Wednesday, 3 July 2013

What made me fall in love with Ford

What made me fall in love with Ford

Author: Cauvery Ford

Most Bengali film buffs have an on-going love affair with French cinema. I am not one of them. But I did fall in love with the first French film I saw. It was a film made by Claude Lelouch in 1966, A Man and a Woman. It's a simple love story between a race car test driver and a working mother. He, a divorcee with a young son and she, a widow with a young daughter. They meet at the children's boarding school. They fall in love. The film is a beautiful romance of their love. Superbly shot and produced, it is a French classic. Even after almost three and a half decades the film remains etched in my memory. What was the magic? The sound: the theme track and the sound of a Ford GT 40.

It was the first time that I saw the Ford GT40 in motion. I was mesmerized. I remember seeing the film four times at Globe cinema in Kolkata in the space of a fortnight. Most of my friends thought I was infatuated with the beautiful Anouk Aimee, who starred in the film. It wasn't the woman, it was the GT40. The sound of a high cammed V8 tearing down a cold early morning on a banked race track is a clip I can play in my mind over and over again. Thirty eight years later, I re-discovered the film again on a DVD and watched those frames all over again. Here are two frames from the film.

So what was about the Ford GT40 that not only mesmerized me but a whole generation?

The history of the Ford GT40 began as an attempt to beat a certain Italian automobile manufacturer at the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans race. Each June, some of the world's best in the automotive industry descend onto a town West of Paris called LeMans to compete in a 24-Hour endurance competition. This tradition began in 1923 and since has become the pinnacle of automotive racing that challenges speed, performance and durability. A select group of European marquees, Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley, and Alfa Romeo had since dominated the LeMans 24 hours race. Henry Ford II wanted to join this elite group.

So during the early part of the 1960's, Ford attempted to buy Ferrari for $18 million to run its international racing program. The purpose was to use Ferrari and its famous race car technology to help Ford achieve a LeMans victory. The negations unraveled and then Ferrari walked away from bargaining table in May of 1963. Enzo Ferrari gave no indication as to why he had decided his company was no longer for sale. He hadan agreement with Fiat that gave some financial backing to a cash strapped Ferrari, while preserving Ferrari's independance.

A frustrated Henry Ford II decided to build his own super-car and beat Ferrari at LeMans.

Roy Lunn was an Englishman who had began his career at Ford of Britain and later came to the United States in 1958. He had played a role in helping to create the 1962 mid-engined Ford Mustang I Concept. The vehicle was an aluminum-bodied, two-seater that was powered by a 1.7-liter 4-cylinder engine.

After the Mustang I, Roy Lunn along with Ray Geddes and Donald Frey turned their attention to a racing program. The car that Ford had conceived was similar to a Lola GT, being low and mid-engined. The Lola was designed and built by Eric Broadley in Slough, England and first displayed in January of 1963 at the London Racing Car Show. Broadley was running low on funds and consequently more than eager to join with Ford.

Borrowed from the Lola GT was the monocoque center section and aerodynamic design. It was longer, wider, and stronger with a rigid steel section. By April 1964 the first GT40 prototype was completed. The same month the GT40 was displayed to the public at the New York Auto Show.  The first engine in these prototype cars was a 4.2 liter Ford V8, both block and heads were of aluminum, the engine was drying sumped, with IDA Webers. In this form the engine produced 350 BHP at 7,000 RPM and 275 lbs. ft of torque at 5,600 RPM and weighing dry 834 kgs. A non synchronized Colotti transaxle was used as this unit was thought to be the only transaxle capable of handling the engine's power.

During 1964, testing began and it became apparent that the rear of the car was light at speed; after two cars crashed they were repaired and taken to MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) in the UK for the tail lifting problem to be remedied. Bruce McLaren and Roy Salvadori were the test drivers, who found that contrary to earlier wind tunnel test results, a spoiler across the width of the tail, forced the rear end down and cured the instability problem. Over the twelve months to 1965 Le-Mans, they tried 289 ci. and 325 ci. engines, improved brakes, early ZF transaxles etc and finally the definitive nose.

By mid 1965 and with the ZF transaxle, Ford decided that the GT40 had reached a sufficiently advanced state of design to go into limited production and build 50 GT cars to qualify them for the Production Sports Car Category.

The GT represented 'Grand Turismo' while the designation 40 represented its height, only 40 inches. The number 40 was added to the designation when the Mark II was introduced.

The Mark II, still built in England, was put through extensive testing which solved many of the stability issues. The now famous Carroll Shelby was brought onboard to oversee the racing program. He began by installing a 7-liter detuned 485bhp NASCAR engine that was more powerful and more reliable. The result was a vehicle that was much more stable and quicker than the Mark I. For the 1965 LeMans, the Mark II proved to be a stronger contender but resulted in another unsuccessful campaign.

The third generation of the GT-40, the Mark III, was introduced in 1966. Ford continued to fine-tune and prepare the GT-40 for LeMans. The GT40 led the race from the beginning. This lead continued throughout the evening and into the morning hours. By noon, all but three of the Fords entered had been eliminated. The three Ford GT40s were 175 miles ahead of their nearest competitors coming up to the finish. The lead driver, Ken Miles, was ordered by Ford to slow and let the other two team cars, one driven by New Zealander Bruce McLaren, catch up for the formation finish. He did so, and McLaren drove on past him to take the actual win. This victory marked the beginning of a four-year domination of the race.

1966 Le Mans 24 Hrs

18-19 June 1966 - Le Mans (F): Round 7, International Manufacturers Championship. Round 7, International Sports Car Championship (Divisions II & III). Round 4, Challenge Mondial. Round 3, Endurance Triple Crown.

24 Hour duration in which 347 laps of a 8.364 mile/13.461 km circuit - 2906.226 miles/4677.110 kms were completed

Weather: Warm, dry, rain on Sunday

Pos         Car #      Drivers  Car         Entrant Laps       Grid

1              2              Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon/Bob Grossman*/Dan Gurney*         Ford Mk II [1046]              Shelby American Inc.         360         4

2              1              Ken Miles/Denny Hulme/Lucien Bianchi*/Richard Thompson*/Lloyd Ruby*/Mark Donohue*     Ford Mk II [1015]   Shelby American Inc.      360         2

3              5              Ronnie Bucknum/Dick Hutcherson/A.J.Foyt*/Bruce McLaren*/Peter Arundell*                Ford Mk II [1016]                Holman & Moody            348         9

 In 1967 Ford introduced the Mark IV to LeMans. It was an all-American GT40; the previous versions had been criticized as being English-built and fueled by monetary resources from America. This had not been the first attempt for an all-American team using an American vehicle to attempt to capture victory at LeMans. Stutz had finished second in 1928. Chrysler had finished third and fourth during the same year, 1928. In 1950 the first major attempt to win at Lemans was undertaken by a wealthy American named Briggs Cunningham. Using modified Cadillac's he captured 10th and 11th. His following attempts to win at LeMans included vehicles that he had built where he managed a third place finish in 1953 and fifth place in 1954. This had been the American legacy at LeMans.

Of the seven vehicles Ford entered in 1967, three crashed during the night time hours. When the checkered flag dropped it was a GT40 driven by Gurney/Foyt to beat out the 2nd and 3rd place Ferrari by only four laps.

For 1968 the FIA put a ceiling on engine displacement at 5 liters. Ford had proven that Ferrari could be beaten and an American team and car could win at LeMans. Ford left international sports racing and sold the cars to John Wyer.

This left John Wyer with no works cars to compete, so with sponsorship from Gulf Oil he further developed the Mk1 for the 1968 and 1969 seasons.

The developments in 1968 included wider rear bodywork to accommodate wider racing tires, with six spoke magnesium knock on wheels, more efficient Girling brakes, a very strong engine:- 400 BHP at 6,500 rpm and 385 lbs. ft of torque. In 1969 this was raised to 425 BHP at slightly lower revs of 6,250 and 396 lbs of torque at 4,750 rpm with a 302 ci. Engine.

The Ford GT40 again won Le-Mans in both 1968 and 1969; the remarkable fact was that the same chassis, P1075 won in both years. The final Le Mans 1969 win by the Icky/Oliver driving team was in the same car that had won the previous year. It had already won five World Sports Car Championship races before coming back to Le Mans.

 This was the very first time that the same car had won Le-Mans twice and the feat was not repeated until the 80's when a Porsche 956 matched the record.

Speeds of 217 mph were recorded for the Ford GT40 at Le-Mans, which in 1969 was staggeringly fast - a lot of normal road cars did not get to 90 mph then, yet the road version of the Ford GT40 was capable of 165 mph.

 In 1969 new FIA rules and regulations ultimately retired the GT40's from racing and ended the winning streak.

Ford had comprehensively beaten Ferrari four years running and settled a score. To those of us on a permanent drip-feed of high-octane racing petrol into our veins, the GT40 is the one car whose form will remain embedded in our memories. There was something intrinsically sexy about the GT40, and maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was a Ford. A name synonymous with normal road going cars that we use every day, so that anyone driving a Ford could relate to this magnificent machine.

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