Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in the #2 Ford GT40 Mark II. THF252433
Fifty years ago this month, Ford Motor Company earned one of its most memorable racing victories: a stunning 1-2-3 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. No win in that famed French contest comes easily, and Ford’s arrived only after two years of struggle and disappointment. But that story is among the most interesting in motorsport.
There was Ford’s failed bid to buy Ferrari in 1963, which left Chairman and CEO Henry Ford II determined to beat the Italian automaker on the race track. There was British designer Eric Broadley, whose sleek Lola GT Mark VI car inspired the design of Ford’s Le Mans car, the GT40. There was Carroll Shelby, the larger-than-life designer and team manager who turned around Ford’s struggling program. And there were drivers like Ken Miles, who gave everything – including his life – to the effort.
It all culminated with New Zealander drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon standing on the podium with Henry Ford II on June 19, 1966, having proved that Ford Motor Company could build race cars as good as – better than – any in the world. As if to prove that the win wasn’t a fluke, Ford came back to do it again in 1967, this time with American drivers – Dan Gurney and A.J. Fort – in an American-designed and built car – the Mark IV.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first Le Mans victory (and, not incidentally, on the eve of Ford’s return to that race), we’ve produced a short film on the 1967-winning Ford Mark IV and the bumpy road that led to it. It’s a story that’s always worth retelling, but especially in a milestone year like this.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Official Program of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 27th 500 Mile International Sweepstakes Race, May 30, 1939. THF 122945
Over the years, sporting events have become traditions in our lives: the Super Bowl in the winter, the Kentucky Derby every May, and the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend. Iconic events such as these develop their own customs over time, and the Indianapolis 500 is no exception. As we celebrate the 100th running of the race on May 29, here is a look at a few of the traditions that have developed over the years.
Start of the 1911 Indianapolis 500. P.O.2703 Some of the current Indy traditions started in the early days of the race. Since the inaugural running on May 30, 1911, the contest has always been held on Memorial Day or that weekend. As a tribute to horse racing practices, only the winner of the race (and his team) are honored in Victory Lane, without a podium for the top three finishers. Speaking of victory celebrations, Lewis Meyer began another triumphal tradition in 1936. After winning that year's race, Meyer grabbed a bottle of buttermilk to cool himself down, as he typically did on hot days. After an executive from the Milk Foundation saw a photograph of the celebration, it became a yearly occurrence. Although there have been a few years without milk in Victory Lane, this appears to be a tradition that will last for years to come.
Bobby Unser drinking milk in Victory Lane, 1968, 2009.158.317.5507 The 1940s saw the start of more traditions at the Indianapolis 500. In 1946, the song "Back Home Again in Indiana" was first played in pre-race festivities. Numerous artists have been enlisted to perform the song over years, including Jim Nabors, who sang it 36 times between 1972 and 2014. (Singer Josh Kaufman will fulfill the duty for this year.) In 1947 Grace Smith Hulman, the racetrack owner's mother, suggested balloons be released before the start of the race. Since 1950, 30,000 multicolored balloons, now made of biodegradable latex, have been let loose coinciding with the final notes of "Back Home Again in Indiana."
Di Gilmore and Jim Nabors at the 1977 Indy 500
Balloon release at the 1963 Indy 500. 2009.158.317.1729 The next decades brought more long-lasting traditions to the Indianapolis 500. In 1953, Wilbur Shaw first gave the starting call of "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Some variation of this call has been used every year since then, with the opening periodically changing to "Lady and Gentlemen" or "Ladies and Gentlemen" for the years when female drivers are competing. A few years later, the 500 Festival Parade developed after local newspaper columnists noted the community festivities that accompanied the Kentucky Derby. The 2016 festival includes a mini-marathon, parade, children's activities, and the Snakepit Ball. It was 1960 that was the first year that the winner was adorned with a wreath, drawing from Grand Prix traditions. The current wreath design contains 33 white cymbidium orchids representing the 33 cars and drivers on the starting grid.
Jim Clark draped in victor's wreath at the 1965 Indy 500. 2009.158.91
1968 Indy Festival Queen with the Borg Warner Trophy, 2009.158.317.5261 Since the 1970s, more traditions have been added to the Indy 500. The Last Row Party, started in 1972, is a charity function held the Friday before the race. In addition to raising scholarship funds for local students, the party also serves as a roast for the last three competitors to make the starting grid. A few years later, in 1976, Jeanetta Holder created and presented her first quilt to the winner of the race. Over the years, she has crafted more than 40 hand-stitched quilts, with Bobby Unser's 1981 quilt now in the collection of the Henry Ford. More recent additions to the Indy traditions include concerts on Carb Day and Legends Day, and the kissing of the bricks, which actually started in NASCAR tradition in 1996. Gil de Ferran was the first Indy driver to do it at the conclusion of the 2003 race.
Jeanetta Holder quilt for Bobby Unser, 1981. 2009.171.18
Tradition and ritual are a part of our everyday lives, and will certainly be an integral part of this year's Indianapolis 500. Over the last 99 contests, drivers, owners, and even fans have created new customs that add to the history and lore of the race. As you watch the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 29, keep your eyes open for the existing traditions and perhaps some new ones in the making. Janice Unger is Digital Processing Archivist for Racing, Archives & Library Services, at The Henry Ford.
May 29, 2016, will mark the 100th running of the iconic Indianapolis 500 auto race. The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation contains many objects and archival materials related to the race over its long history, and we’ve just digitized more than 1,600 images from the 1964 race, as well as 500 images of the 1961 race. Both sets of images come from the extensive Dave Friedman collection, and join previously digitized sets of Indy images from 1962, 1963, 1968, and 1969. Each set of images covers both vivid racetrack action and behind-the-scenes shots, like this relatively serene 1964 shot taken from above.
"You know me, Barney Oldfield," was the classic catchphrase of one of America's earliest celebrity sports figures, and during the nascent period of the automobile, most every American knew Berna Eli Oldfield. He became the best-known racecar driver at a time when the motor buggy was catching the imagination and passion of a rapidly changing society. Oldfield would cut a populist swath across turn-of-the century American society and in the process help define an emerging cult of celebrity.
One of the consistent themes of Oldfield's early life was a restlessness and desire for bigger, brighter, and better things in life. As a teenager, Oldfield worked odd jobs in Toledo, Ohio earning money to buy his own bicycle to ride in local and regional road and endurance races. An attempt at professional boxing ended after contracting typhoid fever and Oldfield returned to racing for company-sponsored bicycle teams and selling parts in the off-season. Throughout the 1890s, Oldfield was part of a team of riders barnstorming across the Midwest and racing in the new "wood bowl" tracks that were sprouting up across the region. Oldfield quickly realized the need to appeal to the audience beyond the track, promoting himself as the "Bicycle Racing Champion of Ohio" and promoting a "keen formula for winning" by wearing a bottle of bourbon around his neck during races but telling reporters the liquid inside was vinegar.
Americans were fascinated with the quirky and expensive auto cars, and the boxy, carriage-like vehicles appealed to American’s desire for new, loud, audacious, and fast entertainments. During the winter of 1899, Oldfield reconnected with an old racing companion, Tom Cooper, who had just returned from England with a motorized two-wheeler (an early motorcycle). Cooper was going to demonstrate the vehicle at a race in Grosse Point, Mich., in October 1901 and asked Oldfield to come along. Cooper and Oldfield were a preliminary exhibition before the main event: a race between local "chauffeur" Henry Ford and the most well-known and successful automobile manufacturer of the day, Alexander Winton.
After the Grosse Point event, Oldfield and Cooper's attempt at mining in Colorado ended in failure and Cooper headed back to Detroit to pursue working with automobiles. Oldfield took the motorized cycle on a circuit of Western bicycle tracks, setting records along the way before returning to Detroit in the fall of 1902 at the request of Tom Cooper to drive his racecar. "The Race" between Cooper's 999, recently purchased from Henry Ford and driven by Oldfield, and Alexander Winton's "Bullet," captured the imaginations of not only Detroit's automotive elite, but the general population as well. When Oldfield piloted the 999 to victory over Winton's sputtering Bullet, the news spread like wildfire across Detroit, the Midwest, and eventually the nation. Beyond the immediate thrill of the race itself, Barney Oldfield, the "everyman" bicycle racer from the heartland, appealed to a much wider, less elite segment of American society rushing to embrace the motor car. As the Detroit News-Tribune reported after the race, "The auto replaced the horse on the track and in the carriage shed. Society sanctioned yesterday's races. And not only society, but the general public, turned out until more than five thousand persons had passed the gatekeepers.” Barney Oldfield became the face of racing for the "general public" and helped to democratize not only racing entertainment, but also automobiles in general, as the vehicles moved out of the carriage house and into backyard sheds.
Over the next 15 years, Barney Oldfield established multiple world speed records and gained notoriety wherever he went. He added an iconic unlit cigar to his racing persona and perfected the roguish image of a daredevil everyman. After a brief stint driving for Winton, Oldfield took the wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" and established himself as America's premier driver.
By 1904, Oldfield held world records in the 1, 9, 10, 25, and 50-mile speed categories. In 1907, Oldfield tried his hand at stage acting when he signed on to appear in a new musical called The Vanderbilt Cup. For 10 weeks and a brief road tour, Barney, as himself, raced his old friend Tom Cooper in stationary cars as backdrops whirled behind them and stagehands blew dirt into the front rows of the theater. The following year, Oldfield took on the open road race circuit and quickly added to his legend by sparking a feud with one of the emerging stars of the day, Ralph De Palma. In March 1910, Oldfield added the title "Speed King of the World" to his resume driving the "Blitzen Benz" to an astonishing 131.7 miles per hour on Daytona Beach.
Oldfield flouted the conventions of his time both on and off the track. He was notorious for his post-race celebrations, womanizing, and bar fights. His rebellious streak kept him under the scrutiny of the American Automobile Association, and in 1910, he was suspended for going on with a spectacle race against the heavy weight-boxing champion Jack Johnson, becoming the first true "outlaw" driver. He and his manager set up dates at county and state fairs across the country, holding three-heat matches against a traveling stable of paid drivers. Oldfield padded his reputation by adding an element of drama to these events by losing the first match, barely winning the second, and after theatrical tweaking and cajoling of his engine, winning the third match. During this period, Oldfield also became a product spokesman ("My only life insurance, Firestone Tires") and began racing a fellow showman and aerial barnstormer Lincoln Beachy in matches pitting "the Dare Devil of the Earth versus the Demon of the Skies for the Championship of the Universe."
Towards the end of his driving career, Oldfield made one more splash in the racing world by driving the Harry Miller-built "Golden Submarine" and established dirt-track records from one to 100 miles. In addition, Oldfield drove the Golden Sub in a series of matches on dirt and wood tracks against his old rival Ralph De Palma throughout the 1917 season, eventually winning four out of the seven races. Oldfield retired from competition racing in 1918 after winning two matches in Independence, Missouri. In typical Oldfield fashion, his final race was under suspension by the AAA after he participated in an unsanctioned event at the Michigan State Fairground.
Oldfield continued to keep himself at the fore of America's sports entertainment culture. In addition to ceremonial "referee" jobs at various races, he rubbed elbows with American movie, stage and music stars and continued his rambunctious lifestyle. Between 1913 and 1945, Oldfield appeared in six movies, usually as himself, and also tried his hand as a road tester for Hudson Motor Company, salesman, bartender, club owner and spokesman. Finally, in an attempt to raise funds to build another land-speed racer with Harry Miller, Oldfield staged a publicity and fundraising event by driving an Allis-Chalmers tractor outside Dallas, Texas and reaching a record 64.1 miles per hour.
Fittingly, Barney Oldfield's last public appearance was at the May 1946 Golden Jubilee of the Automobile Industry held in Detroit. Oldfield was fêted for his foundational role in what was then one of the largest industries in the nation. Oldfield shared the main speaker's table with automotive icons including Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, and Frank Duryea and accepted a "trophy of progress" for his role in automotive history. Barney Oldfield passed away in October 1946 having lived “such a life as men should know.”
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water… er, dealership… Chevrolet’s iconic Corvette Stingray* is back. The seventh-generation Corvette just received Automobile Magazine’s “Automobile of the Year” award. It’s a great honor, and it affirms the car’s right to wear the hallowed “Stingray” name – not seen on a Corvette since 1976.
Given Corvette’s long-established status as America’s sports car, it’s easy to forget that the first models lacked a performance image. The 1953-54 cars featured inline six engines and two-speed automatic transmissions – not exactly scream machines. That began to change with the 1955 model year when a V-8 and a three-speed manual shift became options. Production figures climbed steadily thereafter, but the Corvette arguably didn’t come into its own until the 1963 model year when General Motors styling head Bill Mitchell shepherded the magnificent Sting Ray into production.
Mitchell’s car was a radical departure from previous Corvettes. The gentle curves of the earlier cars (readily seen on The Henry Ford’s 1955 example) were replaced with sharp edges. The toothy grille gave way to an aggressive nose with hidden headlights, and the roof transitioned into a racy fastback. The car was a smash in its day and continues to be perhaps the most desirable body style among collectors.
The 1963 Sting Ray was inspired by two of Mitchell’s personal project cars. The 1959 Stringray Special was built on the chassis of the 1957 Corvette SS race car. When American auto manufacturers officially ended their racing programs in the summer of 1957, the SS became surplus. Mitchell acquired the car, rebuilt it into a racer, and sidestepped the racing ban by sponsoring the car personally. The rebuilt Stingray Special’s unique front fenders, with bumps to accommodate the wheels, became a prominent part of the 1963 production car.
The second inspiration was the Mako Shark concept car introduced in 1961. While fishing in Bahamas that year, Mitchell caught an actual mako shark which he mounted and displayed in his office. The shark’s streamlined body and angular snout, combined with elements from the Stingray race car, produced a show car that turned heads wherever it was displayed.
Fifty years later, some believe that the mid-1960s Sting Rays are still the Corvette’s styling peak. Clearly, the 2014 model had much to live up to if it was to carry the Stingray name. The honors from Automobile Magazine suggest that the latest Corvette is worthy indeed.
UPDATE 01/13/14: The 2014 Corvette Stingray just took top honors as "North American Car of the Year" at the North American International Auto Show. It's further proof that the car has earned its legendary name!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
* Stingray nomenclature is a confusing business. Bill Mitchell’s 1959 race car was “Stringray” – one word. The 1963-1967 production cars were “Sting Ray” – two words. The 1968-1976 and 2014 cars reverted to “Stingray.” For what it’s worth, the fish itself is “stingray.”
The Indianapolis 500 is America’s premier motorsports event. Since its inaugural run in 1911, Indy has exemplified our country’s obsession with speed. It is ironic, then, that one of its most significant victories came from a Scottish driver in a British-built (though American-powered) car. In one fell swoop, Jim Clark’s 1965 win in the Lotus-Ford Type 38 marked the end of the four-cylinder Offenhauser engine’s dominance, the end of the front engine, and the incursion of European design into the most American of races. The Henry Ford holds many important objects, photographs and documents that tell this fascinating story.
By the early 1960s, four-cylinder roadsters were an ingrained tradition at the Indianapolis 500. Race teams were hesitant to experiment with anything else. American driver Dan Gurney, familiar with the advanced Formula One cars from the British firm Lotus, saw the potential in combining a lithe European chassis with a powerful American engine. He connected Lotus’s Colin Chapman with Ford Motor Company and the result was a lightweight monocoque chassis fitted with a specially designed Ford V-8 mounted behind the driver. Scotsman Jim Clark, Team Lotus’s top driver, took the new design to an impressive second place finish at Indy in 1963. While Clark started strong in the 1964 race, having earned pole position with a record-setting qualifying time, he lost the tread on his left rear tire, initiating a chain reaction that collapsed his rear suspension and ended his race early.
Based on his past performances, Jim Clark entered the 1965 race as the odds-on favorite. Ford was especially eager for a win, though, and sought every advantage it could gain. The company brought in the Wood Brothers to serve as pit crew. The Woods were legendary in NASCAR for their precision refueling drills, and they were no less impressive at Indianapolis where they filled Clark’s car with 50 gallons in less than 20 seconds. This time, the race was hardly a contest at all. Clark led for 190 of the race’s 200 laps and took the checkered flag nearly two minutes ahead of his nearest rival. Jim Clark became the first driver to finish the Indianapolis 500 with an average speed above 150 mph (he averaged 150.686) and the first foreign driver to win since 1916. The race – and the cars in it – would never be the same.
Many of The Henry Ford’s pieces from Clark’s remarkable victory are compiled in a special Expert Set on our Online Collections page. The most significant artifact from the 1965 race is, of course, car #82 itself. Jim Clark’s 1965 Lotus-Ford Type 38 joined our collection in 1977 and has been a visitor favorite ever since. Dan Gurney, who brought Lotus and Ford together, shared his reminiscences with us in an interview on our OnInnovation site, shown below. The Henry Ford’s collection also includes a set of coveralls worn by Lotus mechanic Graham Clode at the 1965 race, and a program from the 1965 Victory Banquet signed by Clark himself.
Photographs in our collection include everything from candid shots of Gurney, Chapman and Clark to posed portraits of Clark in #82 at the Brickyard. The Henry Ford’s extensive Dave Friedman Photo Collection includes more than 1,400 images of the 1965 Indianapolis 500 showing the countless cars, drivers, crew members and race fans that witnessed history being made. Finally, the Phil Harms Collection includes home movies of the 1965 race with scenes of Clark’s car rolling out of the pit lane, running practice and qualifying laps, and leading the pack in the actual race.
Jim Clark died in a crash at the Hockenheim race circuit in Germany in 1968. It was a tragic and much-too-soon end for a man still considered to rank among the greatest race drivers of all time. The Henry Ford is proud to preserve so many pieces from his seminal Indianapolis 500 win.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
This week, the 2013 Goodwood Revival kicks off in the United Kingdom, celebrating classic auto racing from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s in a three-day period-themed festival. The Henry Ford team will be there, and so will our Lotus-Ford race car usually on exhibit in Driving America. In honor of the Lotus and the driver who drove it to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500, we’ve digitized several dozen photos of the car, the race, and Jim Clark. View this photo of Jim in the car at Indy, plus other highlights from this digitization effort selected by Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation, in a set titled Jim Clark and the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Earlier this summer we were honored to have some of NASCAR's greatest drivers paired with the drivers of tomorrow for a tour across our campus. Take a look at this video as Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson talks about their visits.
Visitors to Henry Ford Museum can often be found gathering under the Douglas Auto Theatre “Driving America” sign for photo opportunities and to marvel at the larger-than-life artifact. But recently visitors and racing fans gathered by the sign to honor Henry Ford as a racing innovator.
In honor of what would have been Henry’s 150th birthday on July 30, 2013, Ford brands Motorcraft/Quick Lane and Ford Racing honored his legacy with a special paint scheme in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway July 26-28, 2013 race, with Wood Brothers Racing and driver Trevor Bayne.
The car’s paint scheme features an iconic Henry photo – posed on top of the Sweepstakes with Spider Huff riding on the sideboard, the car that would take him to victory in 1901 at a race track in Grosse Pointe, Mich.
Why was that race so important? To be honest, it was important because Henry already had one business flop on his hands, the Detroit Automobile Company. His win with the Sweepstakes against opponent Alexander Winton not only netted him the $1,000 prize but the investors needed to start Ford Motor Company.
As Henry’s great-grandson, and special guest that morning, Edsel B. Ford II pointed out, if Henry hadn’t won that race, Ford Motor Company might not be here today to celebrate the innovator.
In addition to Edsel, the Wood Brothers and driver Trevor Bayne were on hand to unveil the special car in Henry Ford Museum that morning, sharing some of their appreciation for Henry and his body of work.
While all of the morning’s guests were more than familiar with the collections of The Henry Ford, Trevor and the Wood Brothers are especially familiar and proud as their No. 21 2011 Ford Fusion Stock Car is in our Car Court, currently on loan to us. As Trevor pointed out his former car to the audience, while showing off his tuxedo-themed racing suit for the Brickyard race, he commented, “It’s pretty cool that they’re still celebrating his (Henry) birthday 150 years later!”
We like to think it’s pretty cool, too. Here’s to 150 years of celebrating our founder, Henry Ford, both on AND off the race track.
The Goodwood Revival is world renowned for celebrating the living history of motor sports. One of the great stories of this year's Revival is the 45th anniversary of the Ford Mk IV win at Le Mans. Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt were the first American drive team and all-American car to win the 24 hours of Le Mans race. This incredible win was supported by the best team in the business, led by Carroll Shelby.
Many obstacles were overcome to win the race, including the failed windshields of the Ford cars, which were cracking just days before the race was about to start. The millions of dollars that Ford had spent to win Le Mans and beat Ferrari were at risk, because the cars could not be allowed to run with damaged windshields. Ford immediately had a new set of windshields made in the United States and flew them all in first-class seats on a commercial airliner to France. Ford then flew in Terje Johansen, a Norwegian glass engineer living in Brussels, to install the windshields to ensure they would not crack again. Terje worked from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. installing the windshields just hours before the start of the race.
The rest was, of course, history.
Today Terje Johansen, pictured on the left and Dan Gurney, pictured on the right met for the first time - 45 years later after the famous win at Le Mans. Terje Johansen brought a set of photographs taken while he was installing the windshields at Le Mans and gave them to Matt Anderson, our Curator of Transportation for the Racing in America archives as part of our Collections to further document the process of innovation in racing.