Enter Frank Zimmerman, who was then Ford Division's special vehicles manager and is now Lincoln-Mercury's marketing manager. It is April 16, 1964, in La Chartre, France, and the countryside is asplash with gay poppies and tulips. Parked out in the alley behind the old Hotel de Paris are two rather scruffy-looking Le Mans cars. They are 15 days old. They are Ford Primitives, not Ford-Ferraris, as they might have been. Zimmerman has accompanied the cars from England to get them ready for their Le Mans debut, a few weeks away. At this point, neither car has ever revved an engine in anger.
"In two days," says Zimmerman, "we wrecked both of them in trials. I called the U.S., up to my hips in shattered cars. I told Frey they went to beat hell but their tails wouldn't stay down."
Then began an effort that showed Ford wasn't about to quit. Zimmerman put both cars in shrouds, took them back to England and found enough nuts and bolts around to rebuild the two and make one new one. He wheeled them back to Le Mans, qualified them well (2, 4, 9), for the June race—and lost it (although the fourth-place Shelby Cobra of Gurney and Bob Bondurant proved to be the weekend's top Grand Touring racer). Ford Mark IIs lost in 1965, but then, of course, Ford clobbered Ferrari and the rest of the pack in 1966 and 1967.
Now, then. If you are any kind of mystery fan at all, or if you can work jigsaw puzzles or even chew gum and walk at the same time, you will have noted the theme running through these scenes.
Obvious. Nearly every key man involved in Ford's early-day racing program is now a vice-president.
"And that," says Frey, "should say something about our goals."
It does, indeed. The Company Racers—at Chrysler and General Motors as well as at Ford—are doing considerably more than winning some and losing some. They are bringing back a feeling of pride that sweeps through their organizations. Most everyone at Ford is now a vicarious Racer—even the accountants in the company haircut and sweater-vest. And let a top Racer come straggling in on Monday morning, his eyes a lovely shade of cerise and still smelling faintly of expensive Scotch and good cigars—and nobody will raise an eyebrow. If they won on Sunday.
And so it goes at Ford. Iacocca likes the sound of racing cars in full cry, and he likes the passenger-car sales they stimulate every bit as much.
Passino has fond memories of Iacocca at Indy in 1963, when the first Lotus-Fords were qualifying in Offenhauser land.
"We were all there that day," says Passino. "Iacocca, Zimmerman, everybody. And we had two Ford engines in there with all those Offenhausers, remember? And those little old cars rolled out and you could hear this sudden hush—and then a swelling murmur running through the crowd. God! It was wonderful.