Ford is beating the Lockdown blues by taking us on a trip down memory lane... or should we say "grid". The Blue Oval sure has had its fair share of champagne over the years!
Little known fact - company founder Henry Ford only ever raced once, but it was an important one. He won the race and subsequently decided to establish the Ford Motor Company.
Ford’s upset victory over Alexander Winton, then considered America’s greatest racer, came during the 1901 Sweepstakes Race at Grosse Point in Michigan. The win brought investors, inspired by Ford’s ability to engineer and build a better car than his experienced rivals.
In 1903, 18 months after the race, Henry founded the Ford Motor Company and put his dream of making a mass-produced automobile into action. So, while many brands claim to have racing in their DNA, it is particularly true for Ford.
Success after success... after success!
Since then, Ford has turned to racing to prove its products and technologies against the best in the world. At last count, the company has 176 Formula 1, 676 Nascar, 91 World Rally and 330 V8 Supercar wins to its name, and countless other victories and podium results at grass roots, national and international level racing.
In South Africa, too, the marque has a proud motorsport history. It has unpacked some of the highlights for us...
First the Escort, then the Laser
The iconic Ford Escort is loved by motorsport fans worldwide, chiefly through its association with rallying and names like Björn Waldegård, Ari Vatanen, Roger Clark, Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol, Marcus Grönholm and Mohammed Ben Sulayem. The Escort’s rallying legacy shines equally bright in South African motorsport, especially in the hands of Sarel van der Merwe and co-pilot Franz Boshoff.
The Escort MkII BDA went on a consecutive championship winning streak from 1979 to 1982. Sarel came close to championship glory in 1992 and 1993, this time driving an all-wheel drive Ford Laser. The Ford Laser won its fair share of races, eventually ending runner-up in both seasons. The Ford Laser also opened the door for a young South African rally superstar named Enzo Kuun who went on to become a multiple champion.
Ford Mondeo in SA Touring Cars
The AA Fleetcare Series and Touring Car Championship in the early 1990s is often considered the high-water mark of SA circuit racing and attracted international drivers and bespoke machinery that really gave credibility to the phrase ‘Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday’.
Sarel van der Merwe was once again back at the wheel of a Ford, in the form of the Mondeo entry, pairing up with Steve Wyndham and later with Ben Morgenrood. International driver flavour was added by New Zealander Paul Radisich and British driver Kelvin Burt, competing in the 1994 International Touring Car Championship held at Kyalami.
Ford Sierra XR8 was a homegrown hero
The Sierra XR8 was locally developed by Ford’s Motorsport department using the Mustang’s carburettor-fed 5.0-litre V8. In order to qualify for the championship’s rules, around 200 production versions needed to be built and just like that the fastest production Sierra in the world was instantly born, right here in South Africa in the early 1980s.
The car was raced in the 1985 Group 1 championship by John Gibb and Serge Damseaux, and later a wilder version known as “The Animal” was raced by Willie Hepburn in the Modified Saloons series.
Ford Capri Perana with "secret SA sauce"
Johannesburg businessman and SA Hall of Fame inductee Basil Green is synonymous with modifications to Fords and his meticulous work was enough to have them approved and sold through Ford’s countrywide dealer network with a full factory warranty. Of all his creations, everyone comes back to the iconic Ford Capri Perana V8, which was SA’s fastest locally produced road car and which was pretty much unbeatable on the track in the '60s and '70s.
The Perana V8, which was raced locally with its distinctive orange Gunston livery and driven by Bobby Olthoff in the Group 5 category, won 13 of the 14 races in the 1970 season. With a lightweight V8 from the Mustang it was capable of over 270km/h on the old Kyalami circuit’s long main straight, and topped the saloon car lap records at every one of South Africa’s tracks.
Around 500 of these Peranas were built by Basil Green Motors, and their rarity is catapulting their value both on home soil and abroad. Cars.co.za recently added a Capri Perana, finished in Peri-Peri red, to its stable of local classics (see image above).
Ranger hits top gear in South African Cross Country Series
The V8-powered Ford Ranger has been a front-runner in the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) for several years, winning on its debut in 2013 with the young Lance Woolridge behind the wheel, along with co-driver Ward Huxtable. Numerous race victories followed over the ensuing years, culminating in Woolridge and Huxtable scoring back-to-back Class T Production Vehicle titles for the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team in 2018 and 2019.
Last year, the team, which is run by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), won six of the season’s seven races in Class T, including an impressive overall victory in Heat Two of the Toyota 1000 Botswana Desert Race.
Earlier this year it was announced that the team would campaign the race-prepared Ford Ranger in the premier FIA-class of the SACCS. NWM made the jump to the top-tier with its current V8-powered Ford Ranger, but an all-new Ranger powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 petrol engine is currently being built, and is due to make its debut in the second half of the year.
Sarel and the 'Stang
In the early 1990s Sarel joined forces with Ford for South Africa’s most powerful, loosely regulated era of WesBank Modifieds. To get their hands on a competitive car they contacted Jack Rousch who was campaigning a Ford Mustang in IMSA and NASCAR in the US, even winning the IMSA GT Championship in 1993. In his book Supervan and I, Sarel remembers buying the car for R500 000, ‘a bargain’ he describes.
The Mustang arrived in Port Elizabeth for the last round of the 1993 championship and in 1994 the Mustang with its 450kW 6.0-litre V8 and spaceframe chassis, as well as Sarel at the wheel, won the championship. It was just the beginning of Sarel’s glorious relationship with the ‘Stang.
In 2000 and 2001 he raced the Mustang alongside the ever-popular Gugu Zulu as a mentorship programme. Sarel picked up the championship silverware in both those years as Gugu Zulu adapted to the raw power of the V8 Mustang. Sarel re-emerged from retirement in a Mustang for the inaugural 2009 Simola Hillclimb event, piloting a widebody silhouetted ‘Stang produced by Owen Ashley. The car demonstrated profound agility and speed on the narrow 1.9km course and was unbeatable with ‘Supervan’ behind the wheel, taking the overall victory on debut.
Order your Ford SA Specials Print
We have a limited edition print for the true Ford fanatic. It features 3 uniquely South African performance Fords (see image below). Only 50 of these A2-sized prints will be produced. It can be ordered here.