Born to the echo of Henry Ford's primitive racing car, old 999, the Ford Motor Company—after a lapse of 60 years—is embarking upon a bold program in sport that would have elated old Henry's mettlesome soul. In scope it is an assault without precedent in American automotive history. Within two months its most dramatic aspects will begin to be revealed when Ford invades Europe's Monte Carlo rally—the first American factory team ever to do so. The event is of the first rank in foreign sport, a rugged, over-the-roads scramble in deepest winter. Then, in May, with all the nation looking on, Ford will enter the premier U.S. auto race—the Indianapolis "500."
But there is a great deal more in Ford's sporting future:
?Having just reached the top in major stock-car races, Ford Galaxies will be driven hard in 1963 in an effort to further diminish Pontiac's general supremacy.
?A special Grand Touring car based on the Ford Falcon will be tossed into next month's international sports-car race meeting at Nassau in the Bahamas—and probably the world-class endurance races in Sebring, Fla. in March.
? Ford engineers will build every ounce of oomph at their command into the high-performance Fairlane V-8 engine sold to Carroll Shelby for his new AC Cobra sports two-seater in the hope that in American road races it will be a real menace to the archrival Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.
?Pleasantly astonished by the attraction of hot-rod and custom-car shows for American youth—a recent one in New York drew 38,000—Ford will be conspicuously present at some two dozen major rod and custom affairs in the coming year.
?In big-time powerboat racing, August's record-breaking Miami-to-New York run by a Ford-engined hull will be followed next spring by a thrust for victory in the Miami-to-Nassau ocean race.
Meanwhile, Ford is keeping its engineers on their sporting toes, at the experimental level, by handing them such projects as the Mustang sports roadster. Extraordinarily handsome, technically advanced and possessed of racing potential, the Mustang was introduced publicly last month at the U.S. Grand Prix, where, significantly, the international driving elite were provided Ford sedans as personal off-course transportation.
All these interrelated activities represent a sharp departure from conventional Ford and American industry practice. They are, perhaps, puzzling. Why, at this moment, when American cars are selling at record levels and the market looks strong for months ahead, should the nation's third-largest industrial concern and No. 2 automaker make so heavy a commitment to sport?
The reasons are several. The carmakers are ruled by statistics, but of all of them two are paramount. The first is that nearly 75% of all new-car buyers decide upon a particular make before visiting a dealer. The second is that in the present decade the number of American young people between 20 and 24 will increase by 6.5 million and those 15 to 19 by 6 million. The importance Detroit places upon winning customer loyalty and capturing the young can scarcely be overstressed.