Ace.
Along with drivers such as the volatile Ken Miles and Dan Gurney, another racer who would make a bigger name as a builder was on the GT40 team. Bruce McLaren drove for Ford before making Can-Am dominating race cars of his own.
Enzo Ferrari's only real interest has ever been in building race cars. In order to support his racing habit, he almost reluctantly started selling sports cars. When he decided to put the company up for sale, he had one stipulation – he was to retain control of the racing end of the company, including a bid for the Indianapolis 500. When Ford's bid didn't include that, Enzo's rudely worded refusal sent Ford on the path to beating Ferrari at Le Mans.
After Lola, Ford looked to another long term partner to make a Ferrari beater for the French endurance classic. Ford had a long partnership with Colin Chapman and Lotus and approached Chapman with the project. Chapman didn't think it was possible and overbid to dissuade Ford. The resulting design became the Lotus Europa powered by a Renault engine.
11 Ferrari Was Unbeatable
These days it's common to think of Ferrari as being synonymous with Formula 1. But in the immediate post-war era of sports car racing, Ferrari loomed just as large. Since its first overall win in 1949, Ferrari had repeated nine times, including a six win streak that started in 1960 – the most any manufacturer had accomplished at the time.
10 Ford Advanced Vehicles
After the Lola Mk. 6 and Lotus partnership failed to produce a Ferrari beating car, Ford went back to the drawing board to create a new car from the ground up. To do that, they set up a design group in England with designers from Lola and Aston Martin called Ford Advanced Vehicles under former Aston Martin team manager John Wyer.
9 Shelby vs Shelby
Before Carol Shelby took over the GT40 project in 1966 to give the blue oval its first Le Mans win, Shelby already had eyes on his own way to victory lane.
After taking a warmed over Mustang engine and wedging it into an AC Ace, the Shelby Cobra was already beating Ferraris in the production classes. The hard top Shelby Cobra Daytona was meant to take on the prototypes before Ford shut the project down in favor of the GT40s.
8 The Last For Both
With nine wins - including six consecutive ones – it seemed certain that Ferrari was meant to create a dynasty out of prototype racing in the same way that they had with Formula 1. Instead, their 1965 win turned out to be their last overall win at Le Mans with a 1973 entry being their last big factory bid for Le Mans victory. Likewise, 1969 was the last time Ford would take the overall win at Le Mans.
7 Big Money
Ford was an underdog at Le Mans in terms of experience. Ferrari and the rest of the manufacturers that raced Le Mans had been building sports cars meant for races such as Le Mans for decades, while Ford's racing history was more rooted in NASCAR and races such as the Indianapolis 500. In terms of money, however, Ford outspent Ferrari by a ton, ushering in the era of big money teams at Le Mans.
6 No P3s Survive
In 1966, Ferrari had entered three 330 P3s to get their seventh consecutive win, but all three encountered failures of one kind or another. The Fords had become the dominant race car, not just at Le Mans, but the entire '66 series. With two already scuttled, the remaining one was stripped down and built up as a P4. There are no surviving 330 P3s.
5 Customer Racers
For the World Sportscar Championship, manufacturer points are scored for every example from the brand that crosses the finish line. This encourages factory teams to make their cars available to privateers and other teams to fill out the field. Ferrari did that with the 412P, which didn't include the advanced Lucas fuel injection so they wouldn't beat the factory team but would still score manufacturer points.
4 P4s Repeated the GT40 Finish at Daytona
The Fords did not just win at Le Mans in 1966, they dominated. By the end of the race, they were far enough ahead of the nearest challengers that they were able to arrange for a photo finish of all three of their podium dominating cars. In 1967 with the revised P4 cars, Ferrari replicated that finish at the 1967 24 Hours of Daytona.
3 The Speeds Prompted a Rule Change
One of the Ford GT40's biggest advantages over the Ferraris was its straight line speed. The Ferraris were better in the corners, but the Ford dominated in top speed, especially along the almost four mile long Mulsanne straight where the GT40 eventually was reaching speeds well in excess of 200mph. This prompted rule changes in engine size in an effort to keep speeds down.
2 Can Am
While Le Mans was the marque sports car race, a new series forming in North America looked to become a premiere prototype series. The SCCA Can Am series regulations were mostly safety related, which resulted in some of the craziest race cars ever made. A version of the GT40 was explored for this race as well as Ferrari entries, but the series would eventually be dominated by McLarens and Porsche.
1 Ferrari vs Rain
In 1966 Ferrari wasn't prepared for the level of challenge the Shelby refreshed Ford GT40s offered, but the challenger from Detroit wasn't their only worry.
One of Ferrari's three 330 P3s suffered from mechanical troubles and rain in the middle of the night shunted the remaining two, taking them out of race winning contention.
sources: roadandtrack.com caranddriver.com autosportmag.com