Fordomination 1962 – 1972 | Part Three | 15 Minute Read

Fordomination 1962 – 1972 | Part Three

This is now a four 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 the third, itself a two part story, a brief look at the response, mainly from a GM perspective. Part Four takes a look at the brilliant engineering that went into the development of the old Anglia 105E engine and the ultimate result.

By 1969…. This is the picture ….

Fordomination

FORDOMINATION!

1969 is a year the racing world will remember. The year when Ford won everything in sight (except the Belgian grand Prix and that one was cancelled). In 1969 Ford won Le Mans for the fourth time in a row. Came First in the British, Canadian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Mexican, Monaco, Spanish, and US Grand Prix. The Indianapolis 500, the East African Safari, and the World Drivers Championship.   Ford achieved another spectacular run of successes, including the South African Grand Prix, the South African Saloon Car Championship with Peter Gough in the Meissner Escort setting new lap records at every track in the country. More good reasons why South Africans again bought more Fords than any other make of car in 1969. They know a winner when they see one.”

Holy Moly!   Pretty impressive stuff …..something had to be done…not so much to take on Ford but to show GM followers we were not a bunch of deadbeats.

Part Three   The G-Men

In this part we cover GM’s rather sleepy response to Fordomination and how, motivated by the formidable few…. did the job despite handcuffs. We fully appreciate that Ford had backed off a bit in the early 70’s but that’s like saying you have backed the throttle off 20% on a freight train running at max.

With the G Men keeping things largely under control in the States, the General slowly awoke to the new world….. in the UK, the first sign of that recovery, the Viva GT arrived five years after the first shot was fired by Ford. By that time and from the above ad we need to appreciate that in those five years Ford had not exactly been idle. The Total performance thing had institutionalised a performance culture in the organisation….in a nutshell, Ford people understood this go-faster business. For GM though…. Vauxhall making available a performance car and living a corresponding corporate ethic were two completely different things…add to that the issue of poor streetcred and VM had a long way to go. Opel were in the same boat and the appearance of the SR Kadetts at the same time as the GT, got them onto the playing field but, like their UK counterparts, had not really understood where the goalposts were.

Visually, these two products had strong overtones of US muscle car influence and the GM team kicked off with ‘more Show than Go’ at a time where the Go-faster game had matured in Europe and “Go” counted for quite a bit more than ‘Show’. Just take a look at the Twin Cam Escort vs the Viva and Opel in 1968….the GM products were into the fiddly bits like matt black bonnets, stripes and spot lamps. The Viva sported four exhaust tailpipes (two of these dummies) and alloy look-alike wheel covers…the Escort was a ‘plain Jane’ and a dedicated performance car….and despite a much smaller engine with significantly more horsepower ….. simply blew both of them into the weeds once out of the showroom.  No question.. Ford were serious about this stuff.

1900 SR Rallye Kadett Top Speed 100Mph

1900 SR Rallye Kadett Top Speed 100Mph

2.0 Litre Viva GT Top speed 99 MPH

2.0 Litre Viva GT Top speed 99 MPH

1558cc Twin Cam Escort Top Speed 112Mph

1558cc Twin Cam Escort Top Speed 112Mph

But that’s ok…that was a start…. and happily, Vauxhall were to learn quickly ……

What else was happening in the GM world at that time…..

 Down in Oz, the Australians were ahead of the rest in the GM fold and by 1968 had not only produced the V8 Monaro as a performance car but gone head to head with Ford in the great race, where a privately entered Monaro won the Bathurst 500. We need not have worried about the men from down under…they were on a mission and set the bar for the rest of us by establishing the very first of the Dealer Teams in the GM world in 1969….they simply had to, there was no other way to go racing given the Corporate ‘thou shalt not race’ directive.

The Winning Bathurst Privateer 327 Chevy engined Monaro GTS - 1968 – The start of a racing Dynasty

The Winning Bathurst Privateer 327 Chevy engined Monaro GTS – 1968 – The start of a racing Dynasty

Holden Dealer Team
DTV
Chev Dealer Team logo
Dealer Team Opel Logo

Over the period 1969 and into the 70’s, Four Dealer Team activities linked to GM OEM’s were launched. The first in Australia with HDT the Holden Dealer Team, the next was DTV, Dealer Team Vauxhall in the UK, CDT, the Chev Dealer Team in South Africa and Opel launching DOT the Dealer Opel Team in 1974.  It had become patently obvious to all on the front line that performance cars and the associated activity of racing had become a norm in the industry, virtually all manufacturers were involved by the end of the sixties with the exception of General Motors. The dealer groups in the various GM operations outside of the USA were now in trouble with younger buyers.

The Execs in Detroit were unmoving and running under the ‘Corporate Responsibility’ banner to maintain their position.

In order to get the job done, GM dealers started putting huge pressure on their respective marketing operations and eventually the dam burst and dealers either decided to set up teams doing their own thing, or where they could with help from Head Office through a dealer channel.  Racing teams were put together under Dealer Team activities, ostensibly managed and funded by the dealer bodies. For HDT and CDT, history will show that this was duplicitous, the real masters were the factories and whilst funding did come from dealers in the form of standard contributions based on dealer car sales in all cases, the major costs were funded by Head Office. For the Vauxhall DTV/DOT it was an arms-length activity with control by the Dealer body. The Vauxhall assistance came mainly from interested enthusiasts senior enough to arrange the necessary help to the team. Be that as it may, it was better than nothing and allowed another breed of         G-Men the chance to build and race/rally the product.

Before we go to the individual Dealer Team activities, let’s take a more detailed look at how the G-Men functioned in the USA.

The big difference between the US and UK/SA/Oz, post ’63, was that the engineering expertise and drive for the go faster stuff came from within the organisation in the ‘States and that, in turn, stemmed from motor sport being embedded in the DNA right up to the fateful decision in 1963. In the two major contributors at the time, Chevrolet and Pontiac, there were legions of folk involved not only on the tech side but in support roles such as the manufacture and distribution of parts used in competition by privateers across the country. To bring down the ‘no racing’ guillotine in the manner it had been, put all those involved off-sides. Shutting down the works race operations was one thing, telling the legions of Chevy and Pontiac privateer racers across the USA to stop what they were doing was just not going to happen. Just so many dealers were involved that this was a really ill-considered decision. So yes, the factory front line race ops shut down but the show had to go on and immediately, the Techies in the system devised ways to circumvent the directives…… special part availability was largely maintained. (this is a story that we will cover in some detail in future)……The in-house design and development of go- faster bits was curtailed…..but….and this is again a big but…..so much work had already gone into the high performance area prior to 1963 that there was enough good stuff in the armoury for our G Men to do some clever applications engineering….The Pontiac GTO was the first salvo, the Small Block Chevy was a self- fulfilling prophesy and the newly launched Chevy Big Block 396/427 “Rat” engines had already established a leadership position in the Big engine category.  The icing on the cake was the fact that the aftermarket specialists in all areas of the go faster game were inextricably linked to the General’s product and not surprisingly, these entrepreneurs benefitted massively by being able to keep the pot boiling.

I any event Chevy engines were soon powering all manner of sports racers including Mclaren, Lola and Chaparrals in numbers far outnumbering equivalent Fords.

Let’s get back to the G-men. If I had to list the names of those brave souls who maintained the Go Faster roles inside GM operations after 1963, we could probably fill the rest of this tale with their names alone….I have a deep respect for these folk but in mentioning just a few related to the stories at hand, I pay tribute to the rest.

In the preamble to part three, I mentioned the fact that GM and Ford did have a racing series clash in the late ‘60s and we covered part of this in the earlier article “the Option to Option”. The racing was the Tran-Am series with the Z28 Camaro. Vince Piggins* was a G Man of note, well respected not only as an engineer within Chevrolet but by his peers in the larger race community. He completed the ‘Quadruple whammy’ doing all four tasks in producing a winning race car. Firstly he came up with the idea for the Z28, built a prototype and had the concept approved, managed the engineering of the production cars, and lastly drew together and appointed the racing team in Penske and Donahue to take the Trans Am series from Ford in 1968/69….This in spite of the racing ban.

*Vince cut his teeth in the Chevy world with the ’57 Black Widow racer see     

http://nwccc.net/oldsite/News_events/blackwidow.pdf….. a site that I note simply because it gives a neat story of the history  and just how professionally Chevrolet took their racing responsibility .

 

Piggins had to plan this carefully. Firstly, the Trans Am series was at risk of folding due to lack of serious competition and, through his contacts in the racing fraternity it became clear that a professional Chevrolet entry into the series would be beneficial to both GM and the T/A organisers. Such was the man’s influence that he pulled off this task in the face of corporate nonsense.  Next, the appointment of the Penske/Donahue combination…. a masterstroke. Despite being relatively inexperienced in the business of running a race team, Penske showed his mettle early by maintaining a strictly managed independence from Chevy Engineering and kept the Generals troops at arms-length from direct involvement in the activity, both in the race car build area and at the track. Very different from Shelby who tended to be overrun by Ford propeller heads. This helped to keep the record books clean from overt GM involvement, Sunoco being the primary sponsor was used as the cover….behind the scenes GM did the bulk of the engineering work. Mark Donahue, being not only a first class race car driver but a very good race engineer, was able to fill the role of the engineer at the track and covered the critical tech communication with the one Chevy engineer assigned by Penske to the liaison role.

I have already mentioned the fact that this race effort came mainly from GM’s parts bins but there were two major development activities requiring direct involvement by Chevy Engineering thru Vince. One was easily handled off-site with Smokey Yunick developing the dual quad cross-ram inlet manifold for the otherwise original factory spec 302. The second involved some undercover work and had to do with rear suspension geometry….in this instance the race car did find its way to Chevy engineering in a covert operation and also required Chevy engineers at the track, dressed in suitable race mechanic attire, to help with the testing. Below the line, most in the know figured this was a full blown Chevrolet race programme…..above the line GM were squeaky clean and Sunoco/Penske were doing the business. The nice part of this is that with Ford on top of everything in the racing game they had hugely underestimated both the General’s capability and the professionalism of the Penske operation. Takes a peek at the many well documented articles covering the work Ford did on particularly the Ford 302 engine to recover lost ground, first with the tunnel port (‘68) and then the Cleveland (’69), Chevy swotted both attempts with their own 302 package based on the early ‘60’s  327 Duntov Corvette mill.

This was the fight.. In ’68 Fords lacked midrange grunt and not fast enough…In ’69 had the power, but a switch to Ford Factory engine build… not the reliability. The Traco built Chevy 302’s were rock solid.

This was the fight.. In ’68 Fords lacked midrange grunt and not fast enough…In ’69 had the power, but a switch to Ford Factory engine build… not the reliability. The Traco built Chevy 302’s were rock solid.

The point of this story is to illustrate Chevrolet’s very organised and professional approach to proper engineering* as well as previous experience in racing which allowed them to do the job, whereas as we will see with the Dealer Teams in Oz, the UK and SA, the lack of Go Faster history forced them to pull race experience from outside the business. Having Penske as the Team boss ensured that this rather disjointed activity actually worked well as a cohesive outfit. As soon as Penske pulled the plug at the end of the ’69 season wanting to operate as a full blown works outfit (he joined AMC) the wheels fell off and that was that for the GM effort.

*There are many very well written first-hand accounts of just how well Chevy out-engineered Ford in this exercise….one going so far as being pretty straight about the fact that as a privateer, if you were smart enough and experienced, you could build a Camaro just as quick as the Penske cars because all the parts were available from Chevy Dealers with solid part numbers. The story around Ford at the time was that the only person guaranteed to get Ford’s very special bits was Carrol Shelby.

 Part three will continue with the Dealer Teams in Oz, UK, SA and Germany

By |2017-11-24T10:11:33+00:00April 24th, 2017|Categories: Performance Saloon Car History|Tags: , , , , , , , , |2 Comments

About the Author:

I have been in the motor industry all my life and despite spending 20 odd years with Datsun/Nissan, remain a GM man at heart.

2 Comments

  1. Johann Wilhelm Grobler April 25, 2017 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    Very Interesting! Brings an aspect not well known to the light!

  2. […]            ‘NO OPTION BUT TO OPTION’….And… ‘FORDOMINATION PART 3‘ […]

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