Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fast Ford

Well kiddies, it's good to be back yet again. The road has been trying to eat me alive and, once again, has taken me away from this very enjoyable outlet. Speaking of the road, I have to quickly tell you fellow gear-heads that last night we played a show in Minnesota and one of my favorite things happened...  my two favorite worlds of music and motorsport collided again. 

Our pedal steel player, CJ Udeen, casually mentioned to me that he had a friend coming to the show who he used to play music with back in the day and that he was a serious car-guy. I perked up and said that I would look forward to meeting him and bench racing after the show if he hangs around. A couple hours later CJ says to me that his friend is a major league high-performance Ford guy and will be driving to the show in one of his seven! Shelby Mustangs. Interesting, I thought. 

Well, sure enough, when I went to the bus before the show there was a red '68 GT-350 convertible parked outside the door. A nicely restored car too. Soon I met the owner and we had a very fun and lengthy talk about these great cars and the magical era that was the 1960s for Ford motor company. I think anyone who looks back on that era with Ford has to be awestruck by their accomplishments. From drag racing super stocks, running their "Cammer" 427s in top fuel and funny car, NASCAR, and of course their tremendous showing on the stage of international sports car racing with the GT40 project. It truly is astounding, and I think as much as we hear about it and are aware, much like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, it is still hard to comprehend their achievements and therefore will always be, in my book, under-recognized. Just as an example, I have heard countless crew chiefs, race car constructers, designers, team managers etc., say that the impact that the GT40 program had on racing, just from a professionalism and development standpoint, is still being felt today and is somewhat responsible for the face of what is today's big time modern racing world. And I can see how that would not be an overstatement. 

Never before had racing experienced such an absolute flat-out, cost-be-damned, approach to winning. Of course many constructers had come along before and had had the same passion and the same attitudes towards winning, but never before had such limitless resources been available. As we all know, the story begins with Henry Ford II deciding he had to win the LeMans 24 hours. How was he going to do that? Well, at the time the company dominating this most prestigious race was of course Ferrari. Being a famously impatient man, Ford went directly to Enzo Ferrari, checkbook in hand, ready to purchase Ferrari at any cost. He would soon learn that Enzo had no intention of selling his beloved company, no matter what the offer. Especially to some Detroit assembly line minded hot head who only wanted ownership of the company long enough to win this single race that had become an obsession to him nearly overnight. This was not Enzo Ferrari's style. Ferrari spent most of his time in this meeting talking about his creations like they were both his children and his great works of art. Money wasn't what drove Enzo. This was a passion that was in Ferrari's blood and, again, was not something that any person could just buy. Upon realizing this, Ford stormed out of the Ferrari offices and was heard to say,"Now winning LeMans will only be half of this. I want to crush Ferrari, crush him at his own game." It is interesting to think how two men could have had such equally monstrous egos that were so completely different. 

And of course we all know how the rest of this story goes. Ford went out and bought a Lola Mk 6 GT, pulled the Chevrolet V8 from it, and began developing the GT40 around this basic platform. They would go on to have multiple LeMans victories in the 1960s and Henry Ford II would get his wish granted to him by doing exactly as planned- beating Enzo Ferrari at his own game by not only winning LeMans but the very coveted "manufacturers championship" multiple times as well. All done with an almost completely American cast, including Carrol Shelby and a good number of California hot rodders. A very proud time for the American motorsports fan. 

Of course many other Ford accomplishments were discussed by myself and my new gear-head friend before the night was over. It was stunning to learn that this guy did in fact own 7 different 1960s Shelby Mustangs, as well as an original '65 427 Cobra, and possibly the most interesting to me from his collection...  an original '64 factory A/FX Comet. Turns out his business is Mustangs and he owns over 1,500 1960s parts cars! Too bad I didn't know this guy when I was driving one of these everyday. 

The real kicker came just before my new friend had to leave. He opened the trunk of his Shelby and pulled out a guitar case and asked,"Hey, do you think your boss would sign my guitar?" I said I was pretty sure he would. He pulled it out of its case and low and behold it was a 1950s Martin D-18. A very serious collector guitar. I noticed that it already had one signature on it... Merle Haggard. This guy not only was proving that he had very good taste in everything but that my idea of music people and car people running in very close circles is a nearly proven theory. 

As it was approaching 1am I knew there was no time to get into the music talk. We had already burned down the gear-head speak with talk of Enzo, Henry Ford, Tasca, Mickey Thompson, Holman/Moody etc.,...  if we had started in on Elvis, Dylan, The Beatles, Hank Williams, Haggard, etc., well, we'd still be sitting there. 

( The photo at the top of this post is a rare shot of a Lola Mk.6 GT on the grid with a number two on its nose. These cars had relatively short careers and photos of them from back in the day are scarce. If you study the car even casually it is easy to see where a lot of the GT40 came from. ) 

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