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How I published three GT40s books and didn’t get rich

Published in blog.hemmings.com

When I met Brian Winer, who was driving a Lotus Esprit at the time, I was surprised when he said his favorite car was the Ford GT40. This was back in the ‘70s. I thought he was a furrin’ car guy. Turned out we both had a soft spot for Fords of the Sixties. We looked around and discovered that there wasn’t much in print on the car at the time. Back in ’77, I had written Shelby’s Wildlife: the Cobras and the Mustangs, which had a few pages on Ford’s fight for victory at Le Mans but we were surprised to see that, while Cobras were proliferating (in replica form) there wasn’t much recognition of the car that had really put Ford on the International racing map, the GT40.

At some point, Brian, who is in commercial real estate, had me go over to England to sample the Safir, a GT40 made by a small company that got permission from Ford to reproduce their car exactly and even use their name (which would brew trouble later). I liked it. Brian bought one. And we together we went through our picture files and published a book called Ford GT40 Photo Archive through Iconografix, a Wisconsin publisher. There, we thought, we have done something for our favorite car—brought back recognition for it in material form (the Safir) and in a book.

But that was just a picture book, maybe 90 photos with captions. We still wanted others to know the story of how Ford’s Le Mans win came about. So I looked in my library and discovered a small hardbound book by a British attorney called Ford Vs. Ferrari. The author was Anthony Pritchard. I flew across the pond again and struck a deal to buy the book rights but only for five years (big mistake, as you’ll see later on). Then I went to Dearborn and scooped up lots of pictures from the Ford Archives and began paying more attention to Ford GTs at the Monterey Historic races.

There was one problem with the Pritchard book. It was written so early on in the game that it didn’t include the back-to-back Le Mans wins in 1968 and 1969, two years in which GT40s won Le Mans but were no longer being campaigned by Ford Motor Co. but by Gulf Oil. So, providently, I had also bought use of two chapters from another Pritchard book, covering those years at Le Mans.

What we both liked about the Pritchard book was his dry wit, and complete neutrality. He didn’t favor any one company over another, or the Brits involved over the Yanks, just told the facts. Admittedly there was not much of the now-much-discussed personality clashes in the book. We thought then that the story was in Ford developing and fettling the car. Oh, they had a good idea in buying two of the three Lola GTs that had been built and using them as test rigs, which the book covers, but the battles between John Wyer, the ex-Aston Martin team boss, and Eric Broadley, the Lola man put on retainer by Ford, weren’t much discussed. And neither was the tension between the drivers.

1964 Ford GT40 painting by the author/

As a Ferrari fan as well, I wanted to know how Ford, which really didn’t have much skill at building world class international race cars, could beat Ferrari, the company that had made its name in racing and dominated Le Mans for five years in a row prior to their loss to Ford at Le Mans in 1966.

We had the new book laid out, designed a cover, and printed it in Japan, where I had met some printers of excellent quality books. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the car magazines of the time, like Road & Track, to review it, so sales just dawdled along and the general enthusiast public of the ‘80s didn’t yet realize what a great achievement Ford’s victory over Ferrari was. It was like we were championing some obscure WWII victory that took place on an island far away and nobody realized how potentially significant a battle it was.

Flash forward almost 20 years to 2003 when Ford reintroduced a concept car called the Ford GT40. In ’05 a production version started coming off the line. Ironically they couldn’t sell it as the GT40 because when they had sold Safir the right to make GT40s they didn’t realize they hadn’t read the fine print and Safir now owned the name. So the production ’05 and ’06 car had to be called the Ford GT. With the introduction of that car, interest in the original GT40s picked up. Especially when Ford offered the Heritage Edition paint job that replicated the Gulf livery on the winning car in ’68 and ’69 (singular “car” and not plural because, incredibly, the same car won both years).

And Brian dutifully bought a ’06, and once again we made a book. A similar problem came in publicizing the ’05-’06 Ford GT book. In America, if you can’t get the reviews in the big magazines, you are dead in the water.

Flash forward another 13 years. Ford once again has a new Ford GT, though it’s a V-6 and doesn’t have any of the styling of the originals. I have zero interest in the present model because of a new Ford policy where they want to charge authors for each and every picture in a book. As if they were in the picture selling business, not the car selling business. But turns out Brian, a world champion string saver, still has copies of our edition of Ford vs. Ferrari. And of Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT. I Iooked up Ford vs. Ferrari and damned if Pritchard, once he got the rights back, didn’t put out an expanded edition through Haynes with no less than 600 pictures, but the market still wasn’t there yet and even that didn’t sell well. In fact it sold so badly Haynes, the publisher, gave up on racing books and went back to the safe area of their tried and true how-to manuals. We checked, and copies of Pritchard’s expanded edition are running over $100 on eBay.

And now it’s close to November 15, 2019 as I write this. A new film is coming out from Disney. No small project, budgeted at $100 million. Called Ford v. Ferrari. Alas, I could have sold the film rights to Pritchard’s book if I had bought them, but anyway I had only only bought five years of print rights.

Ostensibly the film is on the same subject. Almost the same title. Word is their on-screen story is more of a personality piece, a dramatization of the real facts, but who is to say that, once the new generation sees it, they won’t want to find out about that car called the Ford GT? We weren’t even invited to the advance screening, though theoretically, (and I’m cryin’ real tears here…) it was our nickel that kept the flame burning by publishing two books on the subject a quarter century ago when no one cared.

Brian, ever the archivist, purchased all the remaining copies of our edition of Ford vs. Ferrari and Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT. He’s selling them. These are not, mind you, reprints, but what they call in publishing “new old stock.” (In publishing we say of someone who has unsold books “He’s sleepin’ on the books.”) He can be reached at trueford@aol.com

Me? Well, I’m wearin’ a fine artist’s beret now. Write me for a list  of Cobra & GT art and maybe I can afford a ticket to see Ford v Ferrari on the big screen.

THE AUTHOR

Wallace Wyss has authored 18 automotive histories. He is currently looking for an agent for his noir novel Ferrari Hunters. He can be reached at photojournalistpro2@gmail.com