This GT40 Is Being Properly Driven In Anger By A Ford Executive
Photography courtesy of Stéphane Sasso
We all know the stereotype of the automotive executive. A reformed car guy stuck in a stiff suit, chained to his desk year in and year out, slowly becoming a cog on the massive wheel of a multinational conglomerate. I’m not suggesting that most of these people aren’t passionate about automobiles or fanatical about creating great products. What I am suggesting is that the majority of auto execs aren’t out there on the weekends tearing up the track in their company’s most legendary racing machines.
When I met Jim Farley over email, it was immediately obvious that he wasn’t one of those guys. Jim Farley, ladies and gentlemen, Chairman and CEO of Ford Europe, EVP & President of Ford Europe, Middle East, and Africa, is a man who walks the walk. He is, for lack of a better term, one of us.
I caught up with him over the phone about the GT40 he’s in the process of backdating and restoring to period correct standards as he gears up for the 2017 historic racing season.
Ted Gushue: Tell me about the story of this GT40, how did it enter your life?
James D. Farley Jr.: I’ve been racing and owning Cobras for about ten years. I went to racing school, got my license, I had never raced before and kind of got in and wound up doing pretty well and pretty much winning all the Cobra stuff in the U.S.
It wasn’t the safest car in the world either so I started to get more serious in my racing, so I got two liter sports racer which was a much nicer car to race. I got out of the Cobra, I sold it. I’m a Ford guy and always wanted to own a GT40, that’s kind of the ultimate Ford. The car was in Belgium. I got transferred, I did the Classic Le Mans four years ago with my Lola 298 and really was excited to race over here. I did a full season, the CER Series with my two liter two years ago, and finished third in the championship. There were some great drivers over here, like Emmanuel Pirro that race in the two liter class, historic racing.
I just really focused on just more of the faster, safer stuff and then I bought an RSR with Bobby Rahal, a ’74 911 RSR. We really liked it but we got an offer to sell it so it was enough money, with all my savings and that car, that I could actually entertain a GT40. I started looking around Europe. I raced a GT40 at Good Wood Members Meet last year, a friend of mine’s car, and I really liked driving the car. It kind of reminded me of the old Cobra but a lot safer and a lot better chassis.
TG: What was the response like from your colleagues when you told them that you had just bought the ultimate Ford?
JDF: I really don’t advertise it.
TG: That was my next question is, how do you kind of, you can’t really talk about it within the traditional corporate structure of a company like Ford.
JDF: Yeah, I try to be pretty discreet in my racing because I don’t want them to tell me I can’t do it.
TG: Which seems so diametrically opposed to Ford’s ethos.
JDF: I know, but I’m an officer of the company so if I get hurt doing this, you know, it would be really pretty stupid because I have 110,000 employees and we’ve got to make good decisions for them.
TG: No pressure or anything.
JDF: Yeah [laughs] I just try not to make a big deal of it. I just kind of go and do it, it’s kind of a private thing for me. Of course, unfortunately, now most people know but I try to keep a pretty low profile.
TG: I could see that some of your colleagues being really proud that you’re out there on the race track in a Ford.
JDF: Yeah, that’s what Bill Ford’s reaction was. I think when I told him he was like, “Yeah, all right!”
TG: About time someone actually walked the walk.
JDF: Yeah, so I think it was a bit of a shocker because I drove my ’34 chopped, five window Ford primered hot rod into the executive garage about six years ago. Everyone was like, “What the hell is going on here? He’s driving that dirt bag car down there.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s my hot rod.”
TG: Is the executive garage pretty tame or are there fun things showing up?
JDF: There’s some fun stuff there but it’s all new stuff. Mr. Edsel Ford has a few fun old Broncos and stuff like that but no one’s had a primer painted hot rod that’s been chopped ever in there, I’m sure of that, with a blown flat head in it, no way.
But back to the story, I started looking for this GT40 and the guys who take care of my car here in Belgium said we have an older customer who’s got a special car, it’s 1109 so it’s one of the last four cars built. It was bought by David Piper and turned into a road car. I said that’s perfect to race, because I know what it’s like to race. You don’t really care too much about how beautiful a car is, you’re just trying to go faster. It was like the perfect car for me, actually. Frankly I can’t afford a car with some fantastic history, those are like $10 million now and I’m not going to spend that on a car, even if I had it. This car, price wise worked, it was the ultimate Ford. I know everyone who I need to in terms of the power train and all the options because of my Cobra days. I know everyone to call in terms of building a good motor or trans axle or suspension pieces. It was perfect, so I pulled the trigger.
We’re in the process of kind of making it right for me. We spent the last six months mechanically getting it race ready. Simple stuff like seat height, my position in the car, how the pedals work, because I want to win, and I want to do well as an American over here. The GT40 class is super competitive. I’ve just been doing all the development on the car to make it just right for me. Extend the length of the fuel tanks, everything I need to do the Spa Six Hours, the Classic Le Mans and some of the other races here that are really fun. We’ll do the cosmetic stuff over the winter and get it just right.
TG: Why are you changing the color?
JDF: Yeah, I have a kind of look for my cars. I don’t why but my race cars kind of always look the same. I always go to ’70’s colors, ’60’s colors. I do period correct colors like no metallic paint. This car’s got red metallic paint, it’s just not even close to where it was. I’m going back to a factory Ford dark blue which is kind of my signature color with Wimbledon white stripes, the right cream colors gum balls that are period correct. I even went so far, on my 427 race car that we won almost everything in the U. S. with, I had hand painted numbers and hand painted logos, sponsor logos like they did back in the day. I really take a lot of pride in making the car look like it’s 1964 or ‘65.
TG: I can’t wait to see the car when it’s done. Are you going to be at the Goodwood Members’ meeting with it?
JDF: I am. I applied. I don’t know how many GT40’s will be there but I think so. I know Lord March pretty well. We’ll see but that will be its first outing and then the Spa May race which is a really big race. I’ll definitely be there and I think I’ll do, I’m either going to have Danny or Bobby Rahal drive with me at the Spa Six Hours, which is in the Fall, September. That’s a really big race and a six hour where you race the whole six hours, rain and shine. That’s a really cool race and the GT40’s almost always win that. It should be pretty fun. I’m going to do most of the Master’s Series next year. We’re built spec of the motor to be included in 65 so I’ll race against the hard top Cobras here, which are always really competitive. It will be kind of an earlier class, not against the 917’s and the Lola T-70’s, it will be in the proper ’60’s class. It requires a lot of research to get the car correct, period correct, which is fun for me.
My background, just so you know, those details really matter to me because I put myself through business school at UCLA by working for Phil Hill on his restoration shop, Hill and Vaughn. I’m an interior guy, I’ll do sewing and stuff like that so Phil hired me to work there for two years while I went to graduate school and I got to know Phil really well, as well as any employee could. He yelled at me like everyone else. I really learned about how to do research on cars there, because Hill and Vaughn was so great about doing research to win Pebble or whatever. To me, it’s not just enough to go fast or to do well, it’s even more important, in a way for me to have the car feel like it’s period correct. Even if no one else appreciates it. I learned that early when I worked at Hill and Vaughn and so that’s another cool part about this project. Is that I’m really trying to bring it back to what a car should look like in the ’60’s. Which, as you know, historic [inaudible 00:10:42] has kind of gotten away from that, unfortunately.
TG: There’s two sides of it. There are the guys that do it like you who want the thing to be as accurate as possible to relive a moment. Then there are guys, like a friend of mine named Eric Dean, built an RCR GT40 and he hand fabbed a lot of the parts himself and it’s beautifully updated and it’s tuned just right for him. He’s got the 302 in there and it screams. It’s by no means anything qualifiable for a vintage racing event but it makes him the happiest man on earth so we try to celebrate both sides of that coin.
JDF: Which I’m totally, totally into. That’s why I love your stuff, everything about your stuff, celebrate that diversity. It’s really about the intensity and connection. That story about the gentleman who built his Ferrari is probably one of my favorite things ever. I think that’s what fantastic about what you guys do. I own a Myer’s Manx, I got all sorts of weird stuff.
TG: Where are you keeping all of these cars?
JDF: We have a really cool community. It’s a kind of secret community at the airport at Monterey. I have a second house in Carmel and there’s Gordon McCall’s place is there and then I have mine and there’s like five or six of us who have our cars all there. This weekend I have the Ford Board meeting so I’m flying from Frankfurt, directly there for one day just to drive my cars because I haven’t driven them for a couple of months, since I was in Monterey last. I can go from anywhere in the world and I can go back to that place and we’re all the same, just working on our cars on the weekend.
TG: It’s the great equalizer.
JDF: You’re so right, you’re absolutely right.