24h Le Mans
29/07/2020 - 12:01

Ford at Le Mans 1966-1969: from Flower Power to Woodstock (1/4)

The film "Le Mans 66" ("Ford v Ferrari") – winner of two Oscars at the 2020 Academy Awards – and the exhibit dedicated to the 1966 running of Le Mans at the 24 Hours Museum both offer the pleasure of revisiting an exceptionally rich era. From 1966 to 1969, Ford's four consecutive wins at the race continued to push the limits of motorsport and artists explored new horizons in music and movies.
Ford at Le Mans 1966-1969: from Flower Power to Woodstock (1/4)

While Italy and the U.S. were fighting for domination at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and certain drivers from across the Atlantic were building careers with Ferrari and Ford, another Italian/American alliance would make its mark on the history of cinema.

Ford versus Ferrari, three American "defectors" – A three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner with Ferrari (1958, 1961 and 1962), Phil Hill was one of the first drivers poached by Ford in 1964. That year, after their car suffered fuel supply problems early in the race, Hill and Bruce McLaren performed a spectacular comeback, going from 44th to fourth position. Eventually their gearbox failed in the 14th hour, but not before Hill had established a new lap record at an average 211 kph. In 1965, Hill and Chris Amon took the start in pole position but lost 12 laps in the second hour due to an oil leak. Hill returned to the track and proceeded to clock a new stunning lap record at an average 222 kph. Sadly, once again gearbox troubles plagued the #2 Ford and it was forced to retire at 23:00.

In the winning Ferrari line-up that year was American driver Masten Gregory who had driven a Ford GT40 in 1964 with fellow countryman Richie Ginther: in the wake of an excellent start in first and second positions, the race ended for the two Americans in the fifth hour thanks to a faulty gearbox. But, the next year Gregory joined Ferrari and won the race along with Austrian driver Jochen Rindt at the wheel of a 250 LM fielded by North American Racing Team (NART), the team of three-time Le Mans winner Luigi Chinetti. Recruited by Chinetti, Dan Gurney participated in the 24 Hours four times with Ferrari (1958, 1959, 1962 and 1963, all retirements) before joining Carroll Shelby at the wheel of a Cobra (1964 and 1965) then the factory Ford team, scoring the pole and a lap record in 1966 and victory in 1967 with A.J. Foyt.

Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, an Italian/American power duo – At the exact same time, an Italian filmmaker and an American actor were writing a major chapter in movie history. In 1963, Sergio Leone noticed Clint Eastwood in the television show Rawhide and offered him the leading role in a film he was getting ready to direct in Almeria, Spain. A Fistful of Dollars was released in theaters in 1964, revolutionizing the Western. Eastwood shattered the squeaky clean image of American icons like Gary Cooper and John Wayne with a mysterious and taciturn anti-hero. Leone overhauled the genre in his own right, in part thanks to Ennio Morricone's unforgettable musical scores. The following year, the director and Eastwood filmed For a Few Dollars More and in 1966, as Ford clinched its first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Leone created his first masterpiece, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly starring Eastwood, Elli Wallach and Lee van Cleef. Believing he had taken his "man with no name" character as far as he could, Eastwood ended his highly successful collaboration with the Italian director. In 1967, he established his own production company, Malpaso, and set out to develop his career as an actor and later director in the U.S. Leone's movies had already made Eastood a star in Europe. After these three films, known as the Dollars Trilogy, Leone pushed the evolution of the Western even further with Once Upon a Time in the West in 1968. Eastwood never failed to acknowledge the Italian filmmaker's influence on his directorial career (begun in 1971), even dedicating to Leone his own Western Unforgiven which earned him the first of his two Best Director Oscars at the 1993 Academy Awards.


PHOTO (Copyright - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 18 & SUNDAY 19 JUNE 1966. Six months after Ford beat Ferrari (pictured is the winning car shared by Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren), the movie "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was released in Italian theaters on 23 December 1966. It would be the third and final collaboration between Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood.