*Ford headquarters, Le Mans '66: Located in the local Peugeot dealership, Ford ran a military-size effort, with trucks, trailers and even a catering service that offered hamburgers and soft drinks.
*Ford headquarters, Le Mans '66: Located in the local Peugeot dealership, Ford ran a milit
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.
*Carroll Shelby, Le Mans '66: Then as now, Shelby was everywhere, and he was always the one doing the talking.
*Carroll Shelby, Le Mans '66: Then as now, Shelby was everywhere, and he was always the o
*Henry-Cartier Bresson, Le Mans '66: He was notoriously shy about being photographed, and I took his picture so quickly that I forgot to focus.
*Henry-Cartier Bresson, Le Mans '66: He was notoriously shy about being photographed, and
*Innes, Ireland, Ford GT40, Le Mans '65: The very first GT40 to carry the definitive bodywork with the much-modified nose, it also has wire-spoke wheels, a feature of the European-built series production cars.
*Innes, Ireland, Ford GT40, Le Mans '65: The very first GT40 to carry the definitive body
*Bob Bondurant, Le Mans '65: It won't be long until the race starts at 4 p.m., but Bondurant naturally never wastes a moment.
*Bob Bondurant, Le Mans '65: It won't be long until the race starts at 4 p.m., but Bondur
When I look back on those times now, it's the drivers that I remember most. They were the very best sports car drivers in the world, and we were all amazed that they should be driving for a single team. As I look through my photographic files, there are so many that deserve recognition: Ronnie Bucknum, the SCCA club racer from Southern California who was Honda's first Formula One driver; Jerry Grant, the tall USRRC driver from Washington and who was practically Dan Gurney's twin brother when it came to fun and jokes; Dick Hutcherson, the stock car driver who went on to become a racing car constructor himself; Denis Hulme, then just on the verge of becoming Formula One world champion; Roger McCluskey and Lloyd Ruby, oval-track drivers trying to find their way in Europe; Chris Amon, who always lived a little too hard; Pedro Rodriguez, so quiet and so heedless of speed when he won Le Mans in 1968 with John Wyer's GT40; Jacky Ickx, who won the first of his Le Mans trophies in 1969 with the very same Wyer-prepared car; Mark Donohue, Peter Revson and Skip Scott, who were always overlooked by Ford because they were thought to be just weekend sports car drivers; and Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, two of the best-ever drivers from America.
Of all the people involved with the Ford effort at Le Mans, I remember best Bob Bondurant, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren and Ken Miles.
*Dan Gurney, Cobra Daytona coupe, Le Mans '65: Early Saturday evening, I laid on the top of the hay bales outside of the Mulsanne corner, pre-focused on a spot of pavement with my single-lens reflex Canon (exotic technology just then) and caught Gurney as he started the long, dangerous, high-speed stretch to Indianapolis corner. The contrast between the speed of the machine and Gurney's very human moment makes this one of my favorite pictures.
*Dan Gurney, Cobra Daytona coupe, Le Mans '65: Early Saturday evening, I laid on the top o
Bob Bondurant was Carroll Shelby's last choice for the Cobra team when it came to Europe in 1964, and maybe that made him work harder. He was always studying every track he came to; it was something he learned from Masten Gregory, he said. He won the 1965 GT championship for Shelby almost single-handedly. I remember him most for the 1964 Le Mans, in which he and Gurney drove the Cobra Daytona coupe to fourth place, winning the GT class. Bondo drove a GT40 at Le Mans in 1965. You could tell that he had been a Corvette racer during his early days in California, because he always had an attractive woman nearby.
Dan Gurney was bigger than life, exactly what Europeans thought an American should be. He was open, friendly and almost always seemed to be having a great time. Europeans would try to get close to him just to see him smile and hear him laugh. Wherever something interesting might be happening, there he'd be, just out of sheer enthusiasm for anything new. He was always the fastest driver on the track, and that's why it took so long for him to drive slowly enough to do well at Le Mans. When he won in 1967 with the MkIV, Gurney actually pulled off the track and stopped for a minute or so because Mike Parkes had been tailing him in the Ferrari P4, trying to goad him into a faster, car-breaking pace. Parkes pulled over with Gurney and waited behind him, and they had a little battle of wills as the other cars went past. Finally Parkes raced off, and Gurney drove on to win the race.
*Bruce McLaren, GT40 MkII, Le Mans '66: The GT40 was the most scientific racing car of its time, but the cockpit looked like something out of a Ford economy sedan.
*Bruce McLaren, GT40 MkII, Le Mans '66: The GT40 was the most scientific racing car of its
Phil Hill was the first to drive the GT40 in competition, and he personified the GT40 program for most of us. He was part of the same generation of post-war sports car enthusiasts that we were, and when he won the 1961 Formula One championship, we felt as if our enthusiasm for sports cars had been justified. By 1964, Hill had already won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, and he was considered to be the best long-distance driver in the world. But people had forgotten just how fast he could be. When the first GT40 with a 7.0-liter V8 arrived at Le Mans in 1965, the car was literally assembled at the track, but Hill took it out and turned a practice lap more than 5 seconds faster than the Ferrari P2s. I also remember Phil for his willingness to tell stories no matter what the circumstances, and it led to all those interviews with broadcaster Jim Mackay on ABC's "Wild World of Sports."
Bruce McLaren had been designated the primary test driver for the Ford program from the moment that Eric Broadley had been hired after Le Mans in 1963 to transform his mid-engine Lola GT into the Ford GT. The Ford engineers took testing very, very seriously, and McLaren was the beneficiary, right in the middle of all those conversations between Roy Lunn, Ford's chief engineer, and the tire engineers from Firestone and Goodyear. All the professionalism of Team McLaren's Can-Am effort in the late 1960s came directly from this experience. In person, McLaren was boyish and quiet, just age 26 as the GT40 program began but already very ambitious, just as so many racers from New Zealand have been.
*Phil Hill, Ford GT40 MkII, Le Mans '65: This is the first of the GT40s powered by Ford's 7.0-liter V8 from stock car racing, a messy-looking aerodynamic experiment with a funny long nose and twin fins on the rear deck. In those days before cockpit-mounted TV cameras, we had to work very hard to get close-ups of the driver, not an easy job with a 120mm lens.
*Phil Hill, Ford GT40 MkII, Le Mans '65: This is the first of the GT40s powered by Ford's
Ken Miles became the lead driver in the development of the GT40 when Carroll Shelby took over the car's racing program. Miles had been a tank mechanic in the British army during World War II, then came to the United States in 1952 and became a service manager for an MG dealer in Los Angeles. He built a couple of small racing sports cars himself, and everyone aspired to drive as quickly and smoothly as he did. He was so widely admired for his knowledge that he was elected as president of Cal Club (an organization which ultimately was incorporated into the SCCA). The Cobra Daytona coupe was really his car, and he put thousands of miles of testing into the MkII. He was killed in August 1966 while testing the J-1 (the prototype for the MkIV) at Riverside International Raceway. Miles was very tough-minded, and he could be curt and abrasive with people who wasted his time.
He was driving better than ever in 1966 at the age of 48, and he was leading McLaren's MkII at Le Mans when he was asked to slow down for a staged finish. He didn't seem to bear any grudges when McLaren was declared the victor. Miles didn't have the trophy, but all the right people knew who had been the best driver on that day. In a strange way, Ken Miles liked it better that way. The best drivers always care more about private respect than public recognition.
Carroll Shelby was just a boy from red-dirt Texas, but all those years when he was racing for patron John Edgar and Aston Martin's John Wyer had taught him about the finer things in life. I remember a great dinner with Shelby at the Hotel Moderne at Le Mans in 1966 when we were joined by John Holman from Holman & Moody, the NASCAR outfit that had prepared three cars that year. It was pretty interesting to hear Shelby and Holman telling wild stories at a table in France. All these years later, the credit for the Ford program at Le Mans has been properly distributed to people like Leo Beebe and Roy Lunn, but we all believed at the time that it was really Shelby's ambition that drove the program forward and made it work.
By 1966 I had been in Europe for a dozen years, and I was ready to come home to America. I had improved as a photographer, but I wasn't quite sure what I had to show for all of it. I had lots of black-and-white film of old racing cars, but there didn't seem to be much future in that, because everyone wanted color pictures of new racing cars.
Then something happened while I was at Le Mans in 1966. I was taking pictures of the Gurney/Grant GT40 MkII, and I noticed another photographer in the frame. It was Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most famous art photographers in the world. His 1952 book, "The Decisive Moment," had made spontaneous snapshots with the 35mm camera an art form and had been very influential in my own work. He was notoriously shy about being photographed, and I took his picture so quickly that I forgot to focus.
It was important to me that Cartier-Bresson was photographing the same subject that I was. Like me, Cartier-Bresson believed he had found one of those decisive moments, which he defined as "the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression."
Like me, Cartier-Bresson had found such a moment in motorsport. When Ford came to Le Mans, it had proven that American sports cars and American drivers could compete at the top level of racing. At last we knew that we were just as good as they were. And whenever I see a Cobra Daytona coupe or a Ford GT40 today, I still get the same feeling.
*Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren, Ken Miles, Denis Hulme, Le Mans '66: The McLaren/Amon MkII has been unexpectedly declared the winner because it traveled 20 meters farther from its starting position than the Miles/Hulme MkII, but the drivers simply seem relieved that it's all over.
*Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren, Ken Miles, Denis Hulme, Le Mans '66: The McLaren/Amon MkII has
*Ronnie Bucknum, GT40 MkII, Le Mans '66: Holman-Moody, famous in NASCAR, comes to a little country road in France as one of Ford's official teams.
*Ronnie Bucknum, GT40 MkII, Le Mans '66: Holman-Moody, famous in NASCAR, comes to a little
*Cobra garage, Le Mans '65: This picture is a favorite of mine because it illustrates the meeting of cultures, the sleek American racing car as seen by a local French workman and a neighborhood boy. Le Mans might be a race, but we've all agreed on the fiction that these are street-legal automobiles, so there must be a proper license plate.
*Cobra garage, Le Mans '65: This picture is a favorite of mine because it illustrates the