When Ford comes to the Monterey Historic Automobile Races this August as the featured marque, I'll be there. A hundred years of automotive history is bound to be something to see.

I'll have a special feeling about the Shelby Cobra and Ford GT40. I was there in the 1960s when these cars came to race in Europe, and I remember the people who came with them. Some of them are still heroes and some of them have been overlooked, but all of them changed the way everyone in the world thought about American cars.

When the Ford GT was announced in the summer of 1963, all of us knew that something pretty interesting was going to happen. I had been in Europe since 1954, taking pictures of racing for American magazines. I'd graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1952 (it was then a brand-new name for what had been a modest teacher's college), and I was caught up in sports cars, just as we all were in those days. I'd owned a couple of MG-TDs, and I'd been to the Pebble Beach road races. Meanwhile, I had been fascinated by photography as a kid, and during World War II I had made scrapbooks of W. Eugene Smith's combat photography, which was published regularly in Life. So I decided that the thing to do would be to move to Europe and take pictures of motor racing. I drove from race to race (first in a VW Microbus and later in a Porsche 356), making pictures with my Leica IIIF 35mm and Rollei 2 1/4.

The Ford GT really looked gorgeous when it was first revealed in London on April 1, 1964. There was a lot to learn about aerodynamics in those days, though, and Jo Schlesser completely destroyed the first prototype at the Le Mans trials a week later. Three GT40s with 4.2-liter V8s from the Indy 500 program were on the grid for the race itself in June, but the cars all broke, and we were so disappointed that we almost overlooked the Cobra Daytona coupe that Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant drove to win the GT class. When the Ford GT40 reappeared at Le Mans in 1965, there were four cars with 4.7-liter V8s, but the last-minute decision to field two more cars with 7.0-liter stock car engines complicated the whole effort and we were all embarrassed when none of the cars finished.

Finally everything came good in 1966 with the 7.0-liter MkII, although the three-car formation finish (which the Le Mans organizers suggested to the Ford team managers as the race came to a close) caused a terrible scandal because it looked so pretentiously American. The MkIV victory in 1967 proved Ford's dominance. Some people also forget that a John Wyer-prepared GT40 won Le Mans in 1968 and 1969, which made it four victories in a row for Ford.

It was all a very American effort, as if the organization and technology of the NASA space program (very much in the news in those days) had come to motorsport. The bodywork was designed in the wind tunnel. The engines were developed on dynamometers that could duplicate a lap at Le Mans. The suspensions were designed with IBM computers. The program had its highs and lows, and there was a predictable clash with traditional European motorsport culture, but American sports cars were never again dismissed as second-class efforts.

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