This is a three part tale of the Ford years. The first covers something of the overall picture of what happened during this period (with SA bias), the second looks at the effect the Ford onslaught had on the street and lastly a brief look at the response, mainly from a GM perspective.
I have used the example of Malcolm Gladwell’s “the Tipping Point” in previous pieces and when one links it to Ford and the period 1962 thru 1972 it has a really special significance. The go-faster world amongst car manufacturers in the late 50’s and up to 1962 was a mish-mash of special operations, teams and tuners going about racing in a very entrepreneurial fashion. In the USA all contenders were living by the credo “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” & it was a bit of everything, sometimes Chevy ruled the tracks, maybe then Pontiac, Ford or Chrysler. In Europe and the UK the only brand in real control on the track seemed to be Jaguar. Ferrari and Aston Martin were duking it out in the sports car business with Alfa Romeo sorting out the smaller saloon classes but none of the major manufacturers had declared any sort of official policy on racing or for that matter, policy on the production of High Performance saloon cars. The 1957 ‘no racing’ agreement amongst American auto giants meant very little and apart from GM keeping a low profile and being very careful not to annoy the Feds already touchy about the 50% share of the Auto market, it was business as usual.
Ford’s tipping point happened in 1962 and by 1972, stood head and shoulders above the rest in the business of racing. By cementing a performance brand image for the Blue Oval never before seen from a large manufacturer, Ford’s Total Performance Programme hit the jackpot and became an official company slogan, the rest…as they say….is history.
That 1957 AMA no racing policy had never been directly challenged or taken off the table by any of the manufacturers until Henry Ford declared the decision to be out of touch with reality in 1962. He formally pulled the plug and set the company on the Total Performance path. In the book Ford Total Performance, the author Martyn Schorr gives a brilliant first-hand account of how the ideology panned out and things happened, a must-read for all those interested in this most fascinating Ford chapter in our auto history. Now whilst the book mostly covers events in the USA, the Total performance programme had a far greater impact on performance cars and racing in Europe and the Colonies. (There were counterbalancing forces in the USA not present in the rest of the world & which we will cover in later chapters)
We now know that the Ford GT40 came about as a result of a rift between Enzo and Henry. Whilst Ford had declared his intent on the performance front, Enzo’s reneging on the deal for Ford to buy Ferrari annoyed him and this simply resulted in producing the GT40 to make the point but more importantly, had the effect of focusing the Ford Performance activity.
Now that was just great for Ford fans, but not so good for the General’s band of enthusiasts. At exactly the same time, Fred Donner, GM’s CEO and stodgy bean counter of note, was grappling with the US Fed over that US market share issue and their threats to remove some parts of the organisation. In Early 1963 Fred’s financial focus lead him to compromise the very things we car guys live by…. the cars themselves…. and decided he would take his organisation in exactly the opposite direction. GM were instructed to 1) Cease all motor racing activities 2) restrict the use of big engines in “compacts” and 3) to restrict the use of anything Fast, Powerful or Loud in advertising and general communication……Great. Board meetings at the General were now in territory discussing the stock market and not the next generation of car design. The baton to hold the fort for enthusiasts was to be handed clandestinely to a band of car guys within the various GM divisions. (Much more on this in later tales)
I don’t think there could have been a point in the history where these two companies were more divergent in marketing philosophies. So, at this point I would, if I was perhaps a University lecturer in Marketing, set my students the task of writing a paper on the consequences of these two actions and how they panned out for the two respective companies. Well, a lecturer I am not….but I am one of an army of a red blooded GM petrolheads and can vouch, first-hand, that the consequences of these decisions were disastrous for us as enthusiasts, particularly those outside of the US.
But here is a surprise…..Knowing the history of the 60’s and the massive impact that Ford’s Total Performance strategy had on racing, performance enthusiasts and the car crazy baby boomers, there should have been a concurrent market share shift of some sort to reflect the two strategies. When one adds the spectacular sales success of the Mustang from mid-1964, one would think it would have bumped the Ford sales envelope……It did nothing of the sort.
Below is a graphic of the US big three market share from 1955 thru 1977. Surprisingly Ford showed no major shift in the 62 – 72 period in question and despite the fact that GM had ‘officially’ canned anything fast, powerful and loud, in addition to a no racing policy during the same period….GM’s market share also remained relatively consistent…. What does this tell us?