In the early 1960s, Henry Ford II, chief executive of U.S. automaker Ford, decided to get involved in auto racing to help build the Ford brand. He tried a shortcut to building a reputation in racing, by acquiring the Italian auto maker Ferrari, which already was renowned for its racing success. Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari proposed a deal in which Ford would pay $18 million for a 90 percent interest.
But once Ford officials arrived in Italy to ink the deal, Ferrari decided that the American company's "suffocating bureaucracy" was unsuitable for his genius, and backed out. When Henry Ford II was told of the rebuff, he decided that the best response was to build his own race car, one good enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans — the endurance race that was perhaps most prestigious motorsport event around. It involves racing an 8.4 mile (13.6 kilometer) course near the city of Le Mans over and over to see how much distance can be covered in a day.
That was a tall order, since Ferrari had dominated the event for years. But Ford's chief engineer, Roy Lunn, came up with a concept for a two-seater sports car with a low-slung body and a powerful V-8 engine located between the axles. Ford teamed up with British automaker Lola to build the car, the Ford GT40, which eventually bested Ferrari at Le Mans 1966, totally dominating the Italians by taking first, second and third in the race. The GT40 also won in 1967, '68 and '69 [source: Johnson].