While Ford’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016 brings with it after half a century a new episode in its stunning duel with Ferrari, for the American manufacturer this 84th edition will also be a matter of national prestige facing Corvette.
But for a better understanding, let’s go back in time to the mid-1960s. After Enzo Ferrari rebuffed his buyout offer in 1963, a stung Henry Ford, II set out to beat the Italian manufacturer on its favourite playing field at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where Ferrari had dominated since 1960.
But this sporting challenge was part of a much broader business strategy: a comprehensive rejuvenation of Ford’s image and range. Two cars quickly became the posterchildren of that ambition: the GT40 and its various configurations at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the circuit side, and the Mustang cabriolet coupe on the road side.
So, as of 1964, the GT40 took on Ferrari at the 24 Hours, and the Mustang’s goal was to revamp Ford’s image on American roadways…particularly as an answer to a competitor firmly established on the national market since 1953: the Chevrolet Corvette.
The gamble paid off both on the track and the road. Competing in Mk II then in Mk IV, the GT40 won in 1966 and 1967 against Ferrari, while the Corvette and the Mustang became iconic American sports cars. Around the same time, the Mustang benefitted on both sides of the Atlantic from flattering exposure in films with two appearances thanks to Jean-Louis Trintignant in “A Man and a Woman” (Palme d’Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1967) and thanks to Steve McQueen in “Bullitt” (1968).
A half century later, what awaits spectators at the 84th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is extremely exciting…face to face, two visually alluring but very different cars: the seventh generation Corvette (front engine) and the Ford GT (rear engine), a very modern reminiscence of the GT40. Their rival, the new Ferrari 488 GTE, promises a relentless battle between two American treasures and a global sports car legend.
Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO – Translation by Nikki Ehrhardt / ACO