FORD CELEBRATES 100 YEARS OF RACING AT KNOTT’S BERRY FARM
By Randall Richardson
On April 22, 2001 the Ford Car Club Council, Western Region celebrated the 16th Annual "Fabulous Fords Forever" at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. The event honored 35 years of the Ford Bronco and 100 years of Ford Racing. There were fifty classes of Ford vehicles ranging from Model T’s, 1903 to 1927, Model A’s, 1928 to 1931 to one of-a-kind SVT models that are unavailable to the public. There were eighteen classes for Mustang vehicles alone. A large collection of Cobras, Tigers and Ford Exotics (Pantera, Merkur, Detomaso) were also on display in addition to vintage racecars and a spectacular "Special Interest" exhibit.
It began on October 10, 1901 when Henry Ford defeated Alexander Winton; the most accomplished automobile builder/racer of the era, in a 10-lap race at the Detroit Driving Club in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The acclaim from that race, the only one Henry Ford ever drove, brought him one giant step closer to achieving his dream: to manufacture a vehicle that was strong, dependable, lightweight, and inexpensive. He founded the Ford Motor Company two years later, in June 1903, spawning a series of advancements in automotive design, mass production and marketing that made the automobile mainstream consumer product.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s Ford presented a theme of "Total Performance" and began providing factory support and engine development. Ford had a seven-year success streak in Nascar beginning in 1963, winning seven consecutive manufacturers’ championships through 1969.
In 1962 Ford was nowhere in road racing. Ford had no appropriate car but they had a new lightweight V8 engine. Carroll Shelby connected the AC Ace and the lightweight V8 and the AC Cobra was born. The "Powered by Ford" Cobra was conquering the Corvettes and the Cobra was the dominate car in the United States for the next five years. Cobra also won Ford Motor Company’s first international sports car racing titles, including the GT Class win in the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans by Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant and the 1965 FIA Sports Car GT World Championship. This was the first international racing championship ever won by an American team.
After negotiations to buy Ferrari fell through in 1963, Ford embarked on a program to beat the famous Italian marque at the world’s most prestigious race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To do it, Ford, Shelby American, and later J.W. Automotive, designed, built and campaigned the Ford GT-40, a car that has become a 20th century racing icon. The GT-40 was first in the 24 Hours of Le Mans driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in 1966 and was the first to exceed 200 mph on the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. The Ford GT-40 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four years in a row, 1966 through 1969. The 1967 win by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt was the first American built car to win as the GT-40 they drove was an American car, built in the U.S. and driven by Americans. The GT-40 won all of the world’s major endurance races and brought Ford World Sports Car Championships in 1966 and 1967 and the World Manufacturers’ Championship in 1968.
At the beginning of the 60’s Ford cars weren’t winning much in drag racing even through Les Ritchey, Bob Tasca and "Gas" Ronda were out there campaigning Ford machinery. Ford’s first successful, specially built drag racing car was the Thunderbolt, a lightweight Fairlane with a high-performance 427 wedge stuffed under the hood. The Thunderbolt powered Gas Ronda to the 1964 Top Stock Eliminator Championship. Mercury Comets became the sensation on the drag strips in 1965 when Jack Christman developed the first Funny Car, a lightweight Comet with a supercharged, fuel-injected, SOHC nitro-burning 427. In 1966 this car became the AA/Fuel dragster with a fiberglass Comet body and with Christman, Don Nicholson and Ed Schartman driving, won almost everything in sight. Mustang took over as the drag racing car of choice in the last half of the 1960’s with Holman & Moody.
Mustang quickly became a major player in SCCA’s Trans-AM series, which ran its first series in 1966. Mustang’s won four of the seven races giving Ford the inaugural manufacturers’ championship. In 1967 Jerry Titus won four victories in a Shelby Mustang winning the drivers’ title and Ford took a second straight manufacturers’ championship.
Ford backed two Trans-Am teams in 1969: Carroll Shelby fielded drivers Peter Revson and Horst Kwech and Bud Moore signed on Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. In 1970 Jones and Follmer won six races and the manufacturers' championship, while Jones took the drivers' title.
The 2001 "Fabulous Fords Forever" at Knott’s Berry Farm hosted vintage racecars and a spectacular "Special Interest" exhibit by the Western Region Ford Car Club Council that included many of the cars from Ford’s racing history. On display within a pleasant grassy section were many stunning and significant cars with distinct historical records along with vendor booths representing the local region’s car clubs with unique and specialty items available.
Bryan Mimaki had his 289-powered GT-40 on display along with Wayne Patrick’s Cobra Daytona Coupe R that was parked next to Cobra Club President Lynn Park’s 1964 Cobra 289, which was prominently flaunting a set of Gurney-Westlake heads. There was a multitude of Weber carburetors and velocity stacks exhibited on these three cars alone. Jon French had his 1965 Mustang B Production Vintage racecar on the grass in addition to Jim Shield’s 1965 Shelby Mustang GT 350. Don Chambers brought two of his racecars, the Saleen Mustang #20 that Rick Titus drove to victory and one of six Mercury Comet’s that set a record of 107 MPH average after racing for 100,000 miles at Daytona.
Representing the Drag Racing Era of Ford’s racing history was Brad Gallant’s 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt, with a high-performance 427 wedge stuffed under the hood along with a Mercury Comet drag car on display. A fine example of a lightweight 1964 Galaxy with Ford’s infamous 427 was sitting along side of a vintage rail dragster with Ford Flathead power. Vintage Nascar was represented by a couple of Fords, the Cheerio’s T-Bird and Jerry Yost’s 1996 T-Bird that was originally raced by Mark Martin and then given away in a drawing by Valvoline Oil Company.
Representing modern technology for Ford Motor Company was a full display of Saleen Automobiles and Ford’s SVT Boss 429 Mustang and the Mustang Super Stallion. A Steve McQueen "Bullitt" Mustang was parked next to Ford’s 2001 Special Edition "Bullitt" Mustang in the vendor booth area along side of Bill Stroppe’s 1971 "Big Oly" purpose-built, tube frame lightweight Bronco that was driven to victory by Parnelli Jones. Parnelli Jones, the 1963 Indy 500 winner and a USAC National Champion in both sprint cars and stock cars, Mexican 1000 winner and 1970 Trans-Am Champion was on hand viewing the collection of Ford racing products as well as Carroll Shelby himself.
Pictured are Bob Shaw, Carroll Shelby and the "RACING" Edelbrock sisters..Christie and Camee
The 2001 event truly was a celebration of Ford Motor Company products and 100 years of Ford Racing. Beautiful Southern California weather assured a pleasant day for families to enjoy the assembly of Ford vehicles hosted by the Western Region Ford Car Club Council.
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