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September 2014

The Story of a Book: How three enthusiasts pooled resources to write about Ford’s ultimate musclecar

By Wallace Wyss

Did you ever wonder how car books come to be? Of course, it would be ideal if publishers would reach out to writers and say “Would you like to write a book on such-and-such?” but that doesn’t always happen.

Then there’s the self-starter category. Sometimes the book author or authors are so enamored by a subject they begin doing the research themselves and then become so enthusiastic about what they’ve discovered that they publish the book themselves. That’s what happened to me with a book I co-authored nine years ago entitled Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT.

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The way it happened was, around 2001, when Ford was showing a concept car called the GT40, I e-mailed a friend who I know loved GT40s and who had collected a lot of literature, telling him excitedly “It looks like Ford is getting enthusiastic about bringing back the Ford GT!”

We both began to collect literature on the prototype. Then Ford announced it would be going ahead with a production model based on the prototype concept car. I called that same friend, Brian Winer, and told him that, in light of that news, we ought to think about doing a book on the development and engineering of the new car. We also invited Al Axelrod, a Colorado accident investigator who was a former classic car shop owner, to be our third co-author.

We knew there would be other books on the new car. Motorbooks Int. was doing a book on almost each new performance car. But we felt that a certain amount of people who were interested in the new car Ford would build didn’t know the history of the original GT40s so we began writing a rough draft telling how Henry Ford II, spurned by Enzo Ferrari in his attempt to buy out Ferrari, commissioned Ford Engineering to design a prototype LeMans racer around 1963.

I had already written two books on Carroll Shelby, so I knew a lot about the role of that Texan wheeler dealer in turning Ford’s loser GT40 of 1964 into the winner it became in 1966 with the taking of 1-2-3 at the 24 Hours of LeMans.

During my previous research (which went all the way back to 1977 when I wrote Shelby’s Wildlife: the Cobras and the Mustangs) I had met a lot of the Shelby employees who had worked on the original GT40, like Carroll Smith (also an author of several books on race car preparation) so I was able to get the story from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Once we had the historic part of the book written, we began collecting the information on the new car’s design and engineering and Brian and I flew to Detroit at our own expense, staying in the historic Dearborn Inn (an inn that was built when the first Henry Ford built an airport near what became his test track), and interviewed engineers and designers (including Camillo Pardo, the chief designer of the car).

The biggest news we found on the design side was that the original prototype for the production car was “short nosed” i.e. more like the Audi R8 in profile but that after a design clinic (where you invited private car owners to look at prototypes) proved potential buyers wanted the shape of the original GT40 they lengthened the nose. They never admitted to holding a design clinic but we had pictures of the prototypes with the short nose so we knew that late in the developmentz they had changed their minds and gone more retro than originally planned. Ironically the short nose was probably more aerodynamic but, hey, you’re going retro you have to look as much like the original did as possible...

We were also invited to drive the car on Ford’s test track but were very disappointed when they wanted us to only go 55 mph. In California, where we each have driven many test cars, we never had speed restrictions imposed on us by any auto-maker. Fortunately they later loaned us a 2005 Ford GT test car out in California which we were allowed to drive on public roads and even up to the mountains.

We also hoped we would be invited to the long lead preview of the car in 2003 — a preview especially for magazine reporters. Though the head PR man knew we were writing a book, alas, we didn’t get invited — we were deemed just not important compared to the high-and-mighty scribes of such monthly magazines as Motor Trend, Road & Track, Car & Driver and such.

That was a big boo-hoo for us because we knew, at the preview, you could learn lots of things, even from remarks made across the breakfast table.

But hey, where there is a will there is a way. We got in anyway.

The way it happened was this: Ironically in 2003, Brian and I had been up at Monterey covering car week when, on the Friday night of that week, I went to the gas station and ran across two Ford engineers gassing up two prototype Ford GTs.

They told us they were in town for the long lead preview Monday. I asked for and got their business cards. So Monday morning, in a light fog, Brian and I happened to be driving East on Highway 68 past the Laguna Seca racetrack and I saw a lot of Ford tractor trailers. I nudged Brian awake and said “Hey, there’s the preview those guys talked about, let’s see if we can get in.”

I handed the scruffy guard the two business cards the engineers had given me and he let us in, figuring, if we work for Ford, we must be allowed in. Right from the moment we entered, the Ford people kept asking us “Who invited you?” but we would ignore them and pass out copies of a previous book I had published “Ford vs. Ferrari” by Anthony Pritchard. We were pleased to see a lot of heavy names were in attendance including Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir John Whitmore, Camilo, the various engineers who engineered the new Ford GT and even Dan Gurney, who won LeMans in a Ford GT, plus Jay Leno, Carroll Shelby, etc. and all the major editors of the aforesaid car mags.

Some hard core collectors had brought real Ford GTs from the Sixties and were giving demonstration rides, I missed out on those but it must have been an unforgettable experience for some reporters – being driven around a racetrack at speed in a car that was capable of going over 200 mph at LeMans in the Sixties.

We failed to get a ride around the course in a van that showed the route, so I didn’t get to drive the new Ford GT on the track but ironically I got a ride in Ford’s own Ferrari 360 Modena, a car which they had bought, disassembled and learned from in building their own rival for that car. I used to own two different Ferraris but, after being driven around Laguna in a Ferrari by a real race driver, I realized how timid I had been with my own cars compared to the way real race drivers drive their steeds right on the limit. Talk about driving at 10/10ths– I think they were driving at 11/10ths!

I almost got kicked out when they were showing the space frame chassis and I piped up with the question: “And how much does this cost Ford?” All eyes turned toward me while conversation stopped dead and I remembered one thing automakers just hate to reveal is how much something costs them.

As the event worked toward noon, the Ford officials were showing signs of being anxious to hustle us out as they were expecting dealers from all over the country for lunch. They were also bringing in other competitive mid-engine cars for the dealers, who would be given the opportunity to drive these other brands in comparisons with the Ford GT.

We left for Los Angeles happy that we had cracked the security of the event, and got more for the book – maybe only a few paragraphs – but there’s nothing like being there at a once-in-a-lifetime event. (And afterwards we invited Bob Bondurant and Sir John Whitmore to write dueling forewords for the book.)

It took almost a year to write, edit and fact-check the book, which came out at 224 pages, hardbound with 32 pages of color. We finished it just as the last 2006 cars were coming down the line.

Ironically, Brian fell in love with the Ford GT and ordered a Tungsten Gray ’06 Ford GT for himself, a car which is still in his garage.

I remain so-so about the car. Before I ever drove the new version, I always liked the doors that used part of the roof but, when actually in the new car. I could never get over the subliminal fear that the door would give me an unasked-for instant crew cut every time I closed it. Plus I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t put in a trunk when the Ferrari 360 Modena has luggage space.

I never could understand the business case for building it—that they only built 4038 cars (total for both years) when it seemed, after they went to the trouble to build a rival to Ferrari, they didn’t continue to carry on past the 2006 model year, so in effect they ceded that niche market back to Ferrari once again. I suspect it was the fact that Ford owned Aston Martin at the time and the Ford GT was conceivably competition for the Astons, which had been a money loser for them from the word “go.”

Fortunately for Brian, though he paid full list, the ’05-’06 Ford GTs show signs of going up in value, which few new cars do. I attribute that to the fact that it’s already eight years down the road since the last one was built and eight years since Ford had a mid-engined 200-mph plus car to put in their showrooms. So every year Ford fails to once again build a car suitable for this small niche (they long since sold Aston Martin) , the ’05-’06 GTs that were built those years will get more valuable. There’s already “heritage” themed (Gulf colors) ones being advertised at over $400,000.

We spent a lot of money buying pictures and on art direction, and on printing in Japan but finally got a book that we could be proud of.

As it was the book got off to a slow start and now I see there is a very detailed hardbound book on the new Ford GTs on the market, one published by a Ford enthusiast group, but theirs yammers on endlessly with arcane details like why a bolt was changed during production. We still feel our book is more for the person who wants an overall look at the historic Ford GTs and the reasons how and why the new generation ’05-’06 models were created. Our two books are about the same car but appeal to two different markets–ours for the big picture and theirs for the actual owners interested in minute details such as how many were made in each color, etc..

The book still costs us, for the warehousing of the unsold books. But we still look back, just as Ford employees do on the new Ford GT which showed that they could create something that became an instant collectible. We too, can look back and say now, here’s a book done right.

It’s out of print (no plans for a reprint at present) but hey, originals are still available... though now at a collector book price...


THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss, whose third barn find book is being published by Enthusiast Books in the spring of 2015, can be reached at PhotoJournalistPro@gmail.com


Auto Maniacs Newsletter, September 2014



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