Book Review: Lerner & Friedman’s ‘Ford GT’ Chronicle Brings History to Life
2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Ford’s dismantling of Ferrari with an iconic 1-2-3 Le Mans sweep, a moment that helped cement the legacy of men like Henry Ford II and Carroll Shelby, and put Ford on the map as a brand capable of delivering in the ever-evolving and expanding racing world. Next year’s celebration will be highlighted by return of the Ford GT to endurance racing and, most importantly, the Circuit de la Sarthe, where it will try to recapture that same magic that placed the Blue Oval squarely on top of the world half a century ago.
The story of Henry Ford II’s quest to beat Enzo Ferrari at his own game is one that has been told many times over in the past 50 years, arguably never better than in A.J. Baime’s Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, which conveys the desperation of the men and their circumstances to near perfection. Just in time for 2016–and the impending holiday season–comes Preston Lerner’s Ford GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans, which should be a welcome addition to any automotive enthusiast’s bookshelf.
Ford GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans (2015)
Written by Preston Lerner; Photography by Dave Friedman
Product Details: Hardcover, 224 pages, 10.1 x 12.5 inches
Publication Date: November 2015
Publisher: Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group
More Book Reviews: Is this clever Steve McQueen graphic novel worth reading?
Ford GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans covers just about everything its title implies that it would. In just over 200 pages, Automobile and Sports Illustrated contributor Preston Lerner takes the reader through four of the most important years in Ford’s history It starts in 1963 with Enzo Ferrari reneging on a deal to sell his commercial car business to Ford and Henry Ford II subsequently pledging to “beat his ass” in racing; eventually, it culminates with Dan Gurney spraying champagne after he and A.J. Foyt were victorious at Le Mans in 1967 and Hank the Deuce stating that he had nothing left to prove.
The narrative of Ford’s various failures and successes are punctuated by 77 color and 223 black-and-white images from Dave Friedman, who served as Shelby American’s official photographer and chronicled a great deal of the Ford Racing program’s quest to top its Italian rival throughout the ’60s.
Ford GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans is a damned handsome book that will look mighty nice on your bookshelf or coffee table. The layout is clean and does a great job of accentuating Friedman’s 300 photographs, which are lovingly rendered in full, crisp detail. If you know someone who would be interested in an incredible pictorial history of one of racing’s most legendary triumphs, then you would do well to keep this book at the top of your shopping list.
At the close of the introduction to this book, Lerner acutely notes that this is far from the first attempt to chronicle all that went on behind-the-scenes and on the track for Ford in the quest for Le Mans supremacy. What the author believes is the differentiation between his book and those that came prior is the effort to tie the various political, mechanical, and personal components that have been the focus of entire works into a singular, functioning narrative. And for the most part, Ford GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans does just that.
Lerner warns his readers that his book is not a comprehensive history of the events surrounding that historic Le Mans victory, but it certainly never feels incomplete. Lerner breaks the story down into eight key periods in the evolution of the Ford GT, and he is diligent in the effort of leaving few stones unturned. The writing found within these chapters is fairly lean if not occasionally sparse, as the nature of so much of the developmental process requires long passages detailing the various alterations made to prototypes and leaves little room for creativity.
On the other hand, the portion of the opening chapter detailing the failing of Ford and Ferrari’s prospective business deal takes a more speculative tone–gussied up to take the form of scenes from a film–which is an interesting approach that feels unfortunately disparate from the rest of the book’s more nuts-and-bolts approach. Still, Lerner’s narrative is focused and easily accessible, and it is packed with pertinent and interesting information.
For as effective as Lerner’s words are, Friedman’s pictures are clearly the star of this particular show. For an auto racing historian, the sheer breadth of Friedman’s photographs–ranging from candid and intimate portrayals of the key players to dynamic action shots of everything from the GT/101 to the Holman & Moody Mark IV–is worth the asking price alone. Perfectly complimenting and enhancing the narrative, these photographs are a veritable treasure trove for anyone with even a passing interest in the sport of racing, and they serve to make Ford GT: How Ford Silenced the Critics, Humbled Ferrari and Conquered Le Mans a must-have coffee table book for Ford die-hards.