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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?

Well…it tells us that whatever Ford did, it did not impress the overall market much…..but…. and this is a big but…. it certainly did adjust the Ford brand image and that is perhaps where some marketing scholars could get involved and let us know exactly why it happened this way. Believe me, Fordomination was very, very real….and we will get back to the US picture in chapter two.

Personally, the first clear message of the Ford onslaught started one cold autumn afternoon in King Williamstown in the Eastern Cape in 1964.

Amatola Row, the street running passed Diocesan Boys House was probably the last place on earth a tumultuous event of any sort could take place. It was that day when life changed forever. It started with four pieces of wide-rimmed rubber scrabbling over road debris in an effort to stop a low-slung white Cortina at the intersection with Durban road. There was an immediate sense of urgency in what was happening……then came that magic sound….. We can all remember defining moments in our lives….the landing on the moon….JFK….the wall falling in 1989 …..but as a budding petrolhead, nothing can touch sides with the first time a set of side-draughts howls passed you at 7000 rpm.

Just what the hell was that?… Incredibly the car was driven by our deputy house master. The Cortina on loan from his racer brother for a few days…. ‘to put a few miles on the engine’. Just how many folks had the opportunity of being taken for a ride in a Full-House modified Cortina GT race car in 1964? Those were the days that race cars could do double duty on the street…I was scarred for life by a short blast up Amatola Row later that afternoon.

Wide Steel Rims remain the signature of the times

Let’s get a picture of those times….. ‘fast’ was 120km/h for the average saloon car in the Colonies and  Europe. In the ‘States saloons were bigger, floppier and a bit faster. Very few could be regarded as remotely sporty…99.9% were, let’s face it, mom’s taxis. Sporty was something without a roof, a convertible, still with the dynamics of a wet sponge. The family Vauxhall Victor at full bore could, at best, emit a sort of whiney asthmatic wheeze and a snap shift on the three speed column had nothing to do with the speed of changing gear but more likely a broken gearshift. By today’s standards, cars were slow and handling and braking were appalling… Then that Cortina moment….and it did not stop from there.

In 1963, Basil van Rooyen had taken out the Jags at Kyalami with a modified Cortina GT in an equally eye-popping moment….. the first ever sub two minute race lap for a saloon car. Then all hell broke loose later in 1963 ….. Bob Olthoff and the UK Willment team arrived in SA with the Galaxie, a Lotus Cortina and the Cobra to contest the Nine Hour at Kyalami.


The two door Galaxie Coupe 500’s…as big and seemingly clumsy as they look….in race form they weighed a lot less than modern V8’s Merc, BMW or Lumina.

The Ford onslaught began in earnest. Bob in the Cobra came second overall and first in class, the monster Sears/Hawkins Galaxie, instantly the crowd favourite, bellowed around the track until a head gasket ailment curtailed proceedings.  The Whitmore Lotus Cortina left many sports cars in its wake and way up the leader board until it rolled during the race…The two Ford saloons left Basil’s Cortina GT lap record from earlier in the year in tatters…a portent for the next eight years and what we were going to see from the Blue Oval. That single event was shell shock territory, anybody and everybody involved in the saloon racing business whether competitor or enthusiast had, in modern parlance, the following thoughts….. WTF!

Fords Performance twins the Cobra and GT 350 Mustang

1964 allowed the Lotus Cortinas of Basil Van Rooyen and Meissner/ Swanepoel to rewrite every track record in the country. 1965 saw the Galaxie back in SA, taking the championship & fighting it out with the Cortinas. ’66 was the real eye opener with the GT40 taking Le Mans and Mustangs taking over the baton from the Cortinas on most tracks world-wide . Not content with that, 1967 brought F1 victory to Ford with the DFV V8 and then something that changed the saloon car game …a 1600cc, 220bhp,  10 000 Rpm FVA Escort taking tracks apart…the four valve era had arrived..and the bending of rules. Peter Gough took the 67 Championship with the FVA …….. Renault being the only manufacturer to break the Ford Stranglehold in 1968 and 1970. ( a special story on these brilliant cars coming up)

Lotus Cortina –  First mass produced performance car from Ford

The Alan Mann Escort  – The 2nd fastest Twin Cam in the world behind Y151!

Ford GT40 –  Crossing the line 1,2& 3 simultaneously at le Mans in 1966 sent another message to Italy…..

In the meantime the British saloon car championship had gone to Fords in 1963 with Jack Sears   providing a eerily similar picture to what was happening in SA , piloting initially a Cortina GT then a Lotus Cortina and Finally a Galaxie. Jim Clark took the championship in 1964 in a Lotus Cortina, Roy Pierpoint in 1965 in a Mustang and John Fitzpatrick in an Anglia in 1966. Gardener in a Ford Falcon took the Championship in ’67 and ‘68 with a twin cam Escort. In 1969 the rules, almost written around Fords to that point, then changed significantly and made things more difficult and rightly so. The 16 valve Escorts were banned and for the first time since 1963 there was no Ford on the top step.

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Lightweight Falcon. This and the Galaxie were simply about changing the perceptions of the car crazy baby boomer generation….something they did rather well.

After throwing down the Gauntlet in 1964, the 1965 European saloon car championship went one way, the Lotus Cortinas rattled Alfa badly and sent the a message to Milan to say that the upstart had done the job. Alfa Romeo responded and Europe became the only place on the planet where Ford were not the dominant players.

In SA they hung on a little longer, this was a special place for Ford and quite the most spectacular piece of engineering took place to keep the Fords on top in 1969, after the FVA ban. Willie Meissner, faced with having to use the original Twin Cam engine to power the Escort in order to stay competitive, decided to go the whole hog in enlarging the 1558cc engine to an almost full 2 litre capacity. This, weirdly, was allowed in the rules and here is a controversy. Having to face-off against the potent 2 Litre van Rooyen GTA, the decision was made to cut and weld the Kent block to take a set of 90mm sleeves. Folklore says this was done. Maybe it was and maybe it was a furnace welded Dagenham block, either way, this was the most potent Twin Cam in history. At over 200Bhp and with monstrous torque compared to the FVA, this package more than matched the screamer it replaced and Y151 was quicker than ever. The ’69 championship again went to Ford. (There is a dedicated piece on this car in future tales)

We must not forget the rally cars. Unlike the ‘States, in Europe rallying was if anything, as much of a spectator sport as was track racing. Imagine the hullabaloo when Ford entered three Falcons in the Monte Carlo rally in 1963. This is significant because it showed just how wide the Total Performance team were prepared to sweep. I have no doubt that Ford had no visions of the Falcons winning the event but just doing the business and ending with a class win was about changing the image of both the individual product and the company. It took a while for Ford to get traction on the rally front but interestingly, in the UK at least, where Ford’s dominance on race tracks began to wane in the late 60’s, rallying took over. The Escort went on to win eight consecutive UK rally championships from 1971 to 1978 and booked the hall of fame spot for both the Mark 1 and Mark 2 Escorts.

Ford took the race and rally wins to the street

By 1970, on the racetrack….that was it…a roller coaster of Fordominance…the tank was dry and other manufacturers were knocking at the door…… but there was one more card to play for Ford in SA. In 1971 the saloon car scene shifted to group two regulations and moved to regional championships with the SA saloon title dropped. The regulations were hugely restrictive and favoured cars with multiple carburettors in standard form, thus restricting the competitive field. The only sensible way of maintaining control was to build Homologation specials, something also showing its head in Australia. Basil Green turned out the Capri V8, a very neatly engineered Windsor engined Capri which soon found its way to the front row of the racing grids….Ford held on at the front for another two years.

The Perana V8 Capri racer.

Next week:  The scene on the street.