By ART CHANCE
“Go like hell.” That was Carroll Hall Shelby’s instruction to his driver, Ken Miles, at the 24 hours of Daytona, when Ford Motor Company’s corporate weenies were instead trying to tell Miles to take it easy on the Ford GT-40, the company’s ambition to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, I’ll introduce you to an America that wasn’t populated by a bunch of spineless snowflakes.
The book “Go Like Hell, Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans” by A.J. Baime, tells the story about the Ford vs. Ferrari battle of the mid-Sixties. Now there is a movie, “Ford vs, Ferrari.”
If you like good movies and great stories, see it.
The 1960s really weren’t about acid, incense, and balloons. Not many people even noticed Woodstock, and at about the same time Woodstock was happening, America landed men on the Moon;. People noticed that.
Thanks to Walter Cronkite’s hysteria, the war in Vietnam was becoming unpopular. Nevertheless, the most popular song in the Billboard charts for 1966 was Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” touted by many as the anthem of the Sixties, also released in 1966, only made it to 27 on the chart. Unless you were there, the 1960s weren’t what you think they were.
Even though America was still reeling from President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the South was in turmoil from the civil rights movement, in 1966 America was going to the Moon and the Ford Motor Company was going to win the 24 hours of Le Mans. Americans kind of expected to win things in those days. We’d had a setback with the Apollo 5 fire and Ford’s first attempt at Le Mans had been disappointing, but in those days Americans simply expected to push through setbacks and still prevail; there had also been dark days in World War II.
In those days every young man’s dream was a Pontiac GTO. The GTO ostentatiously stood for Grand Tourismo Homologate, which meant that it had been certified by the FIA, the Federation International d’ Automobile as a grand touring car for racing purposes. Of course it wasn’t, but Car and Driver magazine tested a Pontiac GTO against a Ferrari GTO in 1964; the Pontiac didn’t do badly. These days a Ferrari GTO is a million bucks or so, but a matching-numbers ’64 Pontiac GTO will fetch a quarter million.
In the spirit of the times, Ford Motor Company was looking to revamp its staid image. Lee Iacocca, later of Chrysler fame, was one of the young firebrands in Ford’s management. He brought us the Ford Mustang. Even though it was only a well-dressed Falcon, it set a new paradigm.
Iacocca convinced Henry Ford II that Ford needed to go racing at the international level, and the key was buying the Italian automaker, Ferrari, the icon of GT racing. Enzo Ferrari dissed Ford and sold his company to Fiat. Ford didn’t take it well and decided the only thing for that was to defeat Ferrari at Le Mans.
There is a scene in the book “Go Like Hell” that doesn’t make it into the movie in which Ford II, known as “deuce” is challenged by the bean-counters on his Board about the cost of the Le Mans endeavor and how he can justify it. His response: “Because my name is on the building.”
There is a whole lot of corporate BS in the story, but fundamentally Ford listens to road racer Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon in the movie, and puts together a successful racing program The racers have to struggle past pencil necked weenies with MBAs to put a fast car on the track.
We can have a good argument about Ford executive Leo Beebe’s role in the program, but all of us who’ve worked for a major corporation or for government have worked for some pencil-necked weenie like the character in the movie. There’s a good argument that the real Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas, wasn’t a weenie, but there is an equally good argument that he was.
Anyway, the story is about manly men doing manly things, and to the extent that there are women in it, they love their manly men. If you like fast cars and pretty women, go see it.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.