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.


In Part one, we covered the rise of Ford in motor sport, briefly using the on-track examples from SA the UK and Europe to give an idea of the impact in those countries. In future tales we will take you through some of the more important events from those in greater detail. For this edition we look at what happened on the street and cover three regions, the USA, the UK and South Africa in the period from 1963. Whilst we will show similar happenings both in the UK and SA, the events in America panned out differently, with events there largely emasculating the Ford effort. Given the negative approach the GM execs had towards performance, car-guys inside the General nevertheless rescued the ship…. they did that rather well. Chrysler’s tech men obviously had their finance team under control and grabbed a piece of the quick car history by simply producing some of the best engineering of the times.

I have kept the happenings in Australia to a separate chapter, simply because things panned out very differently for Ford in Oz. The Holden boys were quite unique in the way they handled US corporate directives….. The difference?…. This was the only place in the GM world where the 14th floor in Detroit was seemingly unable to stop Holden’s direct confrontation with the Ford juggernaut. Holden did an almighty job….and remains doing so today…..we’ll get to that one soon.

Holden Logo

 GM’s one and only absolutely committed racing brand……these guys are special.

Let’s start with the USA then. Some of what we look at in this section has been covered in earlier posts but necessary to repeat simply to give context to what happened.

In the ‘GM’s Muscle car conundrum’ article, we touched on the Pontiac GTO as being the saviour for GM and the subsequent happenings on the street but let’s look at the background. Donners declaration in ’63 virtually handcuffing the go-faster in-house GM community, was not taken lightly by the tech teams and we can get an idea of just how frustrating things became in De Lorean’s  “On a clear day you can see General Motors”.  Whilst this publication (covering the internal functioning of the General) received as much criticism from within GM as had been dealt-out in the book itself, one thing is cast in stone and that is that De Lorean had little time for our friend Donner.

De Lorean, the Engineering boss man at Pontiac, was your typical ‘seat of the pants’ creative engineering type…..Donner, the GM CEO and a dyed in the wool corporate finance jockey, a conservative one at that……oil and water stuff.

Some of this we did cover in the “option to option” piece but this is where it has more context.

We have seen scenes like this play out in company politics for yonks and De Lorean’s disdain for the lack of Engineering focus coming from the ruling party is perfectly encapsulated in his outrageous middle finger tribute to the Donner dictates. He simply produced the Pontiac GTO, breaking every rule in the book.  De Lorean was fortunate, because the two allies he needed to make this ‘stick’ and not get him slung down the coal shoot, were right on hand. Pontiac’s Boss-man Pete Estes, a damn good engine engineer in his own right, allowed the build of 5000 units to test the water and the other, a good marketing man well versed in the go faster business, Jim Wangers knew just what to do to capture the hearts and minds of the petrolheads out there. More important and as noted in the piece on the GTO, GM’s RPO option system was ‘adjusted’ to allow the build of the cars as Dealer optioned packages….. so as to allow the execs to sleep disingenuously……

1964 Pontiac GTO Photo credit hz536n-George Thomas via Visual hunt - CC BY-NC-ND

The Pontiac GTO – Out of Left Field this Car rattled cages in the Ford Camp – Just to Remind the Blue Oval that GM was still in the Game.

Given that Ford were to launch the Mustang to huge fanfare at the Worlds Fair in New York using the Total Performance angle as one of the marketing tools….. the GTO from Pontiac in the middle of festivities was not what Ford needed. I used the term ‘eyes wide shut’ in the piece because I have absolutely no doubt that whilst GM and in this case Pontiac, are given credit for the Muscle Car phenomenon, they had no idea of how this single action was going to set the precedent for what followed.

I will give you my version of these events in a dedicated article on the GTO, but to summarise…..just get on line and read the Car and Driver road test of the Bobcat GTO in 1964. If that does not tell you that Pontiac had knocked the top off the ant hill in performance sedans…nothing will. Then take a look at the absolute icon of the go faster business in the USA….The Small Block Chevy…..Fortunately for the G men, absolutely nothing the GM execs could do to reign-in the Techies was going to slow that freight train.

Royal Bobcat GTO Photo credit salguod via Visualhunt CC BY-SA

Royal Pontiac Michigan – the men behind the stunning Bobcat GTO for Car and Driver in 1964

My Point in all this?….GM in the USA had street-cred amongst the bourgeoning go- faster brigade…. and whilst Ford were very active with the new Ford Total Performance programme and in the process put a huge effort into all forms of racing in the US, particularly drag racing and Nascar…. they had a battle on their hands….Ford doing it above the line….The GM team having to dodge corporate bullets to stay in the game by taking the fight to the street. GM’s massive range of RPO and COPO optioned performance cars during the 60’s more than matched anything Ford could do. At the end of the decade in the USA, the winner was the man in the street. Along with the Chrysler contribution, the Go Faster game had moved to unimaginable levels of road car performance,. Ford’s Total Performance programme in the ‘States kept them in the game….. but to say that they outgunned GM… Sir. There is a final Irony….GM had stopped racing in ‘63 because the Govt did not like them having too big a piece of the pie….In 1969 the same Govt got hold of Ford and basically told them they were spending too much money on Motor sport and racing…..and to do more work on Fuel efficiency and emissions…… Ford pulled out of Motor Sport in the US at the end of 1969

427 Copo Camaro

The 427 Copo Camaro the perfect antidote for the 428 Cobra Jet and 429 Mustangs

454 Chevelle Photo credit Ken Lane via VisualHunt - CC BY-NC-ND

454 Chevelle Malibu SS. At 450 bhp – one of the wildest

Ford out of the blocks in ’65 with the Hi Po 289 and showing early intent.

428 Cobra Jet Mach 1 – Fords ¼ Mile weapon

Plymouth GTX Photo credit Sicnag via Visualhunt

Plymouth GTX – the base for the fabled “Road Runner” and available with 383, 440 and the 426 Hemi

Dodge Charger Daytona Photo credit Sicnag via Visual hunt

The Dodge Charger Daytona 426 Hemi – Yes this is a road car…… and  is what Chrysler brought to the party to sort Ford in Nascar racing…….First 200Mph Nascar car.

Ford Torino GT Photo credit DVS1mn via Visual hunt CC BY

Ford Torino GT (Fairlane replacement)  – Ford’s Nascar weapon

Just Some of the icons…Pontiac’s GTO, Chevy’s 302 Z28, 427 COPO Camaros and the 454 Malibu.  Ford’s 428 Mach 1 Cobra Jet, Boss 351, Shelby 350, and original 289 HiPo Mustangs…..and  Torino 428 Cobra Jet…….of course the 440 and 426 Hemi engined Chryslers. (We will cover the best of these individually in coming tales)

The situation was very different in the rest of the so called civilised world….

Things started playing out in 1963 and here’s a little known fact. Before then, GM were ahead of Ford in the performance car game in the UK. That very competent sports sedan the Vauxhall VX 4/90, launched in late 1961 was head and shoulders above anything Ford could muster and one could argue that GM had fired the first shot in the hot sedan game. Not so. You see, Vauxhall billed the VX as a fast touring car and it came with the trappings of an upmarket British sedan….wooden dash, plush seats, good sound insulation and a kerb weight of over 1000kg. Nice car all round, good looks, 90mph top speed and the scribes loved it. It was a damn good effort by Vauxhall and the first mass produced performance sedan by GM world-wide.

Vauxhall VX 4-90 Photo credit allenthepostman via Visual hunt CC BY-SA

Vauxhall VX 4/90 – a really fabulous package for its time

Ford Cortina GT - Typical Ad Photo credit sv1ambo via CC BY

Cortina GT Said we are here to play – from the get-go

Then came that 1963 thing…..First it was the Cortina GT….. this was different.  Out went the wood grained dash, plush seats and old fashioned Zenith twin carbs….. in came short gearing, weber carburettors, tubular exhaust manifolds and 780Kg. This car blew the VX into next Xmas in straight performance. No contest. The scribes were lyrical when the 0-60 times tumbled to under 13 seconds**. Not happy with that, Ford brought along the Lotus Cortina at 110 Mph and 0-60 under ten seconds. With that they rewrote the rule book. The world of Homologation specials had shown it’s hand. Little did we know it, but those two cars were to set-off a roller coaster for Ford that is unmatched outside of the USA.  I say that because for petrolheads, the business of tuning cars is not only about the cars themselves but about the availability of quick parts, ……..and to support that, something else had been brewing in the Ford world as early as 1959……Cosworth.

** The average 1500cc saloon car in the UK at the time would do the 0-60 cha cha in around 20-22 secs. The Vx4/90 at a tidy 16sec.

By the time the Cortinas had arrived to readjust the landscape, Cosworth had been meddling with the early Ford Kent engines for four years, producing very potent road and race engines . This was poetry for Ford. Cosworth at that stage were an entirely self-contained business that just happened to find the Ford four cylinder engine to be an ideal package on which to base a series of production based race engines. This was done to plug into the lucrative engine market for the smaller single seat racers, pretty well held by BMC at the time. By 1962 they had generated sufficient credibility in the business to be called in to sort development issues on the Mays designed Twin Cam cylinder head for the Lotus Elan/Cortina, (also based on the Kent engine block). Extensive knowledge of the three main bearing 997 and 1340  Kents by 1963 made available all the goodies needed to make quick versions of the 1498cc five bearing units as soon as the Cortinas hit the streets.

Ford Cosworth Two Names Joined at the Hip From 1967 Photo credit photo via Visual Hunt CC BY-NC-ND

A modern pic of the joined-at-the-hip names from 1967

But that’s not what catapulted Ford into the top spot in the go faster business on the street…It was the unmatched historical and progressive part interchangeability that did the trick……along with a huge catalyst to kick start activity amongst young enthusiasts…..The Ford Anglia.

997 Anglia Photo credit davocano via CC BY
Ford Anglia Modded road car Photo credit davocano via Visual Hunt CC BY

The stock Anglia could transform into a street rod at anything from 997 to 1640cc.. or this on the track

Ford Anglia Racer Photo credit - ohefin via Visualhunt CC BY-SA

Now, without being demeaning or nasty, this machine, alongside the Morris 1000 was, at the time, absolutely the slowest 1000cc car on the planet. In stock form, not being able to pull the skin off a rice pudding describes this machine perfectly. Zero to 60 was not a cha-cha but a very slow waltz, achieved in a tad under 30 seconds and a top wack of 72Mph on a good day. Not a performance car of any note at all……but……the Engine, Gearbox and axle bits are a straight swop from a Cortina. How long do you think it took for that message to catch on? Not too long at all & 1498cc five bearing Cortina Kents were fetching good numbers in scrapyards immediately. The launch of the 1200cc Anglia Super, still no performance car, also provided a better base for those quick parts….many pranged Consul 315’salso donated 1340cc hearts and lungs to the Anglia cause.

There were as many and in some cases more, hot Anglias running around the streets of Britain and South Africa than hot Cortinas…..and there were plenty of them.  The ingredients were there… modified everything from cylinder heads, to camshafts, to manifolds and downdraught or sidedraught carburettors at pricing that was eminently affordable back then and would be laughable today. The aftermarket Go-faster men sprouted from nowhere and to run a modified Ford was the easiest and least costly way to go. The special parts extended to suspension packages, brakes, gearboxes, axle ratio availability and limited slip differentials. But in the world of interchangeability, that’s not all. The parts we are talking about, in addition to being used on Anglias and Cortinas, could be fitted to 315 Consuls, Corsairs and eventually Escorts and four cylinder Capris.

Ford Kent 997 Photo credit IFHP97 via Visual hunt CC BY-NC-SA

This is the 997 Ford Kent 105E – The engine that started a race revolution only beaten by the Small block Chevy.

Of course, the tale of Jim Clark regularly borrowing the works Anglia fitted with the prototype twin cam engine during the Lotus Cortina development, scaring the hell out of E Type and Aston drivers, was part of the folklore of the times. I can remember the magazine headline from a 1962 publication saying something like “Jim Clark’s 110 Mph Anglia streetcar”. The mind literally boggled.

In my home town of Port Elizabeth, Motor City in SA & the home of both Ford and GM, hot Fords sprouted out of the pavement. And here is an interesting comparison, Ford folk were the enthusiasts and GM guys the straight laced conservatives….no surprise ….”racing doesn’t sell cars….people do” ….a maxim that lived with the General in SA right through the Can Am years ( we will cover this in future tales).

Here’s the thing though……GM had no street-cred in this part of the world, we had no John De Loreans and no ‘Small Block go faster culture’ to carry the flag. Donner and team’s No Racing, No fast car, No excitement extended to all four corners of the planet and really floored us. Clearly these hot – shots had no idea of the real consequences of this approach outside of the USA. Those American CEO’s handling the Vauxhall, Opel & GMSA operations, despite being hammered by their dealers to get with the programme, were more interested in towing the party line to keep their careers intact……Except for one brilliant exception….and we will talk about him in some detail in future tales.

Despite the archaic view of our masters, many of us just got on with the job of making Ford  enthusiast’s lives as difficult as we could…… and we embraced the times. The riot of hot Fords on the street in addition to the track onslaughts described in Part 1, were a part of the psyche that will live with us forever. The Red Windmill and Bird Rock road houses the meeting places for all the hot machines…Marine Drive provided adequate black-top and the traffic light grands prix drove the local cops to distraction. ….sadly for us GM petrolheads, Ford did rule the roads, no question. Whilst outnumbered, we were not outgunned. For me the necessity to stand up to the fight was a just a simple necessity and we eventually walked away from the scrap with the two book-ends in place… not too much in the middle, which I guess for the Fordies was the important bit……we had the last word though.

The Kadett in pic was not what equivalent Fords wanted to meet on the street and of course when the Firenza Can Am arrived in late 1972….Ford had to put away their Capri Peranas and GTHOs.

Kadett 62985 April 1969

The 993cc Kadett – Blydenstein Inlet and 46 IDA Weber – 8500rpm Road Car  0-60 in 8sec            

Took a long time….. but Fords could not come close …. 13 sec ¼ Can Am 302 Firenza

The Kadett had been a project put together specifically to sort those little square box Noddy cars. That was done ….and the story starts with the purchase in 1969 of a 10 000rpm Smiths rev counter from the local Speedshop….. who happened to run the quickest Mini in town and on the track.  The smirk on their faces the day we collected the tacho turned to disbelief 18 months later……Oh yes and only one Ford was eventually able to take the Opel – the 1966 UK saloon car champion – – Fitzpatrick’s Broadspeed Anglia.  That story coming……

You see, I am one of a tiny handful of folk that can say that they have had a 302 Can Am as a company car. We engineers at GMSA were able to run vehicles in the engineering fleet as private transport and these were rotated by Fred or Paul (our vehicle controllers) on a weekly basis or longer. There were very few takers for the Can Am after the project closed, with most engineers complaining that the car was awkward to drive….that tells a story of its own….I loved it and was able to run it for weeks on end…… nothing came close…..P

Part 3      next week.     The G-Men

In Part 3 we cover GM’s sleepy response to Fordomination. The General finally woke up to the fact that fast was OK….. and above all, actually necessary, particularly outside of the US….. but…. could not quite work out how to get this done because the ‘no racing’ policy was still in place. Eventually GM were forced, kicking and screaming largely by their dealer bodies, into the real world. With the help of the G-men, things got going. I have coined the G-Man tag for the GM go faster men and taken it directly from the CIA original because those involved in the fast stuff and or racing were, like their CIA counterparts, forced to work undercover.

In the many operations both in the ‘States and around the world, these stalwarts devised ways of circumventing the narrow thought processes of the Financial gang that had usurped power at GM in 1958.  We will look at the creation of the various Dealer Teams and how they progressed or faded. There was of course one exception in all of this where no Dealer Team was necessary to take on Ford, despite the ban… was a covert Chevy Engineering sting-op and the one and only time that Ford and the General faced-off in road course racing in the 60’s….. and the General won.

Until next week then……


For the meantime and until the site gets some traction, all pics used in the write-ups are selected from Free To Use portfolios on the Net. I have taken precautions to confirm that this is OK. Should any pics used not conform to this norm kindly make contact through the site and pics will be removed forthwith.

By the same token, should anyone have pics considered appropriate for the site I would welcome any contributions forwarded with sanction for use.  Many thanks  &  Kind regards, Paul